Even though Chelsea Hing had worked at some of Australia’s most respected interiors firms, it was when she stepped out on her own in 2007 that she realised she would have to cultivate her own visual language. “I had to stand for something,” she says. “My work had to have a point of view. It took me a few years to really get a handle on those things but that early learning and level of thinking has formed the backbone of how I make decisions today.” This understanding was key to making her Melbourne-based business tick over and thrive. But there was never any real doubt that she should work in interior design. “I am able to mesh the two sides of myself together,” Chelsea says. “My artistic sensibility mixed with a bent for the technical, quite possibly inherited from my engineer father, sits really well with what an interior designer does.”
Which five words best describe you? Tenacious, honest, intuitive, curious, dreamer.
How did you get your career start and what path have you taken since? Fresh out of design school and sporting a shaved head from a mid-year trip around Europe, I landed my first job with Nexus Designs. I had approached them through the mentor program at RMIT to gain some advice on which firms I might be suited for. I didn’t get very far and was offered the job on the spot. Right place, right time? I was probably lucky to get in when I did. I learnt everything an interior designer needs to know at Nexus under Janne Faulkner, Harley Anstee and Sonia Simpfendorfer. I ran all kinds of projects from demo to reno right through to furnishing and finishing. I loved all of it and really received the best experience I could hope for. But I wanted to go discover the world of design so I took a job at the big architecture firm Bates Smart. It was a totally different culture and it helped me focus on what I loved most about design. After a tough year of sharpening my tools I left. I launched my own studio, Chelsea Hing, soon after.
What’s the best lesson you’ve learnt along the way? There have been so many lessons. Not one single one jumps out as there are a handful that a really important. Number one is to keep trusting myself, keep taking risks, keep being courageous. Without that, everything remains stagnant. Number two is realising you can make it all up as you go. This was a revelation. When I first started, I thought there must be a right way to do certain things, until I had to raise my first invoice and I realised I had to just make one up. That was an important lesson as it taught me my business could be anything I wanted it to be. I realised it better reflect my values, it better reflect what I care about. For me, staying true to self, also means staying true to self in business. We don’t do anything we feel a bit “iffy” about. We do what feels right. Finally, if you want something, you need to create it.
What’s your proudest career achievement? Being able to create beautiful houses for our clients that have made a difference to their lives. Through that, I have forged some fantastic personal relationships, clients become friends and I get to go back over and over to see how they live and grow in their houses. It’s fantastic. With that privilege has come the opportunity to create a portfolio of work I’m really proud of. As the studio has grown over the last few years my current proud achievement is assembling and inspiring my team on the things that are important to us as people and important to how we approach the work we do for our clients.
What’s been your best decision? Residential interiors were always my first love and what I had the strongest passion for. So a few years in, against all advice, I started turning down any job offers that weren’t private homes. Eventually all the work the studio was doing was residential and suddenly everything made so much more sense. The flow of our work was more consistent because we could control it, the technical expertise we held was more intense and the problems we were solving over and over again honed my craft as a designer faster than I had experience in any other time in my creative life. I was onto something, and that decision came from the gut. I am reminded to trust it when making difficult decisions ever since.
Who inspires you? Masters and artists of every kind, people who produce beautiful work from their passion. Ilse Crawford for her incredible interiors that I would travel the world to be in, their call is that strong. Danielle LaPorte for her spiritual guidance and all-round amazing woman-ness. I pull a truthbomb card from her deck, daily. Brene Brown for her courage to say what we all were too afraid to say. Achille Castiglioni for the gift of producing - some of my favourite - furniture and lighting pieces right up until his death.
What are you passionate about? After nearly 10 years with my own studio, I’m still passionate about the work because I’m passionate about ideas. Imagining possibilities, framing spaces in my mind and dreaming up how to create something beautiful that has meaning is when it all clicks into place for me. Recently our team has been looking at the theme of empowerment in what we do and how we work together. This has had a ripple effect on all of us and I’m excited to see how we can weave that into our vision for the future and everything we do.
Which person, living or dead, would you most like to meet? They always change; currently I’d like to host a dinner party with Iris Apfel, Nelson Mandela, Andree Putman, Le Corbusier and Oprah.
What dream do you still want to fulfill? To live in Morocco in an amazing riad, just for a short while. Back home, to do up a rambling old house and sit on my back porch in a swing looking out to my garden.
What are you reading? I’m re-reading Daring Greatly by Brene Brown - her work on wholeheartedness is a balm for the soul. I’ve also just finished Not My Father’s Son by Alan Cumming, the actor.
images courtesy of chelsea hing