Friday, June 11, 2010

Interview - Hamish Guthrie of Hecker Phelan & Guthrie

Bistro Guillaume, designed by Melbourne firm Hecker Phelan & Guthrie, Photo by Earl Carter.

St Ali's South Yarra Outpost - top photo by Thom Rigney, bottom photos from the St Ali website.

Pt Lonsdale photographed by Shannon McGrath. - LOVE those knitted Urchin poufs by Christien Meindertsma (I think?)... and the brilliant Hay Pinnochio rug! Perfection.

Pt Lonsdale photographed by Shannon McGrath.

Longrain Melbourne - photos by Shannon McGrath

I have been keen to feature prolific Melbourne interior design firm Hecker Phelan & Guthrie on the site for a loooong time. In actual fact, I first contacted HP&G requesting an interview on January 6th this year! This week, director Hamish Guthrie finally got his interview back to me - but of course was most charming and very apologetic about the delay! :) It's been a super busy time - late last year founding partner Kerry Phelan announced her departure from the company after 10 years of partnership, and this year both Paul Hecker and Hamish Guthrie have taken time off to travel, absorbing creative inspiration and gearing up for the challenges ahead. No hard feelings Hamish - it was worth waiting for!

If you've ever been out for a posh dinner in either Sydney or Melbourne, chances are you've come across the work of HP&G. With a particular knack for restaurant and bar interiors, HP&G's work in Melbourne includes Longrain restaurant, Comme, Bistro Guillaume and St Ali's South Yarra Outpost.... and you must have been living under a rock if you haven't seen shots of their INCREDIBLE work for The Ivy in Sydney - with it's lavish bars, restaurants, hotel and penthouse, complete with LA-inspired rooftop pool, striped sun shades and splashes of citrus yellow everywhere. It's sheer, mad Alice in Wonderland genius - and a project only HP&G could have delivered!

A HP&G interior is just fantastically, magically brilliant. It seems nothing is too wacky, too bright or too brave for these guys. HP&G's work is well publicised both here and overseas, and for good reason... each stunning interior bears their distinctive hallmark - and yet no two ever look the same. Their use of colour, pattern and attention to every minute detail truly sets them apart from the crowd.. and makes for a very photogenic portfolio!

It was refreshing to learn that despite their many accolades, HP&G are still a friendly and relatively small company of just 17 staff.... and that although he's known for decadent design at work, Hamish admits that his own home is 'well worn' and far from perfect! Also, generally, I think a lot can be said for a man who takes his dog to work with him everyday...!

Huge thanks to Hamish for his time and for all the fantastic shots... I must also thank Simone at HP&G who facilitated the interview, and has been very sweetly emailing me on a monthly basis since January saying 'we haven't forgotten about you!'. :)

Hamish Guthrie of Hecker Phelan & Guthrie

Tell me a little about your background – what path originally led you to interior design, and to founding Hecker Phelan & Guthrie in 2001?

The genetic offspring of a Dentist and Physiotherapist does not necessarily scream designer! But growing up in an environment which embodied my parents shared passion for the arts and crafts, on a self sustainable bush block on the fringes of Melbourne allowed for plenty of opportunities for a young boy to design, build and break things.

Out of school and not quiet knowing which direction I to head- I was introduced to Architect Daryl Jackson. Daryl showed me a new world of design and architecture and I knew then that this was the path for me.

I completed a bachelor of arts (interior design) at the RMIT in 1993, working part time and holidays for Daryl Jackson Architects along the way and moving into full time employment on graduation.

Whilst at Daryl’s, I was introduced to a clean cut young man from Adelaide in his first job - Paul Hecker. Little did I know he would be my business partner 20 years down the track. After eight years at Daryl Jackson, broken with some international travel along the way, it was time to move on and broaden my design vocabulary in a new environment. Having always admired the work of Paul and Kerry and sensing early on the potential of the practice, I joined Paul and Kerry at Hecker Phelan and eventually joining as a partner of the studio in 2004 and the formation of Hecker Phelan & Guthrie (HP&G).

HPG have won so many accolades and awards for your incredible and varied work over the last 10 years…I know it’s hard to choose favourites - but what have been one or two of your most memorable projects and why?

It’s always hard to play favourites- so I will stick to the more milestone projects; Flagship store for Jigsaw fashion brand Little Collins St (year 2000 - not the current design) – It was the first time I felt that my design ideas were trusted by my employer. There was the freedom to explore new avenues in design and a confidence to bring new ideas to the table. On the photo shoot for this project I met my wife - the architectural photographer Shannon McGrath.

Comme – The opportunity to work on heritage and culturally significant building with a client who knew his trade was irresistible. There was a lot of satisfaction gained through breathing new life and a new energy into this old building as a place of entertainment and pleasure. Certainly there are things that I would do differently if I were to design the space today, but I guess that is the nature of design.

How is the business structured? – how many staff work with you at HPG, and do you and Paul Hecker still play a very hands-on role in the design work and day to day running of the business?

