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Manuela Millan named judge of IDEA 2024

Manuela Millan named judge of IDEA 2024


Cera Stribley associate Manuela Millan will join Michael Alvisse, Graham Charbonneau, Brooke Lloyd, Melissa Bright and Davina Bester on the jury of the 2024 Interior Design Excellence Awards (IDEA).

Entries to IDEA close 12 May.

After more than seven years working as an interior designer – first at Elenberg Fraser, then Carr and now Cera Stribley – Manuela Millan has learned interior design is a lot like baking a cake. A great concept and great end-user experience are the recipe for a great space.

“You’ve got all the ingredients,” she laughs, “but it’s a skillset, and if you put the wrong ingredients in the wrong order, or if you put more flour than eggs, then your cake is not going to have a great result. It is not going to taste good or it is not going to look good.”

According to Millan, it’s the interior designer’s expertise that allows them to follow a recipe and add their own twist to a colourful, frosted creation rather than a “boring vanilla cake”.

A pragmatic approach to design

Ever the practical designer, Millan is chiefly concerned with outcomes for the owners and end-users of the spaces she envisions. If it’s a commercial project, Millan and her colleagues go beyond the brief to ensure cohesion between the interior and the staff aprons or the story behind the store logo. They also put themselves into the shoes of the visitor, worker, delivery person, maintenance person and gardener.

“How is the gardener going to get access to maintain the garden and where is he going to go with the dirty shoes? He can’t go through the lobby. That’s not okay if you are having a wedding in the function [area],” she says.

For a residential project, on the other hand, Millan delves into the daily rituals of its future inhabitants. She’ll visit their existing kitchen to understand how they cook or count how many shoes they’ll need to fit into their new wardrobe. She and her colleagues “push and push” until they’re happy with the design they put forward.

green benchtop
Porter Street Display Suite by Cera Stribley. Photo: Timothy Kaye

“‘Would you live here?’ At the end of the day, that is the first question that you need to ask yourself as an interior designer. That means you’re doing a good job,” Millan says.

Favourite projects

For Millan, her projects are like babies and it’s hard to pick a favourite. Among them are Cera Stribley’s green beauty, Porter Street Display Suite in Prahran, and Brookville Road – an upcoming Toorak apartment complex by Carr. 

Millan is also the brains behind Meanwhile in Melbourne, an Instagram account she created during her university days that continues to catalogue great local interior design, including work by other studios.

“I feel, at the end of the day, we’re all in this together,” she laughs, “so if we can get inspired by other people’s work and share it because we think that they’re really good at what they’re doing, you might as well recognise that.”

Juggling her nine-to-five at Cera Stribley, 91,000 Instagram followers and coming aboard the IDEA 2024 jury doesn’t seem to faze Millan.

“Put it this way, I came to Australia with absolutely nothing to lose and a lot to gain,” she says of immigrating from Colombia in 2009. 

“My mum brought us to this country for the best opportunities and to follow our dreams. So for me, I’ll say yes to anything if it means I’m pursuing that dream of my career.”

 The Brookville by Carr. Render: MR.P
What is Manuela Millan looking for at IDEA 2024?

“I would be looking forward to seeing innovation not only in technology, but also innovation in materiality. I think that’s a great way of pushing your ideas,” says Millan, referring to a recent example where Cera Stribley collaborated with a product designer to create a customised table for a client.  

“I understand that sometimes budget does not allow you to do it to the extent that we have done it in the past, but generating clever solutions with different materials or pushing the boundary of different materials to get the best outcome for the project – I’m looking forward to that.”

The best interior design projects make her gasp and “tickle” her curiosity.

“For a project to catch my attention, I think I want to understand it better. I want to know: ‘How did they come up with this amazing design or curve or colour?’ Or ‘How is this big object standing on this tiny little platform?’”

Manuela Millan interior
Porter Street Display Suite. Photo: Timothy Kaye

Across all 15 IDEA categories and six Special Awards, Millan is most looking forward to seeing the innovation of projects entered into the Sustainability category and the design choices behind the top projects in hospitality.

“There’s a lot of constraints in the overall project that when they get it right, they get it so right,” Millan says.

She is also excited to witness the beauty of a category close to her heart: Residential Single.

“It just has [layers] of textures, materials, thought and love,” Millan says.

“You get to love that project because somebody’s going to live here… And again, when you get the cake right it’s amazing.” 

Lead image by Aaron Puls.

Find out more about IDEA here.


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