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Woods Bagot’s fabulous four: Eva Sue, Fiona Chong, Melanie Porrins and Ashleigh Lyford

Woods Bagot’s Perth interiors division is led by a stellar team of women. The holistic leadership model has seen the studio’s exceptional portfolio of products flourish.

Woods Bagot’s fabulous four: Eva Sue, Fiona Chong, Melanie Porrins and Ashleigh Lyford

Left to right: Ashleigh Lyford, Melanie Porrins, Fiona Chong and Eva Sue. Photography by David Deves.

Four extraordinary women are leading the interiors team at Woods Bagot’s Perth studio. To frame their position, Woods Bagot Perth comprises a team of 45-50 design professionals, with an interiors team of 10-12 as projects dictate.

In the interiors team, the core of ten range from senior interior designers to graduates, but more importantly the whole office functions on a cross pollination model with architecture and interior melding as an integrated function of cross disciplinary performance. 

Leading Perth interiors is Eva Sue: Woods Bagot principal and Perth hospitality sector leader. With a background in both architecture and interior design, Sue is well placed to optimise the architecture/interior relationship.

Sue’s leadership model takes the form of a non-hierarchical platform whereby four leaders work collaboratively: “Four gives us strength working across multiple projects, it provides depth and diversity of thought and increases strength within that diversity of thought, and offers richness to the team and projects,” says Sue. 

Melanie Porrins and Eva Sue, photography by Dave Deves.

Moreover, there is a practice of reciprocal mentoring, where senior leaders are as likely to learn as teach: “It allows knowledge to flow both ways, particularly around technology and culture. There is also a great level of respect,” says Sue.

Melanie Porrins, senior associate and Perth workplace sector leader has worked her way up through Woods Bagot to her current position: “I think typically Woods Bagot seeks to look internally and elevate women to positions of seniority,” says Porrins.

And rightly so, Porrins is an exceptionally fine interior designer and project lead with the recent Central Park project under her purview. Arguably one of the most exciting transformations to the Perth landscape, the project converts a dark and unused lobby into an open engagement with the park and the people of Perth.

Central Park lobby, photography by Dion Robeson.

Fiona Chong, the latest to join the team as senior project leader, workplace and sometimes Hospitality project leader, is shining light in her own right. Chong brings a wealth of commercial workplace experience to Woods Bagot, having worked throughout Europe, Asia, the UK and in her own practice in Perth.

For Chong, the leadership role is one of mutual respect and mentorship in that spearheading the design aesthetic is concomitant with mentoring the team through the design journey:

“I aspire to be, as a leader, someone who provides a platform for the rest of the team to flourish. So yes, there is the stability and knowledge they can come to me for, but I allow them to run with it and really empower them as designers to take the bull by the horns and bring in new ideas, push the design and really challenge us,” says Chong.

Ashleigh Lyford, senior workplace project leader, like both Chong and Porrins is a Curtin University Graduate and like Porrins joined WB straight from university.

Central Park lobby, photography by Dion Robeson.

Here she excelled as an associate for seven years before leaving for a more flexible work arrangement and to start a family: “That flexibility that I was looking for is now here for me,” says Lyford.

Interestingly, Lyford spent some of her years away working for Kvadrat and now brings a unique understanding of fabric to the table, a tool that has increasing currency as our corporate world softens: “We’re designing spaces that are more about comfort and wellness. More than ever people need to be drawn back to work,” says Lyford.

Under this holistic leadership model, design and knowledge are certainly flourishing as attested by the recently completed ABN workplace.

Central Park lobby, photography by Dion Robeson.

Aesthetically driven by a narrative that welcomes, the interior is tonally residential with lighting designed to gather and encourage lingering. Gone are the days of rushing staff back to their desks, as clients vie for the best possible workplace to both attract and retain employees.

“It’s about bringing communities back together. We’re creating environments that facilitate coming together to work in a collaborative way,” says Sue, adding “and to socialise, we have missed that aspect of work through COVID”. 

As Porrins’ expands, there is a genuine sense of understanding in addressing the life/work balance of flexible working environments. As such, ABN chose to be in the middle of the community with restaurants, cafés and child care nearby, there is a real understanding of staff needs beyond the 9-5 of work.

Central Park lobby, photography by Dion Robeson.

To compliment this positioning the interior is catering to a new school of expert employees by creating spaces that support a great diversity of working style needs: “We’re creating spaces that speak to employees that allow a level of trust and provide agency. Basically, we’re creating a reason, a good reason, to want to go to an office,” says Porrins.

The Central Park project touched on earlier is another example of the interiors leadership team working collaboratively across an entire project from ground floor plane to lobby and up.

Sited at the crux of a three way junction and, as the name suggests, faced by a large park in the centre of Perth’s CBD, the space was nonetheless void. Many remember it as a space to run through but never stop. 

Central Park lobby, photography by Dion Robeson.

Engaged to work across the whole project, the narrative key was the expansion of the lobby experience.

Effectively revisited as a central hub, the mood and offerings are such that the client was able to attract possibly the best café in Perth. The WB interior design and realisation of the lobby as a community space is in fact remarkable with pods and meeting rooms available to all. But more than that, it is bustling: “It’s a really good example of how architecture and interior design working together can have a broader influence on the whole precinct,” says Sue.

In talking with these women, each was wholly supportive of the other. It’s rare, exceptional and most definitely a model to watch as old hierarchies fall by the wayside. Well done. 

Woods Bagot

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