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Five Minutes With… Girl Power @ Gray Puksand!

Two of Gray Puksand’s brand spanking new team members – Maria Correia, Director of Interior Design Brisbane, and Anna Breheny, Director of Interior Design Sydney – speak on the importance of women in leadership and our brave Aussie design culture.

Five Minutes With… Girl Power @ Gray Puksand!

How did you both come to practice design? 

MC: Well I actually wanted to be an actress! So I’ve had a very strange journey. I had a fantastically inspiring art teacher, and got involved in dramatics around the same time, which I loved. But when I had a dilemma about what to do after school, he said, “Maria, you’re not an actress – you’re much too pragmatic!” So I went to university, and for each course, they had written up a profile with personality traits most suited to either architecture or design. And although in my mind, I thought there was such a prestige around architecture, I thought, ‘I’m definitely a designer, and not an architect.’

AB: I just always loved it. My mum had great taste, and I always had an interest in creative things. I did a lot of art at school, and – do you remember the Wentworth Courier? Well, in Sydney there was this coloured property newspaper that would come round every Wednesday. I used to pounce on it, and my friend and I would call each other and say “Gosh! Look at the house on page 17! Imagine if you could put in a pool, and change this, and do that…” What dorks! So I suppose I’ve always wanted to do it as a career.



Your favourite space – public or personal?

MC: It has to be the Victoria & Albert Museum. It’s filled with a wonderful sense of history, and a real tradition of arts and crafts, and it’s just the most inspiring space. We think of design as something that’s new, but it actually dates back such a long way, and I think that museum brings that point across. That, and the complete antithesis would be The Tate Modern!

AB: In terms of psychology of space, I’d have to say my bedroom! I absolutely love my bed. I know you’re probably looking for a famous architectural answer, but I really think the psychology of the bedroom is so important. It should be a space where you go to be quiet, to be tranquil, and to sleep – so I always try to create a different feeling in that room from the rest of the house.

In terms of design, I do love the Guggenheim in New York. The central spiral is just like a beautiful orange peel down the middle. The beauty is in its simplicity, and it’s just perfect in what it is.

They’re probably two of my favourite spaces, totally different – my room is NOTHING like the Guggenheim!



One thing that strikes me about Gray Puksand is their support of women in leadership roles. Who are the female creatives that have inspired your career path? 

MC: My ex-boss who is now working at Interbrand – she comes from an interior design background, and has moved into branding. She has been very inspirational. And another ex-boss who was on the marketing side continues to be a great influence. Also, I’ve only just got to know her, but Heidi Smith! She’s fantastic. Very charismatic. I feel there’s an old perception that women have to behave like men in order to get ahead, but I’m a real advocate for women succeeding in their own way, as women. And I think Heidi is a great example of that.

AB: I’ve been lucky in that I’ve always had female colleagues I could learn from. In terms of specific figures – there have definitely been more men than women in supervising roles throughout my career, but I’m thrilled to see that changing. And I’m really proud to be part of a company that supports diversity more generally. I haven’t been working with Heidi very long but I do think she’s amazing, she’s certainly someone that I do look up to and take inspiration from.



What are your observations of the different gender roles in the design industry? How can we work to resolve these issues?

MC: To be honest, I’m not as familiar with the Australian scene, although I am getting a view that there can still be quite a masculine approach to how things operate. I think women can bring a positive emotional quality to a project – I know when we hear the word ‘emotional’, we tend to think negatively – but as we’re moving into an era where everything is so driven by technology, this becomes more and more important. The intuition that women can have is going to be a major strength as we move forward.

AB: I think it’s changing a lot. I’ve just moved back from 15 years in the UK and from what I can see, things are definitely better here than there. The attitude in Australia is much more equal, and women appear to be more visible in public, in leadership as well as speaking at round table discussions and forums on design, so it seems we’re on the right track.



Anna, you have a passion for Biophilic Design – tell me why this is such a focus for you, and how we might perhaps see this incorporated in your work.

AB: Biophilic design is about bringing the outdoors in, replicating nature in an interior space. Since the beginning, all our senses have been designed to react very strongly to nature – it’s so beautiful and powerful. So I love that we’re now in a place where we can put science behind this mode of design. We have evidence to support positive outcomes in the spaces we create, and it gives us, as designers, so much more gravitas – which really helps when our clients often don’t come from creative industries.



Maria, you have been based in London for the past 20 years – can you comment on the changing landscape for the design industry there, following Brexit?

MC: My husband is Australian and I love it here, but London is my city of choice, and my home. Brexit certainly did have an impact though, and I know that a lot of UK design agencies are really, really worried. Often, the real strength of a studio’s creativity comes from that combination of diverse perspectives, so breaking away will take its toll. But at the moment, it’s purely emotional and psychological. The real ramifications around pricing and taxes haven’t really come into play yet.



Having worked overseas, do you have a sense of what qualities are unique to the Aussie design identity?

MC: I think Australians, especially in Brisbane, are far more relaxed. There’s more of an easy approach to how they look at things. And to a certain extent, that can inform how you interpret wider trends. The designers here are really passionate about what they do. I think Brisbane is a bit of an untold story… there’s some cool stuff that comes out of here!

But I can tell you that from the other side of the world in London, we used to look towards Australian design all the time. In terms of where technology is moving, and the energy of the Millennial generation, I think Australian design captures a lot of that, and the Brits admire that aspect.

AB: Australian designers and creatives in general are more daring and open minded, possibly because we are allowed to be – we’re not bound by tradition because we are such a young country. We’re also not so restricted by space, like much of the world is. The culture here is very forward-thinking, we’re willing to try something new.



What projects will we see you working on in the near future?

MC: We’re working on The Roma Street project at the moment, which is a combination of workspace and retail. Delivering that total solution is what I find really exciting. It’s about integrating retail and understanding the urban context, coming to grips with consumers, how they live, work and shop – and being able to design an experience around that.

AB: We are currently working on a new office for Knight Frank in North Sydney, which I’m excited about. It’s a great one, and it helps that they’re great clients. It will be a boutique style office, with a uniquely tailored identity for that team.

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