- Article by Jan Henderson
Zwei (Interiors & Architecture) is a practice established by two women who are making their mark in the design world, raising families, giving back to their profession and doing it all with style and panache.
Running a busy practice is challenging enough, but add to the mix, family, children, mentoring up and coming designers and lecturing students, and the lives of Hanna Richardson and Katherine Kemp are not just busy but overflowing. As joint founders and principals of Zwei (Interiors & Architecture), Richardson and Kemp have forged a successful practice that is producing exemplary design, as well as creating a work/life balance that is to be greatly admired.
Individually, the two women come from different backgrounds and countries, but together they have the same ideas, ideals and complementary skills that fit, hand-in-glove to make a complete package.
Zwei was established in 2005 in Melbourne as an interior design practice that has found its niche in the hospitality and retail sectors. Both women studied interior architecture, but met through a circuitous route.
Richardson was born in Germany, worked as an architect in that country, but came to Australia on an exchange, fell in love, married and then moved back to Australia to live. Kemp, on the other hand, studied interior architecture at RMIT and then decided to study architecture at Deakin University.
She travelled to the UK and continued her architecture studies at the University of Nottingham with her British partner and subsequently, they both returned to Australia. The two women met and discovered a complementary synergy and decided to strike out on their own, initially working with a shopfitting company designing retail interiors. Soon word of their style and talent began circulating and this translated to commissions and finished projects.
Kemp describes the partnership with Richardson as ‘yin and yang’ – their strengths combining for a greater whole; however, their joint philosophy and the practical ethos of the women is that of collaboration, which colours every aspect of their work, beginning with deep respect for each other and their staff, mutual understanding and strong relationships with clients through to a connectivity with tradespeople and suppliers.
Each principal has a distinct area on which to focus within the practice, but they unite to oversee every project. Richardson is generally the first point of contact for new commissions and is responsible for the progress of projects, while Kemp concentrates on the design delivery. Together, however, they find the starting point or ‘spark’ for each new commission and build the narrative.
For each project there is a designated leader from their team of six architects, designers and support staff that progress a commission, but Richardson and Kemp are always on hand as a conduit for both project leaders and clients.
Most projects are Melbourne-based and Zwei has become something of a coffee specialist in the city that loves a short black. Some of the most engaging café spaces in Melbourne were designed by the practice, among them Light Years, Code Black, Sideshow Coffee, Blue Bag, Pezzo, Foxtrot Charlie, 119 Howard Street and the innovative and creative Little Bang Espresso (awarded a High Commendation in the Interior Design Excellence Awards 2017).
Their expertise in the area of coffee is known far and wide and the commissions just keep coming with 50 per cent of all projects involved with the supply, making or serving of coffee. There is no template for a project; each interior is designed to complement the site and fulfil the client’s brief and budget.
But it’s all about the correct balance of colour, texture, materials and, of course, the wow factor. To this end, Zwei keeps inventing and reinventing with new and different interiors that continue to delight both client and patrons.
With 30 projects on the books at any one time, Zwei has made an impact in Melbourne; however, there are also completed projects within Australia, many at Perth domestic and international airports, and beyond, in Shanghai, New York and Montréal – testament to the strong relationship with clients who expand their local businesses overseas.
Richardson and Kemp view every project as the opportunity to engage those who use each space. Richardson explains that she wants every patron to, “just walk in and belong to each project, to see that every space is more than just four walls”. While Kemp adds that she strives “for every project to come together to tell a story, a narrative through the design and materials”.
Some people say finding the perfect work partner is even harder than finding the perfect life companion, but Kemp and Richardson have found their own equilibrium. Their working lives are well- balanced with family time and there is give and take within the office environment.
As both principals also teach at RMIT, there’s not much time left for other pursuits, but their passion for their chosen profession sees them giving back where they can.
With 13 years of hard work and much success under their belt, Richardson and Kemp have the logistics of running a practice sorted, but keep striving for more, spreading their design wings with yet more retail, commercial and some residential projects underway.
Whatever the project Zwei is producing outstanding resolutions for clients and the public alike. With many more projects on the drawing board, the future is certainly bright and caffeine fuelled.
Photography by Michael Kai