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Interview with Brett Mickan

Updated: Dec 8, 2019

In a fortnight Brett Mickan (BMID) is hosting a Masterclass in Melbourne for The Design Coach.

I have admired Brett’s work for many years, mainly for his confident “clash” (his words!) of design styles, colours, patterns and furniture he injects into his clients’ homes; still maintaining an elegant outcome. His designs ooze character and individuality. On top of all that, when you meet Brett he is one of the loveliest, humble and fun people to be around! With a background in theatre design, and a stint working in the United States, he brings a sophisticated and worldly sensibility to his projects.

When considering who to invite to talk to designers, Brett was first on my list. I had a chat with this highly awarded designer, known for his adventurous style and playful wit, to find out about his background and let him explain what our designers can expect in his upcoming class.

Awarded interior designer Brett Mickan

TDC: What can designers who attend the Masterclass expect?

BM: “Designers can expect to get a really detailed explanation of the steps I follow to create a concept. I’ll also be sharing my methods of presentation: which are really important for communicating my design vision.

I’ll be also discussing the benefits of going through the process of finding out and developing the story for the house and the client.

We’ll be engaging in a couple of activities that will force designers out of their comfort zones.”

TDC: Tell us a bit about your design team.

BM: “There’s 3 of us in the office: Nick (Brett’s partner of 21 years) is the full-time studio manager; we’ve been working together for 12 years now. We also have Kim for 3 days a week and she mainly does documentation. We’re looking for another part-time staff member with strong documentation skills. (Sydney designers take note!)

Currently we have about 15 projects on the go, all at different stages. We do try to stagger them so that they aren’t all being installed at the same time. It doesn’t always work out that way, but it’s a good intention to have. We aim for a maximum 10 – 12 new clients per year.”

TDC: You have a distinct style: high decoration, unapologetic use of colour and pattern. How do you refine and develop your own style?

BM: “This is a big part of what I want to share with designers at the Masterclass. It’s a big, layered process.

Opening yourself up to a lot of influences is vital: travel, movies, music and reading - not just from the design industry. These experiences add to your mind library and provide you with immeasurable inspiration. Being open to these influences also helps to make my designs look like they could be anywhere in the world.”

TDC: Tell us a bit about the process you go through to develop a concept for a client.

BM: “In some ways, I design interiors the way I learnt while I was doing theatre design. It’s very much about finding the “script” for the client – that involves a lot of research. You have to work out what their “character” is.

When I was designing sets, I would research the architecture of the time, the materials that were popular and even the fashion of the time. I deal with a client in much the same way. If I have a new client with a period home, I research what the finishes and materials of the original home would have been. I look at their interests: existing art, furniture, how they dress. Then we consider how are they going to use the space. There’s many layers!”

TDC: Your style is quite expressive. Is it due to your personality?

BM: “It does come partly from my personality, but it’s also curated. I think a home should have a bit of a sense of humour and an element of surprise. In some ways, I want anyone who comes into the space to feel that it’s not what they were expecting.

Your home should feel like a collection of your favourite pieces. How I do that for a client, and make it work with the space - that’s the trick.

It’s very important to clash and contrast and have a variation of patterns and textures. It’s that clash that gives a space energy – gives it life.”

TDC: The development of trust between client and designer is so important. What tips do you have for designers to establish a high level of trust?

BM: “Trust is the number one thing for any relationship. Trust and communication.

You have to challenge your client, so that they know that you believe in what you do. When you think an element is vital to the project, you have to explain why and educate them. Stand up for your decision. If they feel like they can dispute everything, they won’t trust you.

That doesn’t mean they have to go with everything you suggest, but unless they take a risk of some sort, it’s not going to be a design that makes a difference. You have to be gentle and be open to educating them.”

TDC: How do you educate a client that doesn’t see your vision?

BM: “Get clues about what’s important to them. Tell them why you have made these choices, and how it will relate to other aspects of the design.

When I’m designing, and pushing the client, it’s important for both parties to remember that I’m doing it to create their ideal space – it’s not about me creating a vision that I think will work in the space – it’s about them. That’s why sometimes you have to fight to get a decision through.

A big part of selling a design concept to a client is your energy and your excitement about it. It’s a show. The client can tell when you’re invested in what you’re presenting.”

TDC: You’ve recently won another gold medal at Sydney’s Driven By Design Awards (4th year in a row). How important are awards, and do you set aside time to make the applications?

BM: “It’s important and not important. We don’t do projects so that we win competitions. Unless people know who you are, they don’t know how to find you. It’s a necessary marketing tool; even if you don’t win, getting short-listed is great for your profile.”

TDC: Australian magazines love your work. What advice do you have to designers who would like to get published?

BM: “Be faithful to your design vision and do what you do well.

By far the most important thing is to get professional photographs. It’s a total image industry – a really good photograph will sell the job for you.”

TDC: Do you work to establish and nurture relationships with magazine editors?

BM: “It’s very important! When you can see an editor at an industry event make sure you go and talk to them and say hi. They need to get to know who you are as well as knowing the work you do.

Editors want something that’s going to sell the magazine. If they know you and know your work, they will believe in you. Personal marketing is a vital part of being a successful designer in Australia. I think we’re lucky here, because it’s a small market so you can make a difference relatively easily, but you’ve got to go to events to get yourself known.”

TDC: What sort of industry events would you recommend that designers attend?

BM: “You have to see where you want to market yourself. Think aspirationally – for me I want to be involved in high end design, so I go to high end events.

If you’re invited to lunch or dinner with a supplier, I think it’s important to go because you get more time and opportunity for conversation. Going to any and every event is not necessarily useful. Consider which are going to help you network in the circles you want to be associated with. You have to play the game and consider how you want to be seen and how you want to be perceived.”

TDC: You and Nick were married this year. Congratulations! Has married life changed your outlook on life or business?

BM: “It has but it hasn’t. We got married on our 21st anniversary, so life changed for us many years ago. I think we’re very lucky that we can work together as a couple! Many people can’t make that work. We respect each other, and both have our own roles within the business. We’ve learnt to leave things in the office.”

Our Masterclass with Brett is coming up in 2 weeks. We will be supplying tea and coffee, a beautiful light lunch and a couple of glasses of wine to end the day.

Time & Location

DATE: 6th October, 2018

TIME: 10am - 4pm

LOCATION: Radfords Furnishings Showroom. Level 1, 146 Burwood Road, Hawthorn.

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