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Interview with Hamish Guthrie of Hecker Guthrie

Updated: May 1

Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. John Lennon and Paul McCartney. Buzz Lightyear and Woody. Some partnerships create a unique kind of magic and are so successful and enduring, they become part of popular culture. In the interior design industry, Hamish Guthrie and Paul Hecker are one such partnership, revered for their outstanding contribution to design.

The duo met in the mid-1990s while working in architect Daryl Jackson’s office and soon discovered a mutual respect and alignment of ideas. Fast forward 19 years and their multidisciplinary studio is renowned for creating spaces that go beyond the aesthetic to evoke a sense of gravitas and belonging.

On Thursday 14 November, The Design Coach is inviting you inside the inspiring world of Hecker Guthrie. At our not-to-be missed masterclass, Paul and Hamish will talk about how designers can thoughtfully create contemporary interiors in a heritage context. In the lead-up to this exciting event, Hamish chatted to us about his design ethos and reflected on his illustrious career.

two men smiling
Paul Hecker and Hamish Guthrie, founders of Hecker Guthrie. Photo courtesy of Hecker Guthrie.

TDC: You started out working with Paul in architect Daryl Jackson’s studio. How did those years set you up for a successful career?

HG: Daryl Jackson's was incredibly vibrant, energetic and prolific and there was no shortage of great projects running through the studio. Daryl had quite an intimate way of working, he brought a personal perspective to every project which gave us a good grounding in making design less about aesthetics and more about the rigour of design.

During our time there, we had an opportunity to work on the Crown Casino project. The whole world opened up because the rule book was thrown out the window. Suddenly the tool box of ideas and the palette of materials was almost limitless which fostered a great culture of innovation and intense design. It became a great testing ground in contrast to some of the more institutional, educational or commercial work we were doing. Suddenly there was this other way of exploring design in front of us.

TDC: You’ve said that designers often start their careers focussing on a particular look but with maturity it becomes less about look and more about quality and the feeling that a space evokes. Can you expand on this concept of quality over ‘surface’ style?

HG: As a new designer, you have endless opportunities to explore ideas. You’ve come out of university where you’ve been exposed to a whole plethora of design language and architecture. From there, you have to discover your style and your take on contemporary interior design. Initially, that comes from being inspired by others. With time you start to narrow down that world and distill ideas into something that makes sense to you on a more personal level. Instead of looking at the whole spectrum for inspiration, you start to gravitate towards things that are true and honest to the way you want to work. And you start to understand that you don't need to find inspiration elsewhere because you're the one who is setting a direction and inspiring other people to engage with your ideas.

soothing loungeroom
Fitzroy House by Hecker Guthrie in collaboration with JCB Architects/Piccolo Developments. Photo credits: Trevor Mein.

TDC: Hecker Guthrie works across many different sectors – hospitality, retail, commercial and residential. How do you manage these diverse specialities across your team?

HG: We don't really see them as being that separate because we’ve established strong principles around the way we work through a process and the way we formulate a space. There are ideas and elements that underpin our work across every sector. For example, our residential work is informed quite strongly by our hospitality work and vise versa. There is an in-house synergy or cross pollination of ideas across different sectors that hopefully tie together our body of work.

We don't feel daunted tackling a large commercial fit out because we are approaching it through the eyes of a residential designer or a hospitality designer. We're not going in with blinkers on as a purely commercial designer. That approach may limit us in terms of engaging with massive projects but I also think our more intimate way of working stands us in good stead for large scale commercial work. A lot of our commissions have come not because we have experience in that sector but because we can bring something new to it.

TDC: What do you mean when you refer to 'lost Melbourne' and what can designers do to 'save’ Melbourne in terms of our city’s heritage?

HG: Far too often we see projects getting lost because they come in the way of people getting what they want. We don't build with the same quality today as we did a hundred years ago, yet people are quite happy to pull things down and replace them with something secondary or of lesser quality. Looking at a Victorian building, there is so much texture and decoration to draw on through the space – the solidity of the walls, the thickness of the floor material, the texture of the panelling or cornicing, the positioning of a ceiling rose. All these things give us cues about how we occupy space. It breaks our hearts when see a building that has this built-in, innate quality to it just disregarded or stripped back. For example, when people remove the fireplace from a room because they don’t like the fireplace. Even though you don't use it, the fireplace still has massive significance in terms of how the space was originally planned and how you orientate the furniture. That’s not to say we can’t challenge those ideas.

