BEAUTY IN THE FRIDGE

Celebrating 21 Years of Mim Design

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Since establishing her award-winning practice Mim Design 21 years ago, Mim Fanning has carved out a new space for Australian interior designers. The influential designer has a portfolio of high-end residential, multi-residential, commercial, hospitality and furniture design projects. While the scale may vary, she is always guided by a search for authenticity and meaning.

Mim leads a studio that prides itself on the cross-pollination of ideas and bringing creative minds together to think differently. For Mim, collaboration is integral to design – and fundamentally, the key to enjoying the process. The process of design is also highly personal, as she values the relationships – friendships – forged with clients, colleagues and collaborators. 

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Bower Manly by Mim Design | Photography by Tom Ferguson

Speaking with Mim, she is infectiously passionate about what the Australian interior design industry offers and driving change for practitioners. But, equally, she thrives on platforming and supporting others, from the local makers she works with on each project to fostering her team’s talent. 

Mim credits being an inherently inquisitive person to realising the book, which was always on her bucket list. Her retrospective ‘Works’ reflects on Mim Design’s milestone 21 years, as much as it looks to the future of design. With a foreword by leading design author and est editorial strategy adviser Karen McCartney, the publication showcases 13 detailed case studies and includes interviews with Mim Design collaborators, Grazia&Co and Behruz Studio

To celebrate ‘Works’, we sat down with Mim to chat about her biggest feats and learnings from the past 21 years and how she always finds pleasure in the process, just as she did in making the publication. 

‘Works’ is now available for pre-order at mimdesign.com.au and will also be available from specialist bookstores from 20 September 2021.

Congratulations on celebrating 21 years of Mim Design. Could you please tell us about your retrospective ‘Works’ and how it recognises this milestone?

Mim Fanning: We all have things that we’ve always wanted to do. I love books and their tactility. A book was always a bucket list item for the firm. We were 20 in 2020 and I started the process of publishing a book in 2019. At that point, I questioned whether to go to a large publishing house, but then I thought it would be really nice to learn about the publishing process and what it takes to put a book together. I’m quite an inquisitive person and I like to understand how people do what they do and how you arrive at something. With a friend in publishing, I thought, why don’t we just do it ourselves. Producing a book was going to have a cost outlay, but it was something I wanted to be really proud of – and I wanted to curate each page with local creatives.

That was when we were working on a 20-year celebration. But then COVID-19 hit, and I thought, it’s just not the right time to be doing this. At that stage, we were also looking at costs for getting it printed overseas, and I just didn’t agree with that. It had to be local in the truest sense, from a design and publishing standpoint, right through to printing and production.

When we picked up the book after the first big lockdown in Melbourne last year, we started working on it again. It all evolved and it meant we had more time to get it right and to be really happy with the outcome – and to support local and the people who’ve supported us. 

As a book, ‘Works’ is a celebration of where we’re at, at twenty-one years. It’s a look back, but it’s also a look forward. ‘Works’ recognises our milestone through a story about how I started, where I find inspiration and where we are today. I wanted the book also to feature case studies. So thirteen projects were chosen that told a story of working with the client and the people who brought it to fruition. The projects I selected were with people we continue to work with. These are all important people, as we’ve become friends as well as colleagues, we’ve got history together and we’ve got future together as well. In the credits, we credit everybody who worked on those projects, including past employees, because you can’t do everything alone and it is about recognizing that. 

The book has two stories about supporting and collaborating with local makers Grazia&Co and designer rug specialists, Behruz Studio. I was very close to founder Behruz himself, and when he passed away, I was heartbroken. We touch on this in the book and how we came up with a ‘Walking on Clouds’ collection, which pays homage.

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Bower Manly by Mim Design | Photography by Tom Ferguson

“As a book, ‘Works’ is a celebration of where we’re at, at twenty-one years. It’s a look back, but it’s also a look forward.”

– Mim Fanning

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Bower Manly by Mim Design | Photography by Tom Ferguson

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Bower Manly by Mim Design | Photography by Tom Ferguson

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How would you describe your defining aesthetic – and how has it evolved over the past 21 years?

Mim Fanning: At Mim Design, I usually say we don’t have an aesthetic because we’re quite diverse. We will do anything from hospitality and commercial, multi-res, single-res – and we recently appointed our first director of architecture.

Our aesthetic responds to the environment of a place and space. It must have meaning, so the project has meaning. I also dislike the word ‘trend’ – I find it such a disposable word, especially when creating interiors. A trend is something that is here for now and gone tomorrow. So for us, we are about longevity, sustainability and creating timeless projects. 

For example, we did the extension at our home nearly fifteen years ago. I don’t need to change it. It’s standing the test of time, and even people who come to visit ask when did you do this? And they’re quite amazed. It’s about being authentic to the space, the environment, and the needs of its clients. We’ve had a few whimsical clients, and we’ve done some really whimsical things. At the end of the day, we’re very big on designing with purpose, meaning and authenticity.

What do you think has been the key to your relevance to the Australian interior design landscape over the past 21 years?

Mim Fanning: When I first started, I worked in an architecture firm and interior designers really just chose finishes. I always wanted more than that. I revered space planning, form and proportion – a path I always wanted to go down. 

