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Kate Walker of Kate Walker Design

As you all know, finding out the story behind the business is one of my favourite things. I came across Mornington Peninsula-based Kate Walker (of ‘Kate Walker Design’) just recently and – like I think of all working mums out there – I just don’t know how she does it!! With a couple of kids in tow, Kate started her business about three years ago, and has built an impressive portfolio since. I love that she has chosen her niche: hard finishes, specifically kitchen and bathrooms solutions. She has also worked across one of my all time favourite spaces: Beauty Edu (while Technē Architecture + Interior Design lead the design). You can explore the stunning interior of this space below.

But it’s no surprise that Kate found her way into the design world: her father is one of Australia’s most successful ceramic tile merchants and her mother is an interior designer. I discussed with Kate the evolution of her career, the challenges she comes across running her business, and I picked her brain about some tips to help all of us looking to beautify our kitchens and bathrooms. Take a read of our interview…

What was the turning point that lead you to starting your own business?

I worked in our family business, National Tiles, for 15 years and when clients used to come in to purchase their tiles we would establish such a great connection that they would ask me for advice on all their other hard finishes.  I would advise them on their carpet, timber and joinery as well.  As the business grew though, my role took me  further and further away from the creative side which is what I loved so much.  I also had two young children (aged 8 years and 5 years old at that time) who I was raising as a single mother, so I needed more flexibility with my working hours. 

I realised I wanted to spend time with my clients at the coal face of a project and put into practice what I had been doing naturally for so long.  I really felt I had more to offer my clients than just a tile selection for their bathroom, I knew I could offer them guidance across the whole spectrum of hard finishes.  So I launched KWD in 2013.

What did you learn from your parents about the design industry?

Everything about design I learnt from my Mum.  She’s an incredible interior designer, in fact she’s the best one I know.  She’s never really done it professionally as such but every house she has owned was just incredible.  Her design philosophy was to make sure the interior looked like a home, not just a house – and like all the pieces had come from a variety of places, not all from one shop. 

A home is all about layers and there’s a very big difference between a house and a home.  You put love into a home, and my Mum is very good on all the small details.  It’s those details that make a huge difference. 

From my Dad I didn’t learn much about design, in fact a lot of the tiles he used to buy were not to my style at all!  But what he did teach me was a phenomenal work ethic, passion and incredible business nous.

What has been your most challenging project to date and why?

The most challenging projects are those where the goal posts change.  When budgets get cut, or if there are structural issues to overcome or when the clients themselves aren’t getting along.  It is difficult when clients are conflicted over how they want the project to look.  I can work with any style and any client, but when it’s the clients themselves that are at odds it makes it difficult to find a resolution.  We offer marriage counselling as part of our service!

And is there a particular project that stands out as a favourite?

There’s a project we are working on in Merricks that is my all time favourite.  The client was very decisive and she knew exactly what she wanted.  She wanted quality.  She was very interested in what we had to offer, and we made her vision a reality.  We’ve been working on it for 18 months and there’s another six months to go.  I’m actually building my dream home vicariously through her! 

It’s a project where we’ve been engaged to do  everything – we found the builder, the carpet, the timber, the tiles, the tap ware, the joinery, we even designed the landscaping – everything from start to finish.  So not only are we going to be really happy from a design perspective, our client is going to love every bit of it, which is spectacular.

What do you love about working with the hard finishes?

I love hard finishes because they’re technical, and because there is so much importance put on them.  It’s not like a cushion that you swap when you get tired of the pattern. 

There’s so much consideration given to hard finishes because they’re there for a long time.  They are structural and too expensive to change so you’ve got to get them right. 

People determine the quality of a home based on the hard finishes – not on the plumbing or electrics, or how the heating or cooling works. 

And hard finishes have to be fit for purpose.  They are such a high percentage of the cost of the build, that people place so much importance on them.  It’s an emotional as well as a functional choice.  A floor is what everyone sees, and uses every day.  And how many times a day do you open a cutlery drawer?  If it doesn’t work properly you’ll be cursing me, but if it opens like a dream every time, you won’t be thinking about me you’ll just be loving your kitchen.

What is the top piece of advice you’d give to someone looking to renovate their kitchen?

Make sure that you don’t just take the architects plans as they come.  While architects are excellent at drawing buildings, they’re not necessarily good at designing joinery.  It’s really important to get your kitchen cupboards and drawers designed by a joinery specialist, and you need to ensure that they understand how you and your family like to live.  Are you cooks or do you eat out all the time?  Do you have a large family or are you single?  You need to build a kitchen for how you live in it.  Are you an entertainer who needs a double fridge and a wine fridge, or do you only use your kitchen for making breakfast?  If you don’t need a wine fridge, don’t put one in just because everyone else has one. 

The kitchen is really the hub of the house.  Years ago it would have been the Drawing Room, with beautiful curtains and fabrics and furniture, but these days it’s the kitchen.  You have a kitchen island with stools where people sit down and chat while you’re cooking.  It’s important to have practical surfaces.  If you cook a lot of Indian food you don’t want porous surfaces on the benches that will get stained by spices.  And don’t be swayed by trends.  The life cycle of a kitchen is 7 to 10 years, so you kitchen design needs to last a long time.

And what about your key tip for those looking to renovate their bathroom?

If it’s a family bathroom, I always ask how many children there are and the sex of the children.  It’s a great idea to have a toilet in the bathroom and a separate toilet as a powder room, so that the kids can all brush their teeth together during the morning rush.  I also recommend that where possible you should always put a bath in, and if it won’t fit a shower over a bath is a last resort. 

My number one tip though is that storage in a cupboard underneath a basin is basically useless.  Use wall mounted shaving cabinets instead. 

Whether they are sleek and contemporary or have timber frames around them or you go for a traditional look with wall sconces mounted either side of the cabinet.  It could be a round mirror with storage behind it.  If you always put storage behind the mirror, a woman can easily store and use her makeup without any fuss, and you can also hide your power points in the cabinet too and along with your electric toothbrushes.

What is your biggest dream and hope for your business?

My biggest dream is that I still get as much enjoyment out of KWD in 20 years time as I do now. And that I continue to have a group of incredibly talented people on my team.  I want KWD to be known as a company that doesn’t just provide one particular style, but as a company that provides the best possible solution.  And that we have made each client’s building process a delight.

KWD 10KWD 6 RYCON 14 (1) beauty-edu_01beauty-edu_07 beauty-edu_04 (2)

Images of Kate: Brent Lukey Photography
Image of kitchen: Rycon Building Group
Images of Beauty Edu: from here.

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