Designers have to adopt a more sensitive approach and tread lightly in their approach to these spaces. We’re not a studio that tries to reinvent the wheel or recreate the old, we draw on the traditions of how people occupy, engage with and experience space to create contemporary interior spaces.

"The mantra that runs through our studio is, don’t pull anything down unless you’re going to replace it with something better."

TDC: Can you talk through some of the projects you're working on at the moment?

HG: It’s a pretty varied mix. We’re working on a hotel in Bendigo, a sparkling wine house in Margaret River, a retail space, a gym, and residential projects including freestanding old houses as well as contemporary development projects. One of the residential projects we’re working on is in Adelaide and it’s commensurate with those beautiful sandstone churches. We work in urban Melbourne but we also have a strong affinity with rural, country areas. We get a lot of reward out of responding to existing architecture and find that a lot of inspiration can come from the project’s location, whether it be the natural environment or the location’s history like the gold rush in Bendigo.

set out dining table
Piermont Restaurant by Hecker Guthrie. Photo Credits: Shannon McGrath.

TDC: You and Paul have been working together for nearly 20 years– congratulations! What is the secret to your successful partnership?

HG: It comes back to that inquisitive approach to design and constantly challenging ourselves. And it comes full circle back to our time in Daryl Jackson’s studio. As young designers, we weren’t always working on the most exciting projects, sometimes it was the bathroom or kitchenette in a hospital or a school. But we learned to always find the best solution for that part of the brief. No matter how simple the brief, it’s about finding the opportunities within each project to do something different. That is something we still do today.

"We keep challenging ourselves, we keep challenging our clients, and we try to inspire the whole studio along with our collaborators and craftspeople."

We want to achieve the best outcome for our clients and ensure we’re personally fulfilled at the same time.

A successful partnership is also about having respect for the person you're in partnership with. Paul and I are very different personalities and we work in very different ways but often we get to a similar end point. I think the two contrasting approaches have served us very well, not only as a partnership but as a collective in the studio. There are these different energies coming through the studio and different eyes commenting on projects. A studio of engaged and talented people is so important and we feel blessed that we have this great team. We try to bring enthusiasm to everything that we do. We commit our lives to this profession and we want to make sure we’re creating an enjoyable, enthusiastic and engaging environment.

gelato shop menu
Piccolina by Hecker Guthrie. Photo credits: Shannon McGrath.

TDC: What's your take on the future of the interior design industry?

HG: I think that the world has changed incredibly quickly. When we started, there were a lot less people working in the industry and there was significant diversity through the studios. There weren’t a lot of smaller interior designs firms and that is something that has developed over time which is a great thing. There is also more appreciation for design in terms of bringing design into everyday life to improve a brand or the way people live, work or play. I’d love to see that continue to develop and evolve over time. I don’t think there will be a significant leap in the way that happens, it will just take time to ingrain design into our culture. Eventually you won’t have to convince people that design is a good thing, people will just understand that it is. In countries like Scandinavia, design is such an innate part of the way they live and the way they engage with people. I think we still have a way to go in Australia but we’re heading in the right direction.

The world has become quite small in terms of the kind of imagery bombarding the industry. Everyone is looking at the same points of reference and you see that reflected in a lot of work. I think there might be a recorrect on some of that, where people start to look at more localised responses to design, like the way we look at each project on its architectural merit or location merit. The fear is that design will become generic and less specific with less design value. I think we’ll see a push against design being too image based and clients coming to you with a look rather than a brief.

At Hecker Guthrie we say, “Don’t tell us what you want it to look like, tell us how you want to feel in the space.”

We want to create a heightened sense of experience at different touch points through a space. The way people relate to a space is the fundamental driver behind everything we do.

inside fire place
Many Little by Hecker Guthrie. Photo credits: Shannon McGrath.

Incredible insights from an incredible designer. We could listen to Hamish speak for days on end. If you feel the same, don’t miss the Hecker Guthrie masterclass next Thursday where Hamish and Paul will talk about drawing inspiration from heritage architecture to create meaningful contemporary spaces. Spots are limited so book today.

If you have any topics that you’d like covered by our Masterclasses or Seminar Series, let us know by emailing and we’ll make it happen! Limited tickets for the Masterclass: Hecker Gurthrie are available here.

Time & Location



DATE: Thursday 14th November 2019

TIME: 6.30pm - 8.30pm

LOCATION: Hecker Guthrie, 1 Balmain Street, Richmond VIC 3121

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