Rob Mills
Architecture
& Interiors
AN INTERVIEW WITH
Founder, Rob Mills The WIN Awards ceremony at the Design Museum
in London last month was a glittering affair. In
attendance – all the way from the beautiful state of
Victoria in Australia – was the Rob Mills Architecture
and Interiors team. Their long journey proved well
worthwhile when they were announced joint winner
of the most prestigious WIN award of all, Interior
Practice of the Year 2016.
The WIN Awards ceremony at the Design Museum in London last month was a glittering affair. In attendance – all the way from the beautiful state of Victoria in Australia – was the Rob Mills Architecture and Interiors team. Their long journey proved well worthwhile when they were announced joint winner of the most prestigious WIN award of all, Interior Practice of the Year 2016.
Practice founder, Rob Mills, later described winning as ‘one of the highlights of my 25 year career’. In turn, the judges commented that ‘the work from this studio shows a real sensitivity and beauty’, praising the way in which light plays off the materials and the use of colour to create spaces that have ‘depth and a sense of permanence’.
To achieve all this, architects and interior designers work side-by-side in Rob’s Sydney and Melbourne studios, adopting a truly holistic approach and allowing the qualities of the land to guide the architectural process. The practice embraces the notion of ‘experience architecture’ as a powerful driving force in which ‘the interaction with the land, nature and the internal life of a building goes way beyond structure itself’. Rob talks us through some of their most successful projects, illustrating how exquisitely this approach works.
We also speak to Rob about where his most profound influences originate from. A connection with the natural environment seems to be in the DNA: his father’s family came from soldier settlement country in rural Victoria, and his mother’s family were Presbyterian missionaries on the Pacific island now known as Vanuatu. But it was perhaps his mother - and an epiphany in the Louvre in Paris - that had the greatest impact of all, as Rob tells us later on…
Firstly, many congratulations on winning the Interiors Practice of the Year Award 2016 last month! How did it feel to win?
It was so rewarding for our design and workmanship to be discovered, valued, and then celebrated on the world stage.
And what did you think of the Awards evening and our impressive new venue, the John Pawson remodelled Design Museum?
It was an honour to be invited to such a special event, and a privilege to experience the Design Museum. John Pawson has inspired me for years. His design for the Bulthaup store in Alexander Square, London SW3 was the first Pawson design I experienced - circa 2000 - and although long gone, I consider it a jewel box of refined design and craftsmanship.
Next question: Land. It seems that everything you design – both as an individual and as a practice – starts with the land the building will stand on. You even take the unusual step of helping clients identify the right spot before going near the drawing board, and we understand your family background has a great deal to do with this. Can you explain a little about your parents and the huge impact they have had on the work you do today?
Land is the foundation. The higher the quality of the land the greater the client, architecture, interiors and landscape. All four essential ingredients come to life on great land.
My parents were both doctors. My father, an orthopaedic surgeon, gifted me with his confidence and ability to see things clearly. My mother was also a doctor with a passion for fine arts. We were raised in a large house of grand proportions set in a lovely garden. The windows were large and the ceilings high. This environment which Mum created, together with my travels with her to all the great galleries and museums of the western world, developed my senses and gave me knowledge of many of the great achievements of mankind.
How do you as a team go about creating the serenity and sense of calm that seems to characterise the interiors you create?
Our designs are conceived to give you a sensory experience. We are fascinated by the possibility of giving the people within our design an unashamedly luxurious experience that touches all the senses. Your eye travels through the spaces, gently flowing from one space, object, colour, material to another. It’s a subtle, holistic, rich experience.
The sounds you hear are soft, clear, and pure. Water, music, wind are all captured within a very solid mass of concrete floors and walls. The objects and materials you touch are all hand-picked for their softness and their smooth, clean, and durable qualities. They are warm in winter and cool in summer, making it a complete pleasure to walk in bare feet, open a door or touch the wall.
The lighting we design is indirect and soft. Where you need light you have it.
These qualities combine to create a serene sensory experience that I have not experienced in other buildings.
One of your most recent success stories (following on from One Hot Yoga Melbourne) is that of the upmarket One Hot Yoga & Pilates Sydney. Can you tell us something about the rationale behind the interior design of the new exercise studio? What were you principally trying to achieve?
One Hot Yoga in Melbourne was the first yoga and Pilates studio in the world to embody high design and technology to create a studio that is a rich sensory, cultural, and physical experience. It was time to be generous and create an environment that was as enriching as the practice of yoga and Pilates themselves. The Melbourne studio is one of my favourite designs.
