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Master of illusion

How does a design professional go about creating a custom home with liveable solutions? For Robert Kirkovski of Rural Building Co, it’s all about flexible thinking to create a forever space.
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Kate Veteri

Publications officer

Robert Kirkovski

Q: How has your career evolved in the design field?

RK: I have worked in the architectural field for more than 25 years now. For the first 10 years, I worked for small architectural firms specialising in upmarket residential work. Then I changed my career a little and went on to learn about interior design. I worked as an interior designer on commercial projects for about 18 months until I decided that it wasn’t really what I wanted, so I went back to residential work. I started working for the JWH Group (Rural Building Co) in WA and have remained there, creating an array of houses which I enjoy. 

Q: How do you go about designing a space that is adaptable? 

RK: The best way to make a space adaptable is through the illusion of creating separate components of the house that are linked, and can then evolve with time. One way you do that is by thinking about how people come in and go, how spaces are connected in the house, and if it can be separated or linked when it’s being used as part of the whole house.

For example, in the Evolution Farmhouse I designed, there is a divider wall sitting to the side of the front door and behind the living room. While the wall isn’t long, it doesn’t make the hallway and living room feel disconnected from one another (making both spaces feel small) or blend the two spaces into one. Thus, linking spaces together while creating the feeling of separation.

During COVID-19, we have seen people use their homes as their work spaces. This technique is ideal for solving the issue of broad open plan designs; you can still cut the link between the spaces without making the house feel smaller. I also find it’s suitable for long-term guests or for children as they became young adults looking for some independence.

A home should really be a forever space, so if it can adapt then it has done the job.

Q: What do you do to get the most out of a consultation?

RK: Custom homes are about creating a home that suits the lifestyle of the occupants. To achieve that, you need to listen to the client. You aren’t just listening to what they say, but their entire demeanour. Their personality helps to shape the way they live, which helps in creating a design that matches the home to the person. Ask yourself “how will the layout of the new space make them feel?”. 

You also have to ask many questions, almost like an interrogation! Sometimes making them feel a little uncomfortable encourages them to really think about what they want without needing to solve the problems they think may arise. When I talk to clients, I want them to remember that solving any technical design problems is my job, all I need from them is to tell me exactly what they want, with the mindset that everything is possible to achieve. Because, as a designer, when I listen I am the one who should try to put the jigsaw puzzle together and make the home feel connected to the surrounding spaces and to the occupants.

Q: How do you balance creativity and the client brief?

RK: I have my own style so if I were to design something for myself it would be completely different to what I would design for someone else. You have to keep the two things quite separate, especially when you are generating a wide range of designs. Personally, I like creating rooms that people will use rather than a vast open space. However, if there are multiple rooms I ensure they flow but are designed differently in a way that draws you into each space for a particular reason. Sometimes that is related to volume (high ceilings are becoming increasingly popular in WA); the amount of glass used; how it connects to the room next door and how it disengages itself from other spaces; and how multiple rooms are separated from each other. If I am comfortable injecting some of my personal design tastes that I truly appreciate I will, but to make something that truly responds to the client you need to deliver on the key items they want.

Being creative often has a link to cost – you can’t escape it – and sometimes that puts limitations on a designer’s creativity, but it allows you to be more innovative in how you approach a design. I am constantly pushing the boundaries to introduce something that’s different and unique. To achieve this you need technical knowledge on how all the components fit together and an idea of the general cost to create something that sits within the confines of the budget. You get better at it with experience. From there I have discussions with those on the construction side of development and we talk about other ways to go about achieving a common goal. The conversation I have with clients is similar. I push them outside of what they feel comfortable to convince them that a design will deliver on the things they want. Designers develop many good client relationships built on trust when doing this, in order to make their dream home design a reality.

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