Stepping into designer George Shepherd’s Magill studio – with its bright walls, artisanal furniture and crowded sample boards – is an oddly tranquil experience. It’s a workspace after all, and a busy one.
Shepherd is a stickler for styling. The office-slash-showroom has clearly been spruced for our visit, and some areas are off-limits for photography. “Oh, it’s chaos back there,” Shepherd says, laughing. Despite the polish, nothing feels faked. It’s this knack for fashioning uncontrived spaces that’s won the designer accounts as varied as cellar doors, ice-cream shops, retail spaces and private homes.
In 2011, Shepherd stepped out from beneath the security of an established architecture firm to fly solo. “I got into this because I wanted to design again,” she says. The decision came around the same time as the first of her two children. “If I was going to be away from them I wanted to be doing creative stuff. I didn’t want to be pushing papers,” she says.
Shepherd and team surround themselves with samples, textures and finishes as they pertain to various jobs. The office furniture is on a constant rotation, with samples arriving regularly so the team can understand each piece. They’re a little obsessed with plants. “We put them in a lot of our venues [so] it’s good for us to know how easy or hard they are to look after, and it’s good for the air,” Shepherd says. It’s the other Georgie – colleague Georgie Fried – who’s responsible for their wellbeing – and the mini forest is thriving on just the right amount of her tough love.
Fried first came aboard in 2014 for a stint of work experience. Shepherd explains it was a favour for a friend. “I said, ‘I don’t need any staff, but sure’. Then, as soon as George started working, we hit it off,” she says. Having an offsider allowed Shepherd to take the tiniest step backwards. It meant someone was always around to bounce ideas off. “I was doing everything,” Shepherd says. “I was staying up late every night finishing stuff … It was great for the first year, but it gets quite exhausting.” In 2017 she added Mara Morton, also after a period of work experience. “There’s a bit of a trend emerging,” she admits. Shepherd says, “We’re rebranding to GSID because, it’s my name, but I feel like we’re a real team.”
All of GSID’s designers keep in close contact with clients, which often means keeping unconventional hours. It’s how they create work with genuine personality. “It’s not so clock-in, clock-out. I think that’s our point of difference,” Shepherd says. Working that way required a shift in mindset from her corporate days. She had to learn to enjoy it, but today she thrives on it. Every late-night text or email from a client is, “another piece of the puzzle”.
The team’s private Instagram group mirrors the studio’s real-life pin-up boards. It’s where they trade ideas when they’re away from their desks – like at two in the morning. “We are on the search constantly,” Shepherd says.
GSID has worked on commercial venues such as Fred Eatery, Fine & Fettle, Beerenberg Farm Shop, Hither & Yon and Little Shoo, which opens soon in Henley. “I love bars,” Shepherd says. “They’re quite adventurous in their design. You can be quite detailed and it can be rich design, which suits me.” In her work, she’s across every element – from how customers flow through a space, right down to the positioning of IT equipment. “It’s a massive collaborative process with whoever runs the place,” she says.
Shepherd is excited to see the local design scene rising in stature, but says it’s important we don’t become isolated and fall into an echo chamber. “I look a lot to Europe [for inspiration], and at what’s happening in London and Paris,” she says. Dorothee Meilichzon of CHZON is a major influence.
Commercial work is the mainstay of GSID’s business, but the brand’s client base is growing. “We’re working on a couple of residentials, which is kind of new for us,” Shepherd says. These are home renovations and extensions, where a designer is brought in to work in tandem with architects in guiding and delivering the homeowners’ vision. Shepherd is particularly passionate about adopting heritage renovations. “You have those old bones to work from and you’re drawing from that, so the design is inherent already in the history of the house,” she says.
“When I went out on my own, I made a conscious effort not to do residential and to focus on commercial,” Shepherd explains. But she couldn’t resist an offer from her “dream client”, and that changed the game. “I did one kitchen up in Stirling called the Glass Stone House Project [by architect Damien Chwalisz],” she says. “It was on Grand Designs and it got us a lot of exposure.” “It’s the reason we now have residential.”
While Shepherd looks globally for inspiration, she champions the work of local craftspeople. “In Adelaide there’s a really good community of designers – especially graphic designers and furniture makers,” she says. “We like to use local joiners and cabinetmakers because the detail is just that bit better.” She understands it takes commitment – and pride – to operate a successful small business, because she runs one. “You know that person gives 150 per cent.”