Though she is a self-admittedly shy person, Danielle Brustman‘s exuberant, immersive spaces betray none of her introversion.
The interior designer’s totally unique, theatrical designs draw on her background in film-set production, which allows a sense of drama and narrative to seep into her imaginative spaces.
With an expansion into furniture and lighting design now under her belt (the experimental ‘Chromatic Fantastic‘ furniture range she designed for an exhibition at Sophie Gannon Gallery is shortlisted in the Furniture Design category for The Design Files + Laminex Design Awards!), her work expands beyond the ‘traditional’ interior design trajectory.
On the back of her most recent project, the Brighton Street Early Learning Centre, we chatted with Danielle about the evolution of her practice.
Hey Danielle! Let’s get right to it, what have you been up to since your truly iconic Rigg Prize room in 2018?
The Rigg Prize was such a turning point for me. It really helped me solidify the kind of designer I wanted to be, as well giving me a platform to show my work to a much larger audience.
It’s been a busy couple of years. In late 2019 I was very fortunate to be the recipient of the inaugural Bank of Melbourne studio residency at Collingwood Yards (formerly the Collingwood Arts Precinct). I took up this wonderful studio space in February, and have absolutely loved working from there. It’s been a real oasis in this challenging corona time.
Earlier this year I presented a new collection of furniture and lighting pieces titled ‘Chromatic Fantastic’ in the Designwork 04 exhibition at Sophie Gannon Gallery as part of Melbourne Design Week. The collection consists of modular colour cabinets, a wall light and room jewellery. The work explores the sensorial relationship between colour, musical notation and scale. (Editor’s note: This cabinet is shortlisted in the Furniture category of The Design Files + Laminex Design Awards this year!)
You design lighting, furniture and installations as well as interior spaces in your ‘broad spectrum’ practice. How do all these disciplines inform each other when you’re designing a space?
These disciplines are so interconnected. As an interior designer, furniture and lighting are key ingredients when it comes to creating a bespoke scheme. Being invited to create an interior installation for The Rigg Design Prize gave me a real opportunity to try my hand at furniture and lighting design, so I have more recently extended my practice to include these. I figured as well as presenting an interior space I may as well design and make the bulk of furniture within it. It was a good decision as it has set something in motion for me that I am very excited by and extends the scope of what I can offer, but I am very much a beginner and have a lot to learn about manufacturing and production.
There is a German term ‘gesamtkunstwerk’. It is used in architecture “to signify circumstances where an architect is responsible for the design and/or overseeing of the building’s totality: shell, accessories, furnishings, and landscape.” I think this is a really interesting approach to interior design. There is something heightened and very appealing to me about interiors with a consistent and singular design language where furniture, fixtures and surface treatments within a scheme talk and refer to each other. Designing a family of lights and furniture for a client is a real privilege and can elevate an interior scheme to something more integrated and signature.
Despite studying Interior Design at RMIT, you’ve come to your practice from a set design background. Do you think a sense of theatricality and performance has influenced your work?
I worked as a set designer for many years after graduating, mainly in theatre and occasionally in film. I was drawn to the colourful world of theatre-making, where I was able to collaborate with artists from various disciplines. These included performers, directors, musicians, dancers, lighting designers and costume makers. I learned about different ways in which theatre practitioners could transform the visual and atmospheric qualities of a space through the use of colour, light, material and sound and was very excited and inspired by these effects.
I think my background as a set designer heavily informs my interiors work. I am interested in storytelling and creating narrative and spectacle through spatial design. I am also interested in spaces that offer a sense of saturation, immersive experience and escape from the mundanity of everyday living. There is definitely a sense of theatricality and the fantastical to my work. I am naturally a fairly shy person and prefer to work backstage and behind the scenes. The bolder, more performative side of my personality comes out through my design work.
Is the process for designing an education space different to the way you approach other interior design projects?
The brief and scope for the Brighton Street Early Learning Centre was so exciting. I regularly use colour in my interior design work and sometimes have to keep a bit of a check on how far I go with colour application. With this project however, I figured it was the perfect canvas to really go for it, and treat each wall, bench surface and material with a whole range of colour blends of varying hue and material. There are hand-painted murals in all rooms, the Marmoleum flooring is inlaid with graphic shapes that relate to themes in each room, and the bathroom tiles are laid in gradated spectrums of colour.
Children are so imaginative and less inhibited than adults. It made complete sense to me that these spaces ought to be filled with both stimulating and inspiring visuals. I wanted to push the colour palette to its limits, I wanted it be complex and colourful while still adhering to a level of sophistication, gentleness and balance. It was also important that the staff would enjoy the interiors as much as the children.
Colours and materials that are often used in education can be a bit crude and institutional. I wanted to completely break away from that model and present child-friendly spaces that felt more personalised and fun. In total, we specified 47 interior paint colours.
Where there any key references or inspirations you drew on for Brighton Street Early Learning Centre?
We wanted the centre to a have a hand-made, natural and unique feel about it, so each play room had been allocated a motif. These included river, lake, meadow, forest, star, sun and cloud. I used these themes to come up with a narrative, palette and treatment for each space. It was important that the rooms had their own character and feel. It was also important that the flow between the spaces was cohesive. Ultimately I wanted these spaces to be nurturing and stimulating.
The interior scheme included several graphic wall murals, all hand painted by Ben Maitland. I hope they are a source of inspiration and creativity for the children. As a designer it was most enjoyable to be able to allocate giant pastel coloured rainbows to the walls!
What’s in the works for the future?
It’s such an uncertain time. Luckily, I have a few residential interior design projects in the works. I am currently working towards an exhibition scheduled for later this year and there is also the opportunity to exhibit in Milan in 2021. Fingers crossed.