Stylist, designer, instructor…there’s no single way to define the dexterous and multidisciplinary Megan Morton whose creative talent is perennially curious and always evolving. Founder of The School - which offers international excursions to small groups that are both rich in discovery and new experience - her love of travel, along with her professional skill, are shared openly and without ego to provide an inclusive environment for her students to re-energise and find inspiration through the vivid background of culturally-rich settings. Attributing much of her success to her independent and progressive mindset, we spoke to Megan about the community she has built, her approach to work as a stylist and the slow burn of ideas that can unfold over a lifetime.
Megan Morton pictured at home.
Physically, where are you right now? Are you at home, on holiday, in the office or elsewhere?
South of France. At my husband's family home in a magical little village called Fayence.
How does your current environment inform your creative process and what is inspiring you right now?
I like to work in quite strict ways, but flexibly. Ie, I am used to being in various different environments and as Elizabeth David says so brilliantly, I am ‘ready to catch the kite tail and bring it down’. I love thinking and reading and observing. I develop my ideas analogously, because everything is run on a spreadsheet or a signed off concept and I find that it is just the dartboard, not necessarily the bullseye. My clients are people who understand this and also understand that what you’re paying for is time, not spreadsheet-ed efficiency. I am selling my time and my instruction, but what I am also selling is every book I have read, every movie scene I have been influenced by, every concert I have been an audience member of, every exhibition I have seen.
WIP Megan Morton Project featuring the Rachel Donath Wave Fire Screen.
As a stylist, you approach interior design through the lens of curiosity; creating beauty, intrigue and personal expression through an uptake of all senses. To what extent does a great stylist take risks or experiment, trusting their instinct and intuition above the opinion of others to execute a higher vision?
There is zero experimentation in styling, it’s all highly calculated. This applies to high stakes commissions as well as low ones. Anything coming from anything else that is not 100 % definitive is not really styling in a commercial sense.
Through ‘The School’ you offer international excursions to small groups, exploring the world of art and design within the vivid streetscapes of Paris, Tokyo, Puglia and Jaipur (amongst others). Through the experience of colour, food, textiles and architecture, your tours ignite inspiration - a creative reset away from the busyness of day-to-day life. Personally, how has travel allowed you to see ‘home’ with fresh eyes? Is there anywhere you haven’t yet been that you long to visit?
I love feeling truly in discovery mode, which is why we say we are ‘enthusiasts’ not experts. I am elated by travel. I am elated by feeling new and being both a follower and a leader. I love people and people are the juiciness of travel. Our wheelhouse at The School is destinations curious, time conscious women who would not go with their colleagues, partners or children. My own children used to say, ‘Why can't we be like a normal family and go to Noosa or Fiji, why do WE have to go to India for 6 weeks?!’ I sent my older kids to Beam Camp in upstate New York when they were younger. I saw them see (and feel) ‘it: when you realise that you're not the only person in the world and things and risk and people are amazing. They both now travel (and proper travel, not White Lotus drop-in travel!) vivaciously and I am so thrilled for them.
I find it strange when people keep doing the same things post COVID. Why would you spend your precious holiday (time and money) going to Milan when the reporting is so very good now and you can go somewhere whose purpose is not to make you keep looking over your shoulder at ‘what’s new’? If you’re bringing a product to market, sure, of course it’s important. For rest and inspiration though, a commercial city or event is only going to give you the one point of view and everyone is at the same water fountain, so to speak.
I like to go deep - to properly travel and feel lost in order to find new inspiration…not following my nose through a marketing schedule.
For every good idea there are many more we reject. Do you ever salvage ideas that didn’t come to fruition at a later stage or do you just move on?
I never waste a good idea. Like a good prop or item, pedigree and provenance is rarely a value that makes something wonderful. Visual values don’t regard cost or origin, it’s as pure as truth and beauty and beauty and truth. The best ideas are long form and usually slowly, so slowly cooked. The idea of a window I had seen 18 years ago in Japan, came to me. I found my photo file from that trip and felt so satiated. It was such a brilliant idea that wasn’t a riff, but a reiteration, on an 18 year slow cooking temp.
What have been some personal milestones that you have achieved outside the expectation or perceived expectation of others?
I don’t measure myself to anyone else. I work for my own needs, not the market, which is how we can transpire our skills over architecture, design, travel, lifestyle, products - but the intention is always the same, and that is to be ‘instructional’. People want me to instruct, rather than edit or dictate or direct. Instruction is about education, not ego. This is where we can be wholehearted across all the disciplines. I started The School because I refused to play into that slightly icky ‘you can’t sit with us’ vibe that was happening. It’s the same reason I refuse to apply for a blue verification badge. I don’t want anyone to feel less. I want equal disputation of anything and everything outside of my commercial commitments to private clients.
What have been some of your most profound personal challenges and have they ever informed your creative process or interrupted it?
I don’t have a personal challenge I would share, but of course, all work and output can’t help but be autobiographical. I aim to make people feel seen, supported and beloved.
That said, dealing with a parent with cancer has been so hard but also such a great reminder of the quality of life. And I believe, hand on heart, that the quality of life can be better-ed by design and decoration.
If you analysed the most important factors in your success, what would say these have been?
Zig when they zag. No one had been audacious enough to set up photo studios without the financial support of hiring photographic equipment, but I knew that space and emptiness was an important value, pre-pandemic. I also saw shopping centres becoming ‘entertainment’ for women. I had consulted in many of the most commercially successful centres in the country. Making a safe space that sold nothing but process, and the invitation to introduce other women to one another (who didn’t have to have kids at the same school/dogs at the same dog park or work in similar industries or live in the same demographic). The School was set up to be an empty hospitality venue, where people could come and be nourished. We take this spirit to our trips all around the world, servicing time conscious women with dreamscape, meticulous trips. We are lucky enough to enjoy being trusted by so many now, from our 10 years of service at The School, and very much attribute the School’s success to our students and guests - we were merely the Cupid. The women who showed up are the glue. We are merely driving the bus, so to speak.
What are your personal and creative rituals, if any?
Keep moving. Hard to imagine even contemplating this especially if you’re in the throws of full-on parenting and working, but whenever I can, I change things up. In my job, I have seen so many people live ‘small’ because they can't expand or contemplate change. I have loved my recent move to a rural property, post Covid. I will look forward to the next change. I am working on a property in France at the moment and hope to finish my own retreat guest house for women up here in the Hinterland, but I won’t succumb to doing things quickly or flash in the pan. What women need now is different and changes all the time. Which is why I don’t mind people replicating the School or attempting to do our classes or Styling Instruction or our trips. Truth and authenticity have cut through giving it a purity that can’t be hashtagged or copied. I only want to be surrounded by nature, so living between Bondi’s momentous energy and 150 acres of juicy rainforest and pasture land in Bungjalung, is an ideal situation for me now that my children are all a bit older - it’s just so deeply nourishing. I am also a bit wary of anyone who is living identically to how they were pre-pandemic. I don't mean move physically, I mean mentally culturally, socially. Change is the portal not to advancement, but to advantages.
What piece of wisdom currently resonates with you and how does it inform your approach to life right now?
Get political. Get angry, get wild. Saving the world is literally the job for us all. ‘But what can I do?’ just doesn’t cut it anymore.
Also, please bend your knees when moving furniture ! PLEASE!!
THE ALLARD OTTOMAN, SHOP NOW
THE VERNIER SIDE TABLE, SHOP NOW
THE WAVE FIRE SCREEN, SHOP NOW