Careers In Art: Michelle Appleton

Term: 3 Year: 2007

Interior Designer and Decorator

At what age did you decide to make a career from interior design?
In year 12 I went to an open day at RMIT Tafe & Holmesglen Tafe for Interior decoration & design. I was so impressed with what I saw that I decided that was the career for me. My preference was for the Tafe course rather than the Degree course, as it is a lot more hands on.

How long have you been in the industry and how did you get there?
I have been in the industry for 11 years, after completing the course at Holmesglen Tafe. Started out in a furnishing fabric showroom for 14 months, which gave me some good general office experience, as well as becoming familiar with the textile industry. I then moved into a small interior design firm, where I still work now.

Are there peers in your industry that set the benchmark?
I guess there are, but we all have different styles & clientele.

Do you come from a creative family?
My mum is fairly creative. She teaches home economics & textiles.

What is a day in the life of Michelle Appleton like?
My days can vary quite a lot depending on the type of project I am working on. I can be working on several projects at any given time. Our company designs houses from the ground up. My boss designs in sketch form what the house will look like & the general floor plan. These sketches are then sent to an architectural draftsperson to draw up on Autocad. I am then given these drawings so I can design the interior spaces. All my drawings are done on Mac using a program called Vectorworks. I am responsible for selecting all finishes & fittings for the house. We have regular meetings with our clients. Once all the documentation is finished, it is usually sent out to several builders for pricing. Once a builder has been appointed, we also supervise the project until completion. At this stage, there are regular fortnightly site meetings to make sure all work is going to plan.
Most clients also want our assistance with furnishings, which I organise. This sometimes involves shopping with the client  – taking them to furniture & fabric showrooms. Or I select items from catalogues.
So, my work is quite varied. I generally work on projects for a couple of years from the initial design concept to completion.

What effect has the computer age had on your work?
Computers have made a huge difference to the way I work. For years all my drafting was done by hand. We then decided to update to computer drafting (about 5 years ago), which was quite frustrating to learn at first, but once I grasped it, I have never looked back!

What are some of the negative aspects of your job?
Sometimes the clients are not easy to deal with, which makes the project very long & unenjoyable. I tend to get bored quickly and like to move from one project to the next.

What is something you would love to do that you haven’t already done?
I would love to do more travelling to Europe, America & the UK to study the houses internally which our style is influenced by. Much more exciting than learning from books!

What is it like working in a team environment and is it important?
Knowing how to work well as a team is crucial. It’s a great way to pull all areas of expertise together to make the project run (hopefully) smoothly. You also learn a lot from one another.

Concept to completion. Explain how your team / client may change those initial ideas. How do you deal with the compromise?
In the interior design industry there can be a lot of compromise, depending on budget constraints. Some clients are very easy going & happy to take our advice, which results in the end product being very close to our initial concept. Others have very strong ideas, not always in symmetry with ours, so we may end up designing spaces we don’t necessarily agree with. At the end of the day, as long as the client is happy, that’s really all that matters.

Besides design ability – what skills are essential for your role?
Being organised is probably the most important skill. Computer skills are also essential, particularly for drafting.

Where do you get most of your inspiration?
Design books & magazines.

What fellow designers have been most influential to you?
My boss. When you work with someone so closely for so many years, it’s hard not to be influenced by him.

What’s your favourite design job to date?
A private residence in Portsea, which overlooks the pier. I was involved from the initial design concept of the house, right through to furnishing the finished product. It was a great experience & the clients were fantastic to deal with.

What is your favourite piece of clothing in your wardrobe?
My runners – I love walking!

Who would you most like to sit next to on a flight to Europe?
My husband… preferably at the front end of the plane!

If you were speaking to a secondary school student who was showing interest in following in your footsteps, what advice would you give them?
Build up your folio so you have plenty of work to show for interviews. Graphics & Art are both very useful subjects, although there are now probably other design type subjects offered at schools, which I don’t even know about.