Jon Mikulic, Newline Design founder, has nearly 30 years experience in the architecture and design industry. His projects include Roberto Scherian’s residence, the Emerson nightclub, the Duke of Wellington and Gary Mehigan’s Boathouse.
Architecture & Design spoke to Mikulic about why designing your own home is like a self portrait, how his early career in the construction industry helped him unlock the secrets of the industry and the impact of the celebrity chef on design.
You have 30 years experience in the industry. What has been one of the most memorable projects you've worked on?
My most memorable projects tend to be like most memories, the ‘firsts’ and the ‘personal’.
My first residential project flying solo was the Porto house in Werribee. It was a design and construct project where the client had full faith. I am now working on their second home 20 years later in Albert Park.
My first hospitality project was Felix in Broadbeach. The opportunity to work in an area where it's an absolute necessity to think outside the box was a game changer for me personally.
The first home I built with my wife was a warehouse conversion full of charm, character and history and opened my eyes to what respecting the heritage values of a building can achieve in a project.
The Croatian Church was a labour of love for my extended family and the community. Working on such a massive time consuming project where everyone was there for the same result was quite an emotional experience.
You've designed your own home. What were some of the challenges involved and what were your solutions?
Working on your own home is akin to a self portrait. You anguish over the possibilities and never-ending options but in the end its about conveying the truth of who you are and what you represent, not just how you want people to see you.
It needs to be an honest account of the type of work you do and the way you have responded to the ultimate clients brief – your family.
With all the possibilities available working on your own project, sometimes the best solutions are the simplest ones. An example of this was the textured feature wall that runs the length of a hallway. After hours of designing and looking at all the options I handed the task to my young daughter who handed back to me the solution within minutes. Kids can sometimes just cut through it all.
You started out in the construction industry in the 1980s. How has that early life in that industry influenced your relationship with builders?
Having done the hard yards early, understanding the complexities and struggles of a builder and all the contractors involved in a project, have helped me tremendously in my ability to deal with the process. I can speak their language and I know the secrets.
One of my strengths, knowing how to build and document well, has allowed me to focus on design. When you know what's possible you can focus on pushing the design. Once you establish the dialogue with builders and contractors they engage with the project and take pride in their work and the results are always far more rewarding for all.
You've also been involved with designing several hospitality projects. How has hospitality design changed over the past 10 years?
The Emerson Interior
Over the past 10 boom hospitality years we have gone from one extreme to the other. The cost of hospitality projects has reached a level that in my view is unsustainable. I believe the number of players in this field has watered down the product.
To stand out in this area it is no longer just good enough to design a space and a kitchen and hope the operator can make it work. The process now needs to integrate all aspects of the industry. The design needs to reflect the product offered and how it's delivered in its entirety.
The open kitchen changed the way we viewed the operator and the product. The emergence of the rock star chef changed the reason we came to a venue. The fit out became more and more complex with a view to try and capture the increasingly competitive market place. The exposure to all things design is a fundamental component of this.
The Emerson rooftop
What impact has that had on the design process?
The design process is far more complex and those without a real grasp of what is required will ultimately deliver a product that will see the venue struggle with the complexities. The bigger players with the big budgets have placed an enormous amount of pressure on the smaller players to keep up.
How do you think hospitality design will change in the next 10 years?
The George Hotel
The time has now come to take on the task of becoming truly innovative by offering a product that is inexpensive and relates to the entire experience rather than a formulaic one. Trying to be all things to all people results in being nothing to anyone.
We will start to revisit ourselves, engage with all the players and test every measure of the design and the ultimate experience.
I am inspired by simplicity. Simplicity done well is actually quite difficult. Engaging with the public in hospitality and the homeowner in residential work is the ultimate result.
Complexities and the unnecessary elements add to the white noise that seems to invade our lives. The delivery of a truly beautiful, simple and engaging space is a wonderful result.