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Sophie Safrin and Karen Daroff on what makes good design

Sophie Safrin and Karen Daroff on what makes good design


As the two Australian winners of the 2018 Shaw Contract Design Awards prepare to depart for their winners trip to this year’s Art Basel Miami, two of the program’s Final judges, Karen Daroff of Daroff Design and Sophie Safrin of Hot Black weigh in on their definition of good design, observed trends and the future of design.

Can you sum up the experience of being a judge for the 2018 Shaw Contract Design Awards?

Sophie Safrin: Well, first of all, it was very flattering to be asked to represent the Australian region and then to find myself in New York, which of course feels like the epicentre of most things—the forefront of fashion design, business as a whole— adds a layer of glamour, if you like. But then to be surrounded by an incredible array of projects from around the world, which had been shortlisted for their design excellence, then being with fellow judges who are at the forefront of the industry, the whole thing together was a bit of a dream really.

How do you define good design?

Karen Daroff: It is that balance that you look for as a judge where something truly works on a functional and comfort level but is inspirational on a visual level. A design should inspire but not necessarily in an obvious way, it should be clever in how it combines materials and technology and always strive for design excellence.

SS: For me personally it’s always a two-part thing—beginning with the pragmatic, the problem-solving arena starting with the user experience, then the other practical issues of site context, brand awareness, etc. But of course good solutions to those aspects only become good design when you also deliver on the aesthetic side and then bring it all back together for a successful user experience, so it’s always a two-pronged affair.

Playster By Couper Croiser

Playster By Couper Croiser

What trends did you pick up on in the projects you judged?

KD: There was a lot of commonality this year, overall. I saw a strong industrial edge to the general aesthetic, a lot of use of resilient materials and a lot of wood, both faux and real. There was also more black and steel than we have seen for a while. [I also saw] the continuing move toward a crossover between sectors where hospitality, retail and workplace now all share common elements, strong trends toward common and shared areas, the cohesion between textures and colours to create atmosphere and the use of natural light. [There was also] a lot of barn doors, sliding doors, glass partition walls, overall a very clean, modern look. On a geographical note, there was a notably large Australian presence this year.

SS: I didn’t see the space plans or drawings, so my trend observations are from a purely aesthetic viewpoint, but I did notice a strong push on texture and contrast and a real focus across the board on materiality. The majority also had a strong use of colour.

HabrakenRutten by Fokkema Partners Architecten BV

HabrakenRutten by Fokkema Partners Architecten BV

What do you think these projects reveal about the future of interiors?

KD: That this crossover of what were once quite separate areas of expertise or experience is going to only grow so that our work as designers and the work of industry suppliers will need to continue this path of adaptability so that the qualities we seek in hospitality will also be present in the workplace and so on. The trends for remote working will continue so residential elements will be added to the general crossover trend.

David Jones and Country Road Group Head Office by Gray Puksand

David Jones and Country Road Group Head Office by Gray Puksand

Do you feel there is a discernable difference between the North American and Australian design scenes?

SS: Absolutely I do. I think the Australian design industry benefits from being a relatively young country in which interior design does not have a long history or majorly recognised periods of a specific style. We are, I think, quite bold and courageous in our design solutions. I think Australian designers take the opportunity to test the boundaries a little bit more, there is a substantial difference in the markets we work in, and I think there is a freedom of expression that is more obvious in Australia.

Stay tuned next month for a recap of the Shaw Contract Design Journey to Art Basel Miami. To view the full list of Final and People’s Choice Winners, visit here.

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