I think the key to staying relevant has been to understanding light, space and form. It’s creating something new, not thematic in design, but original design. It’s to be an authenticator and to be inspired to think differently on projects. I drive my staff insane on multi-residential projects, as I want each development to have its own personality and story – and its own design.

From when Mim Design started to now, people’s perception has significantly shifted on what interior designers do. But I hope we keep educating the public on what we do, to be seen as more serious practitioners. I feel responsible for educating our clients and people who work with us, how strong the interior design industry is, and how much the interior design industry offers. We are spatial planners; we are designers; we understand structure; we understand engineering; we understand services, form and function. 

A lot of people think the interior design industry is glamorous. At the end of the day, we get to work on great projects with great people, but it’s not a glamorous industry. There’s a lot of problem-solving, and you have to have the smarts to challenge yourself to solve those problems. It is quite technical. It’s not just curtains and cushions, which some have the perception of. 

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In turn, how do you think you’ve shaped the design landscape as a leading Australian interior designer?

Mim Fanning: Creating awareness around quality interior design and what we do has been key to our relevance as a business and shaping the design landscape. This is why we have integrated architecture and interior design along with a furniture division in our business. Even before we added an architectural arm, our business was all about collaborating and understanding processes and projects and making people more aware we were knowledgeable in doing all of these things. Our biggest goal is for everyone to integrate with everyone in the studio to deliver a great product. Thus, being a multidisciplinary design firm has helped us to shape the design industry we work within. 

What is one of your most memorable projects to date, and why?

Mim Fanning: This is very hard to answer! There are many memorable projects with a lot of memorable people. But one of the most memorable projects to date would be our project ‘Horizon’, in Flinders, Victoria, which is on the cover of ‘Works’. It’s one of our most current projects, and I’ve had so much fun with the client and the builder, with whom I am collaborating with on further projects. We were able to push the envelope in detailing. Every sub-contractor – from the stonemason to the joiner – on that project wanted to create something unique. It opened the door for them to work on more projects with us and think of details differently. To cap it all off, it was an incredible clifftop site overlooking the ocean. You don’t always get one of those! That was an interiors job, we also have a number of architectural projects with amazing locations, and it’s great to be able to look forward to those in the near future.

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Your book commemorates your collaborative spirit, with excerpts from Grazia & Co and Behruz Studio. Why is collaboration so important to your practice?

Mim Fanning: As designers, we all like to do things on our own and have our own ideas, but at the end of the day, collaboration is key. About five or six years ago, I felt like I was butting my head against a wall. The moment you choose to say in your career, “I actually want to enjoy the process”, and enjoy a client relationship or enjoy working with another creative, you get a better result. When everyone is invested, you work on delivering an amazing project, but you also really enjoy the experience. Collaboration enables me to enjoy what I do.

Designing the Stamp collection with Grazia of Grazia&Co was fantastic. Like wanting to publish a book, I wanted to collaborate with Grazia on a furniture collection. When I sketched up the pieces, I wanted to understand the manufacturing behind them – and Grazia is absolutely amazing when it comes to manufacturing knowledge. So that was a joy because I was collaborating with a friend and somebody I was learning from as well.

Collaborating with Behruz’s sons for the Walking on Clouds rug collection was really a collaboration to celebrate a beautiful person. But I also learned so much about weaving, different yarns, and mixing colours and textures. These are all things unless you decide to design something specifically you wouldn’t otherwise have knowledge of. I found out about the village weaving the rugs with us; I found out the weavers names and the fact that they love what they do. It just takes you into a whole other sphere when you collaborate because you dive in deeper to learn more.

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What have been your biggest feats and learning experiences across the past 21 years?

Mim Fanning: One of the biggest feats was starting a business with a baby and learning the ropes of motherhood and a new business. Being a mum with kids earlier in my career, I learnt that you can’t have it all. You have to be really conscious of how you divide your time. It’s a balance, which is sometimes difficult for business owners and women in this industry. 

When I started Mim Design, I named it Mim Design because I thought it would just be me as a consultant. So it’s a feat being here today, having thirty staff, and finding myself in a place where I thought I might not be. In the past five or six years, I’ve really made an effort to work on jobs where my clients are partners and enjoyed the process of design. The amount of work and quality of work has come hand in hand with making that decision.

What do you see for the future of interior design in Australia?

Mim Fanning: For four years, we’ve been working on getting interior designers registered. We’re registered with the Victorian Building Authority. But we’re registered as building practitioners, not as interior designers. So for us, we’re working really hard for that recognition locally and federally. I am also hoping the public understands what all different interior divisions do, from interior stylists to decorators and interior designers. 

I think the future of interior design in Australia will become a lot more sustainable in how we source and select. I believe we’ll also become more locally-driven, supporting local suppliers and manufacturers. Finally, I see the future of Australian design being recognised globally for being itself and showing different design parameters.

I feel responsible for educating our clients and people who work with us, how strong the interior design industry is, and how much the interior design industry offers. We are spatial planners; we are designers; we understand structure; we understand engineering; we understand hydraulics, form and function.” 

 

– Mim Fanning

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