Interior Design & Decoration alumnus Ceri Farrokhnia was ticking off her grocery list in the supermarket when she received an email revealing she was a joint winner of the Eussen Student Interior Design Award. Tasked with transforming a Ronald McDonald House Family Room into a stress-free zone for sick children and their families, Ceri's design skills had prevailed, alongside peers from other institutions.
Now working as an Interior Designer at Rara Architecture, we reached out to Ceri as her achievement went live in Grand Designs Australia's December issue to discuss sticking to your concept, balancing family and study, and the lasting influence of her time at Collarts.
Firstly, congratulations on being a joint winner of the Eussen Student Interior Design Award! Could you describe the brief for the competition?
Of course! So, the Ronald McDonald House Charities, an independent charity that helps families or seriously ill children, have a Ronald McDonald House program that provides a home for families with children being treated at nearby hospitals. We were briefed to redesign the Family Room, a space where families can escape from the hospital. They can spend just half an hour or even sleep overnight, but it needed to be an area that could be used by multiple families and was functional for different people to use at different times. We had to create a relaxing safe place for the family to feel at home.
How did you create that soothing environment?
I wanted to stay true to myself in the competition, so I created a warm, colourful, and friendly space that aimed to make people feel like they were at their friend's house rather than in a hospital. I didn't want it to be too neutral, also keeping in mind that there could be other non-sick children there.I started with my concept. I knew I wanted colour and something that was bright and vibrant, so I found an artwork called Safe Haven — an absolutely perfect name for the project — made by Ian Gunn. When I'm designing, I'll always go back to that original artwork and concept. No matter how much I love a piece of furniture or paint colour, I won’t use it if it doesn’t work with that initial concept. That's one of the biggest things I’ve learned at Collarts: if something you love doesn't work with your initial concept, it's not going to work within the project.That's awesome that you stuck to your style throughout the process. What was your favourite room to design?
I loved the communal space. I can imagine if it was ever to be built and there’s more than one family in there, they could chat, sit around, and have a coffee together to be social. They can close that door and step away from the hospital. With Revit (a 3D modelling software), you can really imagine this space as if it were real. In the dining space, I lowered the bulkhead and made the whole entire space a bright but calming blue, so it creates a nook or cocoon where you can sit with your family around the table and debrief over a really stressful day.
What have you learned from participating in this competition?
I learned a lot about commercial grade products, like using the right flooring and fabrics to use in a commercial space, as well as how you can use a lot of those in residential projects. I also learned how to create longer-lasting pieces which are great for the environment. However, one of my biggest takeaways from the competition has been how you can create a calming, relaxing space without being bland, neutral or beige. It can still be colourful and relaxing at the same time.What kinds of skills or knowledge do you think your course equipped you with to be so successful in this project?
All the projects and processes we did during our studies were similar to reality. You got your brief, started with your concept, and designed a space. Then comes your documentation package, scheduling, etc. I don't think I realised how true to life that actually is. Now that I'm working, I can see that the course was so true to what the industry is really like.
Other than ways to tackle a project, Collarts also helped me hone my presentation skills. Being on campus, I was fortunate to present in front of my classmates and teachers as practice. It's slightly scary and I hadn’t stood up and spoken in front of people for a long time, but with that in-school experience, I was able to confidently present my concept to the judging panel for this competition. That's something our teachers told us a lot: we're selling ideas, so although you may be the best designer, it’s kind of useless if you can't sell your concepts and designs. You’ve got to believe in yourself and you've got to be able to sell it.
How did you get interested in the interior design and decoration world in the first place?
I'd always been interested in it from a young age. All I ever did when I was 10 years old was rearrange my bedroom furniture and make dollhouse furniture. I did a theatre degree when I was younger, ending up in Australia by travelling in the entertainment business, and after meeting my partner, we got married and started a family. When I was ready to go back to work, I didn't want to go back into that same industry. So I looked into interior design classes in Melbourne and saw that Collarts had a fantastic reputation. The staff were all involved in the industry and it already felt like home, like I belonged.
But it was a bit of a juggle, studying and being a full time mum. I was so lucky that I had a supportive family and that was really important to me and my success. My daughter loves that mummy's an interior designer now though. Yesterday morning I was wearing dangly earrings when I dropped her off at school and she said “Mummy, you look so interior designer-y today!”
It was hard going back to study though. It was such a shock to the system to go back into education as a mature student. I hadn’t studied for many years and that first semester was especially hard: it was a lot of research because you're learning the basics of interior design. In the end, I loved interior design so much that I just didn't care about the workload.
"I'm thankful that Collarts teachers invest that much trust and time into their students, especially a recent graduate like myself."
Did Collarts help support you in any way?
They were great if I needed to come to school late, like with school drop-offs. I would message my teacher and say, “I'm so sorry, I'm running late today”, and they would completely understand. They know that you've got a life outside of school. They know you can catch up with your work and they appreciate you've been in touch with them to let them know. You can always go to your teacher and ask for help if you're struggling and get that one-on-one time as well. They were really involved with helping you and at the end of the day, they want you to succeed. That's why our lectures never felt like we were being lectured at: it was always involved and collaborative.
Actually, I got my new role through Jenni Woods (Interior Design Coordinator) too. I'm covering a maternity leave contract, and Jenni had previously taught the person on leave. I'm thankful that Collarts teachers invest that much trust and time into their students, especially a recent graduate like myself.
Do you have any advice for people who are considering studying Interior Design & Decoration at Collarts?
Do it — you won't regret it. There are a few subjects in the beginning that are intense, but that research creates a great baseline of understanding, and if you're into interiors, you'll probably really enjoy it. I would also say that when you're there, treat it like work and network with your teachers as they're all industry professionals. Network with your colleagues and peers as well because you never know, you might work together one day.