One Hot Yoga Sydney is a joy to spend time in. It’s fresh, white and drenched with sunlight. It is an expression of what I imagine Sydney could be and will be one day.
Moving to Victoria’s spectacular coastline next, Ocean House is a beautiful residential space in a breathtaking (and very steep) cliffside location along the Great Ocean Road in Lorne. Not only has it been designed by you; you are in fact the lucky owner! You rent it out as holiday accommodation and we’re curious to know how your guests find the experience of staying there? And what do you enjoy most about being there yourself?
It is the responsibility of a beach house or mountain cabin to be completely different to your city home. Our guests stay as they will. Some party, celebrate, marry. It’s a place that belongs to everyone.
Our own experience changes with the seasons. It’s a place of refuge, a place to restore, a retreat. Whenever we stay, we stay longer than planned.
Your Carrical project struck us as something of a departure from the modern, luxury newbuild residences you more typically design, because it’s an older property already set on land that was not selected by you. Was it challenging having to work with a location originally decided by someone else, and how did you decide to make the most of what was already there?
On the contrary, we have designed some of Australia’s finest traditional-style residences, but in many cases we don’t publicise them due to reasons of client privacy.
We found Carrical for our clients. It was essentially untouched from the 1930s, a classic Toorak mansion on a large plot of land, and with the addition of recently acquired land to one side.
It was our decision to restore the main house and add a new wing designed in the same style as the original house that makes the residence such a success. The original formal rooms were retained; the smaller service areas converted into intimate TV/reading rooms and studies.
The new wing in the same style was designed in a much grander scale to be at one with contemporary living. To live here is a holistic experience of the finest traditional and contemporary detailing and craftsmanship.
Aside from projects we’ve touched on, do you have any other personal favourites (and what makes them so)?
My favourite projects have been created for talented creative clients. They embrace the ‘new’ and the design comes alive.
What’s in store for Rob Mills Architecture and Interiors looking to the future?
We complete our entirely bespoke home in April, which is a long-awaited treat for my family. It’s a truly unique building with many surprises and high design. It embodies the best of what we do, and with luck it will surprise and delight when it is published and considered for awards! I’m going spend some time simply enjoying home.
Meanwhile, we have been commissioned to craft some of Australia’s great residences, so today, for instance, I spent the day designing one of these projects. The future is bright and full of opportunity for us. We are blessed.
Your bespoke family home sounds fascinating. Are you able to reveal what some of the surprises you refer to might be?
Our home is an old warehouse, within which we inserted a three-storey home with three-storey entrance spaces, large open living areas with steel-framed roof windows to let the light into the centre of the building, and a brass water river running the length of the living room lit by the glazed roof above.
There’s an intimate winter room with fireplace and timber-lined walls and ceiling, book cases, and views beyond. Finally, the bedrooms are within the roof level and have that loft feel, with treetop views across the suburb of Armadale. The photograph of me standing on an unfinished concrete spiral stair is the stair of our home. The light from the circular steel-framed glass roof is enchanting.
And winding the clock right back, what originally led you to set up the practice in 1989?
I am a leader. I have spent my life considering and questioning the way things are done. It was essential for me to pursue my thoughts and dreams so, aged 27, I established Rob Mills Architecture and Interiors.
Going still further back, what first made you want to become an architect? And was there ever another career you might like to have followed?
Standing before the ‘Winged Victory’ at the bottom of the grand stair in the Louvre aged 16 was a defining moment. The power of architecture, light, space, art, mankind’s ambition, stone, glass, bronze, movement, scale were all before me in perfect order. I understood what I saw and believed I could, and wanted to, create design as powerful.
I actually applied for architecture and industrial design. Architecture was my first choice, industrial design was my fall back. Fortunately, I was accepted into both courses.
And last but by no means least, when you’re not working, for you happiness is…
Being with my family and friends, any kind of travel - from my travels out of town to travels on my bike. I am at peace when I have ridden my bike to a spot in the countryside and can sit on the ground on a summer’s day.
Gail Taylor
Images:

Img 01: Sorrento House
Img 02: Rob Mills receiving Interior Practice of The Year Award 2016 from Piers Taylor
Img 03: One Hot Yoga, Sydney
Img 04: Ocean House
Img 05: Carrical House
Img 06: Sorrento House