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In Conversation With… Miriam Fanning

Mim Fanning | Habitus Living

The founder and principal of Melbourne’s prolific Mim Design studio talks about gearing up to a 360 degree way of working.

ST: Miriam, your studio is almost 18 years old. Can you tell me how it all began?

MF: Branding and graphics interested me, and I wanted to be a graphic designer, I didn’t even think about becoming an interior designer. I didn’t get into Swinburne to study graphics but I got into RMIT instead and began studying interior design. When I started my studies graphic design was still very 2D and I’ve always thought in 3D visually, interior design really made sense to me and I knew within the first month of studying that I had made the right decision.

You started Mim Design as a one-woman show. How did you go about setting up a studio that could evolve?

I worked at a large architectural firm for some 13 years and I loved it, I learnt so much and I thought that would be my forever job. I had my first child in 2000 and at that stage there weren’t a lot of mums that went back into the workplace in an industry that was probably still 70 percent male. I thought, I’m probably better off doing my own thing, and so I became a consultant at the end of 2000. I had contracts within two weeks, including a resort in far-north Queensland. Despite my best intentions I ended up working in an office with a baby in a pram. I stayed a one-man band for approximately two years.

Then you went to a two-person show?

Yes, I shared an administration person and luckily my husband helped me out. Then Mim Design began to grow.

How did you segue from a portfolio of mostly resort work to a point where now Mim Design is renowned for its single-residential work?

I’m continually searching for inspiration and design challenges as the business represents this ethos. I’ve always been attracted to the fine detail of designing a home and intrigued by the micro as well as the macro of planning and the business followed my way of approaching the world through inspiration, challenge and purpose.

Designing projects for people’s homes is very different to designing multi-residential or resort environments for clients who will probably never live in them. How do you go about that?

To be a designer you have to be investigative and question your clients as much as you can about why you are designing what you are designing. The best design has a reason to exist and if you apply that philosophy across the board to commercial, multi residential and residential you are developing a solidified brief to which you can then respond. It’s not like, Oh I’ve got a residential job so I’m going to pick up my residential hat. You need to stay nimble enough to be able to design across different paths, different end uses and different feels. If I had created a studio that became known for one look I wouldn’t be doing it today. Knowledge, growth and inspiration are key factors in achieving longevity.

How many people work in your studio?

We have 26 staff members and I don’t really plan to get much bigger. It’s important for us and for our clients that each job has an identifiable team working on it, that relationships can develop and hopefully endure.

If you don’t intend to expand the size of your studio how do you see the agency growing?

By diversifying. In the past year and a half we’ve had so many residential clients coming to us asking which architects we would suggest them working with and this led us to the decision to create an architectural division within Mim Design. It’s not about creating a one-stop shop, it’s about developing a holistic approach to our business. I’ve just come back from a trip to Scandinavia and what was interesting to me was the way practices cross-pollinate, the way there’s an exchange between architects, designers and interior designers . It’s this 360 degree perspective that I find most interesting and rewarding and that’s certainly a way of working that I’d like to continue to explore.

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