Studio Gestalt Warren Au

Ask the Expert: Warren Au – Founding Director, Studio Gestalt

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Who better to ask about all things residential design than our very own Founding Director, Warren Au?

Covering everything from the design process to common challenges, what to ask your designer to why a bespoke approach to design is so important, we sat down with Warren to get his expert insights.

Whether you’re considering engaging an interior design firm or are curious about the ins and outs of luxury residential design, we invite you to discover more…

Warren, while you’re usually the one fielding the questions from clients, let’s switch seats – what would you be asking a residential design firm before embarking on your own home design project?

First up, I’d be keen to quiz them about their processes around residential design and construction. By this I mean things like phases of work, deliverables per phase etc. This is something I think everyone should be asking their interior designer or architect before kicking off their design project.

For example, here at Studio Gestalt, we take a very systematic approach, breaking each project into distinct phases – concept, design development, approvals, tender documentation and so on. By outlining these stages to the client and explaining what each one involves, we’re able to set clear expectations from the start.

Next, I’d want to learn more about their communication style. How often will we discuss the project and will they keep me updated at regular intervals? How will these updates be presented to me? This kind of shared involvement is essential to ensure we stick to the original plan and/or adapt the concept as the design evolves.

We know all too well how important communication is to the smooth running of a project, which is why we offer things like fortnightly update reports in addition to presenting to the client at each milestone. It all helps to ensure everything is tracking as it should and we’re on the path to a winning outcome.

I’d also need to know about their fee structure and costs. Understandably, the price for residential design can vary significantly based on the designer’s experience, scale of projects, availability and so forth, so it’s important to get a solid understanding of this before moving forward. The fee itself will depend on the project type and complexity, but in most cases, it’s based on a percentage of the build cost or an hourly rate for the team and tasks required.

Finally – and this is more of an investigation than a question – I’d be eager to explore their design style. Do they have a distinct look to their designs or are they more versatile? This would help me establish whether this particular design firm is a good fit for the style I’m hoping to achieve, or if we can take a flexible approach and work together to ensure an outcome we’re both happy with.

Strathfield Studio Gestalt Luxury Open Kitchen Design

You often talk about taking a bespoke approach to residential design that brings your clients’ unique visions to life in a very intentional way. How do you and your team achieve this? What goes into the process to allow you to draw out this uniqueness and purpose?

It almost goes without saying, but every project is entirely unique in its own right. And that’s why we place so much value on tailoring our approach to the client’s wants, needs and what can be achieved.

In order to realise this unique vision, we need to “go deep” right from the start; we ask a lot of questions, particularly during the initial consultation and concept stages. This is what allows us to really understand what the client is envisioning and how we can turn that into a reality they’ll love.

We also take a holistic perspective and draw inspiration from existing designs around the world. How have other designers approached this type of project and maybe used materials and finishes that might not be immediately obvious, but have gone on to achieve an incredible and lasting result?

While we always show the client we’ve listened to and understood their wishes through the solutions we put forward, we also provide alternative suggestions if needed, based on our design expertise. As always, open communication is the key to securing the best outcome.

You often talk about taking a bespoke approach to residential design that brings your clients’ unique visions to life in a very intentional way. How do you and your team achieve this? What goes into the process to allow you to draw out this uniqueness and purpose?

It almost goes without saying, but every project is entirely unique in its own right. And that’s why we place so much value on tailoring our approach to the client’s wants, needs and what can be achieved.

In order to realise this unique vision, we need to “go deep” right from the start; we ask a lot of questions, particularly during the initial consultation and concept stages. This is what allows us to really understand what the client is envisioning and how we can turn that into a reality they’ll love.

We also take a holistic perspective and draw inspiration from existing designs around the world. How have other designers approached this type of project and maybe used materials and finishes that might not be immediately obvious, but have gone on to achieve an incredible and lasting result?

While we always show the client we’ve listened to and understood their wishes through the solutions we put forward, we also provide alternative suggestions if needed, based on our design expertise. As always, open communication is the key to securing the best outcome.

Mosman Studio Gestalt Sydney Harbour Luxury Sitting Dining Room Design

Even the best-planned projects have their hurdles. What would you say is the number one challenge either you or your clients encounter when designing a luxury home?

The first one that springs to mind immediately is the timeframe. Good design takes time – you need to carefully consider every option, coordinate with the wider team, and make sure every element fits with the vision.

To tackle this particular challenge, we usually provide a ‘working schedule’ that keeps everyone involved in the loop about milestones and task completion dates.

The other common hurdle is budget. It’s an undeniable fact that the cost of construction is rising, which means we need to manage client expectations accordingly – once again, communication is key!

We might engage other professionals, such as a Quantity Surveyor, a builder tradespeople, to discuss preliminary costings as early as the concept phase to ensure we’ve got enough information as possible around the costs prior to moving forward with the project. We’ll then continue to reevaluate the project as it progresses after each phase.

While limited, there are ways to bring the cost of a residential design project down, and this is something we’ll openly discuss with our clients. For example, you could reduce the scope of work or opt for more cost-effective finishes. Together, we can figure out the best approach suited to the project and brief.

What do you think surprises people the most about the residential design process? Is there anything you’d tell people at the start of their journey to prepare them for that?

In terms of what I like to make clear from the very beginning, it’s a pretty simple concept but one that always rings true – honesty really is the best policy. It’s crucial to be open in terms of your budget, what you’re comfortable spending, and the anticipated timeframe so we can develop recommendations accordingly and deliver within your needs (or assess what’s actually achievable based on our findings).

If you’re considering embarking on a residential design project, I’d recommend you gather images that showcase the look and feel you want to achieve from your renovation or build. While we’re skilled at understanding what you’re after, we’re unfortunately not mind readers! So the more visual information we have, the better.

Be open-minded and remember that we’re here to provide the best possible outcome for your project. While we’ll always strive to deliver on your exact vision, we’ll also offer alternative solutions when needed if we feel this will ultimately lead to a better result for you.

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The word ‘holistic’ is one that sits at the core of the Studio Gestalt approach. Why is this concept so important – and what does it mean for the design process, in your own words?

We do love that word at Studio Gestalt! But for good reason. Every tiny detail along the way is tied together and has an impact on the final result.

It’s a bit like baking a cake – add a little too much sugar and it’s too sweet; bake it slightly too long and it’s burnt. By making sure every element is just right, we can ensure the finished product is flawless.

What’s more, even the most seemingly minor changes can influence the outcome, which is another reason why open communication and transparency are so important at every step of the way.

When it comes to residential design, what excites you and keeps you motivated about the industry?

The residential design community – and the overall design community as a whole – is honestly amazing. I love seeing the incredible work produced here in Australia and across the world, and the fresh ideas that are continuously changing the design landscape.

At its core, design is about problem-solving. I find it exciting to watch the creative process in action and see how different designers find new ways to solve age-old problems with creativity and innovation.

This ties in with the idea of artistic engineering, which is key to what we do as a community. We’re constantly asking the question, how can we find a solution to these issues in a way that’s functional and practical, but also pushes boundaries? To me, that’s what design is all about.

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