Interior designer MARDI DOHERTY takes a typical Melbourne terrace house and bends all the rules.
Any dissection of Mardi Doherty’s design necessitates a good read through her résumé. It’s varied and very impressive, and it runs the gamut from site-specific luxury installations in London to hardcore institutional architecture in Melbourne. And it diarises the evolution of an elegantly restrained hand. In short order, Doherty graduated from Interior Design at Melbourne’s RMIT in 1994, commenced a degree in architecture, dropped out to become an artist and detoured back into design (learning to detail “drama” in the office of Chris Connell) before decamping to London. There, she landed a gig with the late Irish architect David Collins, the Prada-suited showman who traded in sybaritic glamour and the slogan: ‘Bespoke, be creative, be better’. My CV speed-read stalls at this credential and its mention of Madonna, who, the fine print informs, commissioned Collins, the creator of such quintessentially London haunts as The Wolseley and Claridge’s Bar, to deliver the best of British in her Belgravia home. So, what’s Madge really like? “Oh, she’s simply divine,” replies Doherty, amused that such smallest citation of celebrity has sidelined her CV (a document transiting through terms in the Conran Design Office, Lab Architecture Studio and Bates Smart to a partnership with interior designer Fiona Lynch). “Madonna was always open to consultation and the aesthetic of the country she lived in, and she always got a good team together. She’s done it with music, and she did it with design.” This observation about the pop star’s holism diverts the discussion back to Doherty’s résumé and the 2014 foundation of her own design studio — an all-female practice now with five practitioners. “You are only as good as the sum of your parts,” she says, nominating Monday mornings as the collective moment to cast an eye over all work. “From that general banter come the breakthroughs — the brilliant ideas often tabled by those not on the project.” And so to this Fitzroy house — a pastiche of Doherty’s design past filtered through her project office and a raft of the personal likes she’s gleaned from Instagram, including the Mid-century architecture of Donald Wexler, intermittent visits to demolition sites and the art of Anselm Kiefer. It all decants into the interiors of one of two attached three-story dwellings that two couples developed on a vacant site in Melbourne’s inner city. The couples jointly commissioned Inarc Architects to design the architecture (shaped by the streetscape’s terrace typology), but one of the couples brought Doherty into the design-and-development phase early because they’d lived with her work for 20 years and loved it. “The problem with the terrace house is that you’re living in a tube,” says Doherty, sitting in her client’s new kitchen — an open-ended insert into a ground floor that gets gun-barrel views of street-sharp Fitzroy to the east and a geometrically blocked garden to the west, landscaped by Plant Agent. “There are always issues with natural light.” Although an open plan would facilitate the client’s desired flow of light, living and sightlines to the street, Doherty was briefed to ››
You are only as good as the sum of your parts
‹‹ avoid the “big, vacuous space” but address its benefits. Accordingly, she detailed the heart-of-house kitchen — “for two very social beings” — as a rusticated piece of postwar optimism, à la Gio Ponti, abstracting the smile of hope in a sly black graphic that scores the edge of a bank of overhead cupboards. Doherty reinforced the linearity of the ground-level plan without resorting to rectangles by designing a monumental terrazzo bench that is chamfered at one end (a notional arrow pointing passage to the garden) and chopped off at the other by an oxidised, steel-framed bar. This customised fixture — dual functioning as a room divider and a cocktail dispenser — is infilled with fluted glass that both filters light and fuzzes life beyond into Impressionistic daubs of colour. It answers the conflicting concerns of connection, separation and the conduction of light in one convivial gesture. The entry to the house is similarly contrived with a wall of open shelves defining one side of an implied hallway that is part-lined in a Ponti-like play of graphic tiles — a “ceramic surface audibly announcing arrival”. This hallway’s cambered end wall features a neon squiggle by artist Hannah Quinlivan and feeds into a formal living room that is warmed by a gas fire framed with a Tetris of Japanese tiles. These chalky stone diamonds wink at the fractal geometries of Federation Square, the Lab Architecture Studio-designed landmark on which Doherty worked for three years. The honest solidity of a dining table by local craftsman John Waters tells of Doherty’s time with Conran Design, while Collins’s bespsoke fantasia is legible in the continuum of luxury textures and handcrafted details. The tones are calm, quiet, sparingly lush (magenta bathes the upstairs main bedroom in the shade of optimism) and leave exuberant expression to the owners and outer life. “And that’s just the way it should be,” says Doherty, equating her work to the building of a brand identity. “Our job is to find a consistency of elements that tells the client’s story in a meaningful way.”
this page: in the study, Contained (2015) by MELINDA SCHAWEL from Flinders Lane Gallery; custom-made desk; desk chair from Ikea; MR RIGHT timber carved bowl from After Online; Flowerpot Table VP3 lamp from Great Dane. opposite page: in the kitchen, terrazzo-tiled benchtop in Urbane from Fibonacci Stone; Mosque green splashback tiles from PERINI; Dita stools from Grazia & Co; LOGAN SERIES CC10 ceiling-mounted lights from LPA; wire-mesh bowl from Safari Living; ERIK MAGNUSSEN vacuum jug for Stelton from Top3 by Design. Details, last pages.
In the dining room, custom cherrywood dining table by JOHN WATERS; MOBITEC dining chairs from Temperature Design; Objects of Free Use table accessories by ANNA VARENDORFF from Hub Furniture; SAHAR COLLECTION Fresco rug from Behruz Studio.