We catch up with former meme co-director Megan Hounslow to chat about her new solo career as an artist and interior designer.

After a 10-year-long post as co-director at Melbourne-based interior design studio meme, Megan Hounslow embarked on the next phase of her career as an independent artist and interior designer. Megan rose to renown through delivering timeless, authentic and innovative interior design projects like the award-winning Willow Urban retreat in Armadale, Melbourne. She brings 20 years’ worth of industry knowledge and creative expertise to her interior design practice today, with a renewed emphasis on intuitiveness and wellness. Not only does her work encourage occupants to slow down and appreciate the interplay between nature and design, but it also sees through industry trends to ultimately outlast them.

Megan’s career in painting is marked by a re-ignition of a time-honoured passion dating back to her early days of studying fine art. Her most recent series “Interim” debuted in December 2021 at Melbourne’s In Good Company showroom. The series depicts the sensations and lived experiences of Melbourne’s extended lockdowns, particularly the changing role and effects of nature. Working with oils, her work captures fleeting moments through atmospheric layers, telling colours and deep contrasts. In this interview, we speak with Megan on everything from the ‘how’, the ‘now’ and the ‘what’s next’.

You studied fine art before studying interior design and embarking on a career in design that’s spanned 20 years. What did your fine art background offer you as an interior designer, and how do you believe it has shaped your approach to design?

Megan Hounslow: I have a sincere appreciation and admiration for art and artists. The most memorable interior projects I have worked on have involved working with artists and/or artisans. An interior that includes the hand of a craftsperson deepens the process of design and creates spaces that are enlivened by personalised and human-centred outcomes. 

One of my most rewarding projects was working on the Indigenous Fitzroy restaurant, Charcoal Lane, which sadly closed in 2021. Oversized paintings by Gayle Maddigan were affixed to the ceiling, which gave the space an evocative story-telling quality. The artwork delivered a powerful urge to lie down on the floor or simply look up.

In a full-circle moment, you have recently returned to fine art painting. What marked the re-ignition of your creative practice? 

Megan Hounslow: Running a commercial design business can be fast-paced and high-stress, juggling quality, budget, and time expectations. My art practice was unearthed in the search for creative respite. It is a rejuvenating, neutral zone to move freely and explore ideas without constraints; a home ground, where time dissolves; a place to find alignment, and to flow between design, creative ideas and output.

In December 2021, you unveiled your “Interim” series at Melbourne’s In Good Company showroom. How does the “Interim” series reflect your unique approach to colour, texture and composition?

Megan Hounslow: People tend to remember an interior or a piece of art by the way it makes them feel. I try to make work that evokes a mood or an immersive experience. “Interim” was painted during the prolonged isolation and holding bay of the Melbourne lockdowns.

The series studies rhythms found in nature, the changing moods of the weather, its transitions and how they can affect us. The work attempts to capture fleeting moments of light between earth, water, and sky with glazing oil colour, rubbing back layers of dark through to light. A similar intrigue drives my interior design work. I enjoy capturing ephemeral connections between spatial volumes, the fall of light within them and the play of light on the texture and colour of various materials. As a result, spaces become experiential and affecting.

“My art practice was unearthed in the search for creative respite. It is a rejuvenating, neutral zone to move freely and explore ideas without constraints; a home ground, where time dissolves; a place to find alignment, and to flow between design, creative ideas and output.”

– Megan Hounslow

In Conversation with Artist and Interior Designer Megan Hounslow

Netherby House designed by Megan Hounslow in collaboration with Neil Architecture

In Conversation with Artist and Interior Designer Megan Hounslow

Netherby House designed by  Megan Hounslow in collaboration with Neil Architecture

As an interior designer, you have a unique ability to create spaces that exude calm, slowing the experience of a space down to appreciate the design – or its connection to nature. This extends across your portfolio of residential, commercial and hospitality design. What is fundamental to achieving this outcome in different types of projects?

Megan Hounslow: Creating a calm interior involves gently attending to our senses, creating moments and subtle gestures within the design that put us at ease. We enjoy working with purity and integrity found in natural materials; they are familiar and evoke warmth. We like to engage the expertise of skilled craftspeople to create a range of tactile touchpoints.

