Alice Benn recently joined WMK as Senior Interior Designer so we asked her some quick questions to get to know her better...
One aspect of design most important to you?
The idea and concept has to be strong. When you see a space/ object / building and you start to understand the idea behind it, it’s a really satisfying feeling. It has to mean something beyond the basics of construction, and it has to offer something that connects people.
Biggest influence over your design?
I am influenced by so many things I can’t choose the biggest! Travel, People, Fashion and Nature all offer some unique influences.
What are your interests outside Interior Design?
I read a lot and have always been interested in how people tell their stories / All Woody Allen movies / Anything to do with our doggie, Nellie the cavoodle / Our garden / Travel / Good food
If you could do anything else, what would you do and why?
If I had any idea how too, I would love to be a sculptor. It’s my favourite art medium.
Most memorable moment in your career so far?
Our house being shortlisted for the 2014 Architecture Awards. Also the Goods Shed in Melbourne was one of my first major projects, which went on to win awards. It was a really inspiring job so the recognition was great for the whole team.
How long did your Balmain project go for, from beginning concept to occupancy?
Design process was about two years, of which we lived in the original house so had lots of time walking around marking out options. It was in council for a year as the council are notoriously difficult particularly with the heritage overlay. A lot of our ideas were pulled right back because of this. Construction was a year, and we moved in the week before Xmas 2012.
Where there any inspirations behind the job? With the Architecture and the Interiors?
The house was very inward looking and turned its back on any natural light / outdoor areas. The main inspirations behind the design were spaces with gardens that felt like an extension of the indoor areas. We also recognised it was a small house with a tight footprint. We overcame this perceived sense of scale by sacrificing a room upstairs and creating a large double height void. This has been the most significant feature I think in making the house feel bigger than it is. Inspirations came from everywhere, and we travelled a lot in the two years we were designing so there are a lot of elements that we relate back to something we saw in our travels.
Do you find that your roles as Architect/Interior Designer/ in a project naturally cross over or do you try to be disciplined and keep it separate?
I’d say that we naturally cross over 85% of the time. In a small residential projects it is impossible not to. I left all the waterproofing details and steel work shop drawings to Andrew, whilst I sourced our hand painted tiles and worked hard on a deal with Dedece for our Vola taps J
Any major hurdles with the project in regards to planning/DA
As mentioned above council were difficult. We originally had balconies for example that we rejected. It wasn’t too bad though and mostly the (very tight) community around Balmain were supportive of the design.
Do you see a trend for architecture mixing a modern feel into an older structure and do you think it is successful?
The last 15-20 years have seen people sticking a modern box onto the back of an old façade. I think it needs to be more cohesive than that, the modern details overlapping onto the old like a new skin is a more successful approach I think.
What was a major achievement with the project? Apart from winning!
Managing to fit as much usable space in as we have. We really do use the garden like another living room. Andrews planning of successful ventilation is a huge success. I fought hard to include air con but he didn’t let me win that one, and we really don’t need it in summer. I am still amazed by that.
Has there been any positive or negative reaction to your house in the neighbourhood?
It has been overwhelmingly positive. It is truly not uncommon for us to take the dog out on the weekend to find people outside looking at our house. We have given so many tours to locals I am starting to put a ban on it. People interest is really lovely though and has surprised me a lot.
What did you learn from this experience? Did you learn anything about your limitations as a designer? Would you do it this sort of project again?
I can’t wait to do it again. We learnt more that I could articulate, it was a huge growth experience for both of us. We certainly learnt that everyone on a construction site has something valuable to add. It’s a really collaborative process once you’re onsite. Our builders were fabulous and very details focussed so we were so grateful for that.
Living in a completed project, is there ever any temptation to change the layout or fixtures, is it as functional as you had planned?
People always ask us this and I feel I should have a list of things we would change, but I don’t. I love it just the way it is as it suits our needs perfectly.
Photography - Katherine Lu and Tom Ferguson
For more information on Benn & Penna ‘s award winning residence see the link below.