"I wanted a room that opens the imagination up, fosters wonder and encourages a little girl's magic. " - Rachel Donath
Emotionally and physically, here is where we are right now: a moment in time that for any creative is shaped by the ideas and inspiration that feels alive for them then. For Rachel Donath, ‘A Girl’s Room’ was an exciting but necessary design project for her daughter Gracie, who, having outgrown her babyhood, needed a room that could evolve and grow with her into her adolescence.
Occupying time and place in her conscious creative process, the ‘Girl’s Room’ project made her more aware than ever that inspiration remains alive and animate, and for all creatives, is a fluid muse that shifts and evolves through time as much as it finds residence in place. Sparking a bigger idea, HERE was born: a new series that pays homage to the present and, in conversation with some of our most admired creatives, asks what’s inspiring them right now along with some of the insight, story and experience that has shaped their creative approach, personal perspective and professional career…
And so, to launch this series, we begin here where the idea was born; sitting down with Rachel Donath to hear how A Girl’s Room evolved, the challenge of indecision and the force of imagination in the final design conception.
How has your approach to designing a girl’s room been different from designing a room for your boys?
After 3 boys, the opportunity to design a girl's room has been such a thrill, an outlet to finally do something with all the pent up ‘girl room’ ideas I’ve been storing in my brain for so many years. While I’m not a traditionalist in terms of boys having blue and girls having pink, I think that my daughter's birth order in our family has meant that her room has become an explosion of classic femininity with florals and frills and lots of girly charm. After 3 consecutive boys, the arrival of a baby girl was such a treat and I couldn’t help myself but go head on with pinks and reds in her bedroom design.
Rachel Donath with daughter Gracie
Where and how did you seek inspiration and what were the key criteria around which the design evolved?
I have for so long dismissed girl room images as these had no relevance to me as a boy mum. Since finding out I was carrying a girl four years ago now, I have been saving lots of references on Pinterest and Instagram and the common theme throughout has been old world charm, classic design and whimsy by the bucket load. These references definitely inspired the brief for her bedroom design.
Vintage French bamboo mirror from Rachel Donath, Vintage Dolls house sourced from Gumtree, painted and restored by Rachel
Were there any unexpected inclusions or did it all unfold according to plan?
Overwhelmed with choice and possibilities and the pressure to get it right, I put a challenge out to my Instagram community in the form of a design competition, to help with ideas for her room. I was blown away by the response and by the effort put forward in the entries. It was here that I discovered so many design elements that I hadn’t considered and which I ended up incorporating in the final design plan.
How much of a part did your intuition play in choosing the right furniture and décor for the space or were these guided by practicality?
I’m not one for practicality - I’m a form over function girl, but being a child’s bedroom, I did need to consider how the space would be used and how the design could accommodate a growing child. We put in a trundle bed (hidden by a magnificent custom designed valance) for sleepovers, built in shelves for books and all the things little girls collect. The design was certainly led by my intuition and also my vision of how I’d like my little girl to grow and what environment I’d like her to spend her playing and dreaming hours in. I wanted a room that opens the imagination up, fosters wonder and encourages a little girl's magic.
"When designing a child's room, I like to channel my inner child, untouched by ‘rules of design’ or ‘accepted pairings’ but instead led entirely by intuition and ‘what I love’. " - Rachel Donath
Were there any obstacles or workarounds required?
The bed is actually placed beneath the staircase and I wanted this to appear as an intended design decision, not an afterthought. We have worked with this nook to create a sense of a hideaway, a little cubby, wrapped in wallpaper depicting a wild garden, enclosed and cosy. It all feels very intentional now, a special feature of her bedroom.
Swan on bed by Numero 74, Bedhead and Bedskirt by Land Home, Wall light is IKEA, carpet is New Zealand wool from Melbourne Flooring, Painting is Vintage, Tri Legged side table by Rachel Donath
What’s your advice on layering art and objects into a children’s interior?
When designing a child's room, I like to channel my inner child, untouched by ‘rules of design’ or ‘accepted pairings’ but instead led entirely by intuition and ‘what I love’. I applied this thinking to selecting a mix of materials that don’t really connect to each other but are all favourites. Chinoiserie, florals, stripes, toile, fur. Somehow random collections of loved items all work together just perfectly, making more sense than a heavily curated or intended selection of items. Gracie's room is an example of design by heart, creating whimsy by mixing without too much planning and with a mentality of ‘the more the merrier’, letting the imagination run wild.
"Gracie's room is an example of design by heart, creating whimsy by mixing without too much planning and with a mentality of ‘the more the merrier’, letting the imagination run wild. " - Rachel Donath
A mix of materials create whimsy and wonder
What of your own childhood, in anything, played out in the imagination and design of this space?
I was a very creative child with a rich imagination. I would make up stories about families that would live inside paintings that hung on the walls at my parents’ home and create dialogue and complex stories with dolls and toys I owned. I was away with the fairies, absorbing books and nature and my surroundings. We didn’t have a TV growing up, so my imagination was my entertainment. I wanted Gracie’s room to provide an environment to foster imagination and dreaming so that she could create her own imaginative stories.
Little Petra Chair, bunny and artwork are vintage pieces. Jute Rug from the Natural Floorcoverings Centre, Armadale.
How long did the process take from start to finish and what, for you, was the most anticipated design element that you couldn’t wait to bring to life?
I’ve been meaning to decorate her room since she was born 3.5 years ago but was frozen in indecision. It was only after putting the design competition out to my Instagram community that I found clarity and decisiveness in what I was wanting to create. I was most excited to see the room transformed by wallpaper, and what a transformation it was!
What were the custom made elements and did these meet your expectations?
We had the bed nook customised to be built in and accommodate shelving. The bedhead and valance as well as the roman blind were also customised with the fabrics and shapes I had selected. I am thrilled by the result!
What, for you, in the hero piece in this space?
The clash of all the fabrics we used! I wouldn’t say one element is my favourite but rather the impact of all the finishes combined takes my breath away. The bed nook in particular, with the antique French bedspread, Oscar De La Renta Chinoiserie bedhead, striped valance and the peony wallpaper, it just comes together in a way that is better than I could have ever imagined.