Duos: Eva Sue and Melanie Porrins on Interior Design.

Melanie Porrins and Eva Sue.

Eva Sue and Melanie (Mel) Porrins work in Woods Bagot’s Perth Studio, each playing a key role in the wider leadership team. Senior Associate Mel heads up Perth’s workplace design sector, using her 15 years of experience in conceptual design, spatial planning, documentation and specification, client liaison, stakeholder consultation, and design management to create outstanding design outcomes. Eva, who is a principal, draws on her 15 years of experience delivering a breadth of lifestyle projects in the United Kingdom, Europe, United Arab Emirates and Australia to lead the studios’ hospitality sector – enriching each outcome with her trademark empathy and attention to detail.

Despite leading different sectors, Mel and Eva can often be found bouncing ideas off each other over and bonding over their shared loves of great coffee and sustainable fashion. Both are champions of the power of interior design to create positive change.

Located in Perth, Australia, Central Park Lobby is a diverse social hub for the community.

What role do interior designers play in creating community?

Eva: Interior designers are cultural curators. We uncover narratives and turn them into spatial experiences that celebrate history and the environment – drawing out a deeper connection between people and place.

For example, our work on the Bassendean Hotel focused on reinstating its role as the communities’ social and cultural heart. To ensure that the upgraded hotel could connect with the wider neighborhood, the team engaged with the local council to understand their community development strategies, demographic profiles and other relevant initiatives – deep diving into the past and identifying future aspirations to ensure cultural relevance.

We started by exposing the historic bones of the building to reveal the hotel’s layered past. The design celebrates original architectural features such as timber beams, brickwork, remnants of pressed tin ceilings and we unearthed fireplaces under 1970’s render. We also had a little fun by creating a series of eclectic spaces personified by characters associated with the hotels history and these spaces will be layered with curated artwork, historic photography, antiques and objects. The Bassendean’s future as a welcoming and inclusive landmark has been solidified by the creation of multiple zones which appeal to different patrons and support the activities of the neighborhood at large.  Currently in construction, the project is a labour of love shared with our client and the builder. 

Mel: The idea of community – creating, building and maintaining one – means so much to interior designers. We are uniquely equipped to create empathetic spaces that foster connection, so establishing a sense of community is something that we strive for regardless of the scope or scale of the project we’re working on.

From a workplace perspective, generating connections between individuals, teams and organizations is a very high priority (particularly as we return to the office more permanently). Interior designers in the workplace sector will focus on creating spaces that are purpose-built for collaboration and conversation by introducing a diversity of space that accommodates different personalities, functions and uses. Central Park Lobby, for example, is a space that has become a social hub for the Central Park building and wider city surroundings. The lobby creates a sense of community by being a welcoming space that is free to use, diverse in its offering of functions and working styles, and private – it’s the perfect space to connect over a coffee or network with peers.

How do you ensure that each project has a meaningful outcome?

Mel: Early engagement with the local community stakeholders. When you connect directly with the right people, you solve a lot of issues up front because you’re taking the time to understand the many different perspectives and needs that your project will need to address. Undertaking observational studies and getting a strong cross-section of the wants and needs of everyone involved will yield a sensitive result that sees solutions integrated in an intelligent manner. It’s incredibly important to get cultural insights from indigenous advisors because these custodians – past, present and emerging – are able to share information about our land that has great impact on how we understand its significance and history.

Eva: Establishing and understanding needs and values of the project clearly and early. It’s an interior designer’s responsibility to evaluate a design brief against the unique set of values and experiences that are relevant to the user to inform the experience of the physical space. Meaningful outcomes require a contextual response that has relevance to the local audience and community, a successful project will enrich the community it’s a part of.  

A new courtyard fronting onto Old Bassendean road is a significant addition to further engagement with the community (render by Woods Bagot).

Indiana Perth seeks to deliver a world class beachside experience whilst improving equitably access and generational community benefits (render by Woods Bagot and ERA Co).

What advice would you give to someone considering a career in interior design?

Eva: Follow your passion, have patience, be your authentic self and find your voice. Remember that your talent and experience is transferrable across multiple design disciplines, sectors and scale – don’t be so attached to your ‘Interior Designer’ title that you miss out on chances to expand your design horizons.

Mel: Be open to the journey! It’s a broad industry so be ready to enjoy the multiple hats you’ll need to wear as a confidant, counselor, textile expert, technical problem solver, event designer, translator, writer, choreographer and many more. Look forward to becoming an expert in reading between the lines and understanding what people mean when they’re not experts in expressing themselves.

How do you see interior design evolving in the next 5 years?

Mel: I think we’ll continue moving towards becoming more sustainable by focusing on developing ways to reuse and repurpose materials and elements instead of throwing them away. Designers and consumers will continue to be invested in the story behind the products they use and buy into the process of how, and where, they came to be – which will also see a continued rise in the consumption of locally made and sourced materials. I’d love to see the term “out of style” become out of style!

Eva: I think the next 5 years will see the interior design industry respond to the increasing number of virtual experiences with an emphasis on the tactile and immersive – focusing on the physical experience and encouraging the user to be present in the space and moment by emphasizing touch, materiality and hand-crafted details. I also think that there will be an increased desires for bespoke or vintage pieces with unique and embedded stories – much like the lasting appeal of original artwork. People will grow tired of following trends and crave personalization.

Eva and Mel outside Central Park Lobby.