Materials are usually curated and kept to a minimum. We would rather select high quality, unique and robust materials to platform their beauty in the purest form. Our recently completed Netherby House’s distinct character came with embracing its Victorian history. The restrained palette of continuous recycled blackbutt floors, tumbled limestone and Venetian waxed plaster set a serene backdrop to showcase the ornate cornice work and Fleur-de-lis motifs. With less, you notice the grainy textures and imperfections of these raw materials. They can be admired and brought to life by the fall of natural and tranquil light.

You designed the Willow Urban while creative director at meme, a wellness destination founded on the principles of ‘simplicity, solace and silence’. This project was widely recognised – and shortlisted for the Dezeen Awards for Health and Wellness Interior. How does this project capture ‘wellness’ through design? And why is it, above all else, important to focus on human-centred design?

Megan Hounslow: Willow is an urban retreat based in Melbourne, consisting of a whole foods cafe, a movement and meditation studio, a day spa and a detox facility. This project is an excellent example of human-centred design as it offers a framework to promote movement, relaxation, healthy eating and lifestyle. The challenge was to combine two adjoining buildings and seamlessly merge a mix of uses with minimal sensory disturbances. The design required innovative engineering solutions to control acoustics, including filtering and tempering air, sound, and light while retaining ambient sensory conditions.

Aesthetically we went a little philosophical and took cues from the ancient Zen masters. Materials were kept to a minimum for simplicity, purity and restraint. We tried to create minimal yet warm spaces to declutter the mind and keep occupants present. The vocabulary of arched and vaulted spaces sits comfortably within the heritage building. The seamless junctions between walls and ceilings are heightened through hand-worked surfaces. Spaces are varied, open, and flexible for changing needs. For example, the meditation treatment rooms are intimate, densely insulated and dimmable but can be light-filled, communal and open.

Collaboration is also at the heart of your design practice. What role do local craftspeople and makers play in your work?

Megan Hounslow: Collaboration with artists, craftspeople and makers is central to my practice. Honed and customised pieces personalise and elevate interiors, taking them beyond the fashionable trends of the moment and into the realm of enduring quality and timelessness.

While designing Carter Lovett we were keen to reintroduce memories of the decorative High Victorian era. We approached Adadaz for their expertise in traditional glass craftsmanship. They were highly collaborative, curating the materials with reclaimed chicken wire glass from a former factory. The process of collaborating with them to reuse an industrial material decoratively became the unique talking piece for our client and defined the space.

For Willow Urban retreat, I had seen Maddie Sharrock’s poured concrete stools and wondered if the technique could be applied to the bar. Working with an artist gave us insight into how to bring about painterly and sculptural qualities to concrete, a typically hard and monolithic material.

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Carter Lovett by Megan Hounslow

What do you think these collaborations say about Australian design more broadly?

Megan Hounslow: Our manufacturing industry has taken a huge hit over the past couple of decades, reducing much of our Australian-made interior products and finishes to offshore operations. I take great pleasure in sourcing locally made finishes, materials, furnishings and art pieces. There are so many incredibly talented, creative and passionate people across this country. Seeking collaborations enhances the quality and longevity of projects. Not only that, it fosters ethical and sustainable design, keeping the work of artisans, crafts and tradespeople alive.

As the past three years have called into question the impact of design – and the experience of spaces – on our health, how are you designing ‘healthy’ spaces for the future?

Megan Hounslow: Designing for health is a balancing act. More than ever we want to feel healthy, connected and uplifted by being together in the spaces we share, while many of us continue to work from the confines of our own homes. Residential design is becoming less about huge open-planned and jaw-dropping spaces. Instead, we need the flexibility to open up and acoustically close down spaces to separate work, family, and leisure. Taking care of our mental, physical and spiritual needs now defines the spaces we live in.

What can we look forward to from Megan Hounslow in 2022?

Megan Hounslow: We continue to design in the wellness sector with a recent day spa that will be shot later this month. We are currently collaborating with architects Content Studio on the restoration of a significant building in Fitzroy which will house an IVF clinic. It is so rewarding to integrate a more nurturing design approach to medical consulting and treatment rooms. We also have a continuing number of quality residential projects where we are placing particular attention on detail and customisation.

I am keen to make my art practice equally as important as my interior design practice. You need to be inspired, well informed, and clear-headed to produce quality, responsive design. My art keeps me focused and present and less concerned by what is going on with the commercial noise and the fluctuating trends of media. I am very excited to be painting my next series for In Good Company. I will also be exhibiting at Gallery Raye in Brisbane with fellow emerging artists in late April 2022.

In Conversation with Artist and Interior Designer Megan Hounslow

Amaru by Megan Hounslow

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