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Studio Tate pays forward with its pro-bono design programme

Carley Nicholls and Alex Hopkins of Studio Tate are passionate about making good design accessible to all. The studio’s pro-bono social impact programme has transformed its working culture, and the everyday lives of its clients.

Studio Tate pays forward with its pro-bono design programme

Left to right, Carley Nicholls and Alex Hopkins, photography by Heidi Wentworth.

Ever since Carley Nicholls and Alex Hopkins opened the doors to Studio Tate, seven-and-a-half years ago, they have been passionate about making good design accessible for all.

“We’re committed to how the design industry can contribute to breaking the cycle of disadvantage in Melbourne,” Hopkins says, design director.

Studio Tate first began working pro-bono on small design jobs with non-profit organisations and sectors that are otherwise overlooked, through word of mouth, colleague and family connections.

Today, that has evolved into a pro-bono social impact programme within the business. The studio provides a full scope of design works on larger projects with clients that have a need to refresh their space but have limited resources and budgets.

Studio Tate OC House
OC House.

“Typically, these organisations don’t have much money to be able to make change, but we’ve provided our design services free of charge,” Hopkins says.

One of Studio Tate’s clients is CASA (Centre Against Sexual Assault) House, for which the team provided interior architecture services to improve the waiting room and team meeting room in their Melbourne city location.

Studi Tate also worked with The Royal Women’s Hospital Foundation to provide a larger scope of works for a new office with full design detailing, and design services for various rooms within the hospital’s NICU (Neonatal Intensive Care Unit).

“It’s really meaningful work,” she says. “And something as an organisation that we are pretty passionate about.”

Studio Tate OC House
OC House.

The programme is a win-win for her team too, who have embraced the programme, and for the directors a point of difference when recruiting staff. 

“Everyone in our studio wants to be a part of it, and everyone stands by it,” Hopkins says.

In particular, it provides an opportunity for the studio’s younger designers looking for a way to contribute to the community, create an emotional connection and a very tangible outcome.

“This way, you are really getting to know a business and helping them one-on-one,” she says.

Equally as important, the programme invites an opportunity to design in different ways. With little access to money, staff can learn how to take a brief from a not-for-profit organisation to create designs that are warm and engaging but also robust and durable.

OC House
OC House.

Then, spark their creativity by seeking out suppliers for cheaper off-cuts, sourcing better rates for cabinetry and being flexible on colours and styles if not the first preference.

“As a studio, it keeps your feet on the ground. You have to check your ego at the door and roll your sleeves up,” Hopkins says.

While the studio’s portfolio spans luxury private residential to workplace, aged-care and hotels, it always makes room for pro bono work in an effort to provide good design for everyone.

“It’s a business cost, and it is effort and commitment that takes away from doing paid work. So, we need to make a conscious decision to do that,” she says.

Eva Tilley Memorial Home Project by Studio Tate
Eva Tilley Memorial Home, Melbourne.

These topics and more formed part of a panel event for Melbourne Design Week, where Hopkins was joined by Ben Vasiliou, from Youth Projects, and Roger Macmorran from The Green Boat.

The three talked about how the design industry can contribute towards breaking the cycle of disadvantage in minority communities in Melbourne, drawing from their personal experience as a design studio, project manager and not-for-profit.

“We feel very grateful that we’re in a position to be able to do this work, and it gives us a great sense of fulfilment,” Hopkins says.

Project photography by Thomas Brookes
Eva Tilley Memorial Home by Studio Tate
Eva Tilley Memorial Home, Melbourne.
Eva Tilley Memorial Home
Eva Tilley Memorial Home, Melbourne.

Related: Cream Pie: From side hustle to a multidisciplinary design studio 

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