Kendra Pinkus

July 19, 2018

darc discovers how fashion influences the choices Kendra Pinkus makes when working with her team at Australian interior design firm Bates Smart.

Bates Smart is a multidisciplinary design firm delivering architecture, interior design, urban design and strategic services across Australia, with over 300 staff in studios across Melbourne and Sydney. The company’s award-winning projects transform the city fabric and the way people use and inhabit urban spaces and built environments.

Kendra Pinkus, an Associate Director at Bates Smart, has been with the company for over 20 years and worked on the Crown Perth project (featured in darc issue 19) alongside Director Jeff Copolov.

Here, we delve deeper into her passion for interiors and how lighting plays an integral role to any project.

Design was deeply embedded in Pinkus from an early age having grown up in a family of fashion designers and found herself constantly surrounded by leather, fabric and shoe samples. While there was never any pressure to continue in the family business and work within the fashion industry, it has, inadvertently become one of the designer’s key reference points for inspiration.

“I relate fashion to interiors all of the time,” Pinkus tells darc. “With fashion, every piece has to be finely tailored and have a point of difference but, most importantly, a fashion item has to be comfortable and wear well. I believe interiors share a similar approach where each piece must work for the client’s needs and ultimately the end-user.

“Fashion is often the lead for inspiration when I start an interiors concept. Every mood board incorporates a fashion element, such as patterns or colour palettes.  A beautiful pleat of a dress could inspire a light fitting, a handbag clasp could emerge as a handle detail and a stitch in a jacket lining could be transformed into a decorative cushion.

Having changed schools at 14 years of age to one that was more aligned with the arts, Pinkus spent as much time as she could during lunch breaks and school holidays in the art department and confesses, as a child, she would much rather take a suitcase of arts and crafts on holiday than a suitcase of clothes. “That school changed my life,” she says. “As soon as I walked in I was like a kid in a candy store – there were five levels to the art department! This is where I discovered graphics and interiors. At the end of my time there, I asked my graphics teacher for guidance as to whether I should place interiors or graphics as my first option – there was no need for an answer and my final thesis delivered was on a hotel interior. Interior design was not particularly a choice, rather my career destiny.”

As is usually the case, the transition from education to employment for Pinkus wasn’t a straightforward one. Having applied for the only school available for interior design, unfortunately Pinkus was not accepted. Determined to follow her passion in interiors, she declined the opportunity to study industrial design and instead joined a large architectural firm, which cemented her passion for interiors.

“I was at the firm for about a year and absolutely loved it – it was the perfect experience following school and I absorbed everything I could. I was seated right next door to the head of interior design– she was so inspiring! I then reapplied to RMIT’s school for interior design and I was accepted– this is where my journey really began.”

To support herself through university, Pinkus took a job in retail, which inadvertently taught her an important tool: how to study people and understand their needs. “I learnt about understanding the customer and articulating what they wanted. This is an essential skill for interiors – you are always selling ideas to your client and need to ensure it meets their needs. This is the same in fashion retail – you need to not only style the customer but ensure they can wear the style with confidence and ensure it works with their own personal brand. It’s all about collaborating with your client, working with them and sometimes holding their hand through the journey.”

Pinkus may have been with Bates Smart for over 20 years but, just like university, it wasn’t the smoothest of starts. “It’s a funny story really, a friend of mine worked in one of the offices Bates Smart was affiliated with at the time and so I gave him my CV to pass on to Interior Design Director, Jeff Copolov. To cut a long story short, I was told it ended up in the bin, which I was devastated by. Bearing in mind I was a poor student who had spent all of my money on printing my CV on extra thick, quality paper – all one sided too!

“It wasn’t meant to be at that time, but two years later I reapplied and sent my CV to the HR department this time… the rest is history, as they say! I was excited to join a studio that delivered such exquisite work with so many other designers to be inspired by.

“The first ever project I worked on with Bates Smart as a young graduate was a prestigious residential project where I really learnt my craft and I still refer to today. We delivered everything from the architecture through to selecting the soap dishes. When I walked back on site after completing the job, I realised for the first time how lucky I was to have found a career that I loved and be surrounded by creative people. I am proud to be part of the process in creating memorable places that people engage with and can take joy from every day.

In terms of ‘design style’, Pinkus always starts a project with a pure backdrop to build upon the creative inspiration. She tells darc, it’s all about articulating the brief, understanding the client’s needs and the end-user and how much you humanise it. “Each client has varied needs and parameters they wish to work within so it can be about how far you can turn the volume up to meet their requirements.”

“I believe, like fashion, interiors should be timeless – you want to be able to walk through the space in years to come and you should still feel that the space is uplifting. I always try and keep the interior architecture quite elegant, calm and classic, particularly the hard finishes that are often more difficult to replace. The creative opportunity lies in the soft furnishings where you have the freedom to create a fun and engaging environment that can be refreshed easily, such as cushions, rugs and armchairs.”

“I don’t generally prescribe to trends as they are fast moving and ever-changing. The other day, someone was telling me that we shouldn’t use arches in a space… why not? Arches have been around forever and can have a relevance for certain interior designs. As designers, we should follow our instincts and not simply follow trends or dismiss former designs, everything can have a place if it’s right for the environment.”

Talking more specifically about working with lighting, Pinkus says it is an essential ingredient for interior design. “It’s the first and last thing I think about when working on a job. Lighting can affect the experience and mood of a space and must be an early consideration. I relate it to theatre production, which is all about lighting. You’re taken through a journey of how the production designer wants you to experience each scene as the performance evolves. It’s all about painting each scene with light and creating subtle moments for your audience to experience. It’s the same with interior design: lighting transforms the mood and ambience. Lighting can transform objects and bring them to life.”

“We always work with specialist lighting consultants, such as Electrolight, Point of View and Vision Lighting, to define the mood we wish to create. Each fitting is considered depending on the environment and the requirements throughout the day.

Pinkus explains: “Architectural lighting should never be seen – the client and end-user should never really know it’s there, it’s more of a feeling and shifts the mood of the space throughout the day. Whereas the decorative lighting – well that’s all about the props and the theatre, it’s about how many moments you want people to concentrate on, creating the drama and mood.”

Looking back in particular at the Crown Towers project, which featured a bespoke lighting installation from Willowlamp, for Pinkus, this is one of her most notable projects to date, saying: “I knew the lobby needed something significant that would make an impact. I discovered lighting artist, Adam Hoets online and went over to South Africa to see him… the conversation grew to him designing a bespoke light fitting. The technology behind it is incredible. When you see it in real life, the beauty of the piece instantly resonates. There’s a kaleidoscope of light and colour that comes alive – it has becomes a centrepiece that wows the guests that arrive at the lobby.”

Looking ahead, the Bates Smart team has many significant projects in the pipeline from a beautiful five-star hotel in Darwin that overlooks the waterfront, featuring handcrafted lighting elements to a high-end luxury residential apartment building such as 85 Spring Street in Melbourne; the new club stand for the Victoria Racing Club in Flemington just in time for Melbourne’s Spring Racing Carnival and the Australian Embassy in Washington that is inspired by the national landscape.

Interior design in Australia is booming right now and while every industry has its frustrations, for Pinkus this only inspires her and the rest of the team to work harder and think in a more creative way. “Project limitations push you to think of an alternative,” she says. “When I was younger I found it frustrating but now, it’s just part of the creative process. Good, solid interior design is about longevity, harmony and simplicity. It’s about applying soft layers to it, the key elements that allow your eye to move through the space easily.  Working with light is a subtle artform – as are the music notes used to play a symphony – it has the ability to paint a scene and create memorable experiences.”