Danielle Brustman’s work (spanning interior, product and set design) is eccentric, fantastical, and out of this world. Most intriguingly, however, is how it exists as the polar opposite to her personality: understated, modest, and quietly spoken. So I found when I met Danielle earlier this year at Melbourne Design Week. Even still there are certainly shared characteristics that link Danielle to her work: she’s warm, colourful, friendly, and exudes a genuine love for design and its power.
Danielle studied Interior Design at RMIT in Melbourne, however she began her career as a set designer. “There was something very appealing to me about temporal space: those areas of design that would appear and disappear seemed to be quite exciting for me at that time.” During this period, she worked predominantly on theatre set and the occasional job in film or styling work.
It was nearly a decade ago, in 2012 that Danielle pivoted back to the world of interior design. The need for a set to tell a story, and design’s ability to fill that need, coupled with a greater capacity to work beyond the realms of reality, is what initially attracted Danielle to set design. But over time she began to feel more confident and assured in her work – “ I was ready to commit to spaces that wouldn’t be pulled down,” she recalls.
Now Danielle is known for her interior design practice across the residential and commercial spheres, although she is quick to credit the influence set design has had on her interior design practice. “I try to create a visual spectacle – spaces that are stimulating and exciting,” she says. The more theatrical or fantastic a space, the more likely it may offer a form of escapism or emotional experience.
Some of her most well-known and celebrated projects that demonstrate her unique aesthetic include The Amelia Shaw Bar & Salon: shortlisted for Best Bar Design at the Eat Drink Design Awards in 2012, The Salty Dog Hotel: shortlisted for Best Restaurant Design at the Eat Drink Design Awards in 2016, and The Matlock House: a finalist in the Dulux Colour Award 2018, Single Residential Category.
In 2018, Danielle was asked by the National Gallery of Victoria (NGV) to participate in the Rigg Design Prize. Her submission, Inner-Terrior, sat alongside those of Amber Road, Arent & Pyke, Flack Studio, David Hicks, Hecker Guthrie, Martyn Thompson Studio, Scott Weston Architecture Design, The Society Inc by Sibella Court and Richards Stanisich.
Unlike working with a client, the Rigg Design Prize gave Danielle complete freedom. “I learnt so much about what I was actually interested in. If I don’t have a [client] brief, I have to give myself the brief. It’s up to me to create a world that I want to create – it required a lot of thought and self-examination. All of a sudden it made sense how things along the way had shaped me and made me the interior designer that I am,” she says.
Jump forward to 2020, and once again Danielle was working with the NGV. Having been invited by the gallerist, Sophie Gannon, to exhibit at her pop-up for Melbourne Design Week 2020, the exhibition Chromatic Fantastic was born.
“Chromatic Fantastic started off as sketches and datagrams looking at the idea of colour and chromatic scale. I’m interested in the way colours mix together and I like to work with combinations of colour that are harmonious and discordant,” says Danielle. “There’s an electricity that can rest between colours that shouldn’t be next to each, but are.”
This year, Melbourne Design Week asked participants to consider the question: How does design shape life? While one might first think of the functionality of design and its ability to functionally improve the way we live, work, socialise and relax, Danielle’s work responds with how design can add joy to life.
Eighteen differently coloured individual components connect to form a 6-metre, monolithic sculptural piece that champions the exhibition. All together, they create a spectrum of colour that in some meetings feels harmonious and in others fights for attention. The connected spectrum can be broken up into single sideboards or series’ of three: revealing themselves as functional pieces of furniture.
Taken as a whole, Danielle Brustman’s repertoire of past projects may seem to have as much in common as apples and oranges (and perhaps that is indeed intended), but what links them together is the ability to offer an emotional experience. “[My work] is about creating spaces that make you feel a certain way. I’m interested in lightness and play, and spaces of enlightenment,” says Danielle. Regardless of the medium in which she has worked, all of her work to date rings true to this sentiment.