Growing from a small to a medium size studio, it became imperative that we put a structure in place with peoples roles within the studio clearly defined. The appointment of key personnel into the practice has enabled Paul and me to continue to be intimately involved in the design generated out of our office. We oversee all projects through tri weekly design reviews with staff in an informal workshop environment.

There is currently a team of 17 people (+dog) which is a reflection of client demand for our services.

2 Directors
1 Practice
3 admin (PA/media & Communications, Accounts & Office Assistant)

3 senior Design managers

6 interior designers
2 architects

1 office dog- Bergie

HP&G's office building in Cremorne (aka Richmond) - photo by Shannon McGrath

What does a typical day at work involve for you at Hecker Phelan & Guthrie?

Thankfully in our studio there is no such thing as a typical day. The nature of our diverse project work and the continuing evolution of the design office make for an ever changing work day……….. with its fair share of challenges along the way!

With the recent changes at HP&G, Paul and I are truly excited and re- energised about the possibilities of the studio. In addition to the day to day running of the business, and current project work, we are investing a lot of energy into defining the new HP&G and mapping the path for the new HP&G through design and a common goal.

The more typical aspects of my workday may include; Design reviews, hand drawings/ sketches, client meetings, potential client meetings and submissions, site visits, showroom visits as well as the more pragmatic aspects of the business; billing, staff resourcing, programming, fees etc

Bovis Lend Lease building - photos Marcus Clinton

How would you describe your sense of style in your own home?

I would love to be able to tell you that our home is the full embodiment of my work as an interior designer and of my wife as the Interior photographer and stylist. The reality is that it isn’t!

We are currently residing in a well worn Victorian house searching for that complex marriage of ceramic / glassware and a 1 year old child who has just taken to walking!

Our home environment comprises of a collection of furniture, art and objects which are the ‘must haves’, a reflection of our personalities rather than as a response to space. The space will follow.

Where do you turn for creative inspiration – travel, local and international design trends, magazines, books or the web etc?

Having just returned just returned from travels through Copenhagen and Stockholm enroute to the Milan furniture fair, I would have to say that it is travel which is my ultimate source of inspiration. A quick recap of my holiday snaps would confirm that inspiration can be found in many varying places and forms. Not only does it fill your mind with fresh ideas but also validates or re affirms your existing design ideas.

As you mature as a designer and have a clearer sense of your own aesthetic there is a more profound sense of editing the experience as you go, capturing those experience which appeal to your design sensitivities and discounting quickly those that don’t.

Joe Black retail store - photos by Shannon McGrath

Joe Black retail store - photos by Shannon McGrath

Which designers / creative people do you admire?

It’s those people who I have been privileged to have worked for/with over the years. Daryl Jackson who mentored me straight out of school and gave me my first opportunities as a young designer, Jeff Copolov who showed me the possibilities of design during the early days of Crown, Paul Hecker with whom I share an aesthetic kinship and those artists and collaborators- Pandarosa & David Band, who are not only a delight to work with but have brought a new creative energy to a number of our projects.

Farina Kitchen & Bar in Adelaide - featuring wall illustrations by TDF favourite Pandarosa!

What would be your dream creative project?

Marc Newson is probably doing them as we speak! They would involve travel in an exotic location and a creative challenge void of commercial realities.

What are you looking forward to?

Completing my own projects.

Domain Chandon, photographs by Earl Carter

Melbourne Questions -

Your top 3 favourite shops in Melbourne for home furnishings?

Between work commitments and getting out of town on the weekends- I don’t really get many opportunities to shop in Melbourne. Having said that - It is hard to resist those must have items you stumble across in your travels as a designer. Format, Geoffrey Hatty and for my Scandinavian hit - Great Dane and Three Quarters.

Marais retail store in Melbourne, photos by Shannon McGrath

What/where was the last great meal you ate in Melbourne?

Movida Aqui - an Adelaide restauranteur recently took me there for lunch. He took control of the menu and he has a habit of over-ordering. Everything we had was amazing! It’s my style of food- simple ideas executed beautifully.

Where would we find you on a typical Saturday morning?

I would like to say ‘chilling’ at the farm contemplating life’s curiosities but the current reality is working (cleaning bricks chopping wood) at the farm contemplating life’s curiosities.

Melbourne’s best kept secret?

The Botanical gardens at 7am. (I’m the guy pushing the pram, with Bergie the big brown dog) It’s like we have the place to ourselves.


  1. I'd say thats an interview well worth waiting for!
    I will watch this space eagerly to see what will come of the progeny of two uber talented creative's!

  2. What amazing ideas they've had!
    Their design aesthetic really speaks to me.
    I loved this interview, so thank you Lucy.
    I feel energised for the weekend!

  3. Great inspirational post! I love that you can learn about how these amazing designers got to where they are today. I keep thinking about moving into interior design and it really is great to get to know the Australian talent out there! Thanks Lucy

  4. Loved this interview! Tons of ideas and inspirations. Thanks!

  5. Thanks for a great interview. I love the lamp in the first picture. I love the logotype too & this building which looks like a glasshouse or an aquarium is simply fantastic!