Meet the designers of Space Furniture's new Brisbane showroom, Damien Mulvihill and Mark Simpson of DesignOffice. The duo are fast gaining a reputation for interiors full of inspiration and immersive experiences designed to engage us in the real world.

In an access-driven digital world where communication channels like Facebook and Youtube also operate as online shopfronts, a new generation of retail spaces are offering what the online platform cannot – immersive design experiences that engage us way beyond the transaction. 

For Melbourne design and architecture studio DesignOffice, the experience of shopping and getting lost in the moment is key to their approach. Heidi Dokulil caught up with Damien Mulvihill and Mark Simpson to talk about the ideas behind their first project for Space Furniture, a new showroom in East Brisbane’s creatively evolving area of New Farm.

Natural light streams in from the ‘roof lanterns’, highlighting the SP01 Design collection and creating dramatic verticality. Photo: Toby Scott

Natural light streams in from the ‘roof lanterns’, highlighting the SP01 Design collection and creating dramatic verticality. Photo: Toby Scott

After a chance meeting with Space Furniture’s CEO Christina Caredes at an industry awards night two years ago, Mark Simpson and Damien Mulvihill received a phone call and an exciting proposition. “It was completely out of the blue,” recalls Mark. “I remember Christina saying that it was going to be fast and a challenging but exciting brief, which is what we like, so we ran with it literally."

DesignOffice's Mark Simpson, left, and Damien Mulvihill, right. Image courtesy of DesignOffice. Photo: Sean Fennessy.

DesignOffice's Mark Simpson, left, and Damien Mulvihill, right. Image courtesy of DesignOffice.
Photo: Sean Fennessy.

Referred to as the 'little tin shed', Space’s new building located on Chester Street is just around the corner from their original showroom in Brisbane’s New Farm. The brief was to transform a somewhat nondescript shed with an exposed tin roof and timber trusses into Space’s new headquarters. “I recall Christina saying that the building didn’t have a lot of inherent architectural qualities but the location was good”, remembers Mark. "The functional brief was quite tough and we liked that about it. The really nice thing was that creatively it wasn’t overly prescriptive, it was quite an experiential and emotional brief."

Room vignettes in the Space Furniture Brisbane showroom are designed to engage clients in stories and brand experiences. Photo: Toby Scott

Room vignettes in the Space Furniture Brisbane showroom are designed to engage clients in stories and brand experiences. Photo: Toby Scott

The brief DesignOffice received described an interior that felt warm, was a place where the team could feel the daylight, and where they would 'feel human'. "I think the brief really expressed that the Queensland market tends to be more relaxed”, remarks Damien. “Also, the Queensland context is slightly different, they do sell more outdoor furniture so there is an indoor, outdoor transition, a threshold, so that has informed the approach."

Central to the project is what Mark describes as two really big design moves. The first was to bring light inside. So three insertions were made in the roof for large light lanterns which are 'greened out’ with plantings. The lanterns create very simple white folded forms, fondly described as 'little ‘hats’, that delineate the interior space and provide visual breaks, with daylight and tumbling greenery to temper views. "By punching through the roof we are creating a change in the light quality, but also making a series of 'outdoor' rooms”, explains Damien. "The overlay of furniture elements, informed by a subtle but structured grid through the showroom, form a series of vignettes."

Using a colour-coding system, key structural elements have been identified to temper the expansive interior. Photo: Toby Scott

Using a colour-coding system, key structural elements have been identified to temper the expansive interior. Photo: Toby Scott

The other big moment is the façade. "One of the things that Christina said to us”, recalls Mark, “was that the existing building needs to be 'gift wrapped'.. So we gave it a haircut first, taking off the angled parapet walls, and then we clad it in a metallic veil which is all about making the building both softer and visually confident. The veil is made of aluminium and behind it is a continuous face of shopfront glazing with columns sitting behind, so it becomes much more about a giant window of product.”

What is clever about the transformation is DesignOffice’s deft articulation of the building’s structural elements. They have taken an art director’s eye to the existing building and identified key moments using colour. It’s this confidence that is so successful within the newly articulated interior. The entry is defined by purposeful marble which has weight and beauty, and the language of simple white lanterns perfectly tempers the furniture collection in all its colour and texture. With the final layering of plants and natural light animating the space and highlighting its verticality.

The exterior ‘veil' is made of aluminium, with a continuous face of shopfront glazing behind that's a giant window into the Space collection. Photo: Toby Scott

The exterior ‘veil' is made of aluminium, with a continuous face of shopfront glazing behind that's a giant window into the Space collection. Photo: Toby Scott

"The existing interior was all black, a big nothing. The brief from Space included images of the B&B Italia showroom in Italy where the services are separately expressed. There’s even a bit of the Centre Pompidou, it was about pulling the building apart to make it feel like a composition of elements”, enthuses Mark. "We talked about a layered approach tabled by workplace consultants DEGW years ago – structure, services, scenery. There is a theatre analogy to breaking everything down by elements and going back to the bones."

It’s this theatricality that makes for the best retail experiences that go far beyond the digital focus on prompt delivery. It also shows just how important bricks and mortar are when designed well.  

"It’s definitely an experiential space”, explains Damien. "With furniture, people like to touch and see, so the retail store is really about the opportunity of engaging with the brand, and sometimes it’s about purchasing something small. I am going to look at the sofa but I’m just going to buy some accessories while I’m thinking about it."

Awarded for their work across hospitality, retail, workplace and residential, DesignOffice has an ability to explore ideas very holistically, instilling a pared-back aesthetic that is both reductive and expressive. Strong architectural elements are always key, with clever and often invisible details subtly shaping the experience. 

"We talk a lot about the interior ‘experience'. As much as the visual detail of the design is so important, it’s also about the acoustics, the lighting, and with restaurants the food and the service”, explains Mark. "That is what makes you feel great and it’s what really interests us".

Space Furniture Brisbane     
35 Chester Street
Fortitude Valley, QLD, 3000    
07 3253 6000


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