The broader field of the arts has always been of inspiration for interior designer Danielle Brustma, an area that drew her fascination from as early as she can recall. “Being an only child certainly made me more resourceful, needing to entertain myself. I spent a considerable amount of time drawing and entering into my own magical world,” says Brustman, who graduated from RMIT in interior design. “Interior design was just a natural fit, particularly as it was driven with a strong conceptual basis.”

Although Brustman is now truly well ensconced in the world of interior design, having recently been highly commended in the Rigg Design Prize held at the National Gallery of Victoria, her entrée into this area started with creating sets for theatre, including the well-respected theatre group, Red Stitch. Her first set for the play ‘And Baby Makes 7’ came with a modest $400 budget. “I remember buying a few sheets of MDF, cutting them into the shape of a caravan and painting the entire backdrop,” says Brustman. “I think there was also a considerable amount of time spent making paper flowers,” she adds. Although finding ways to spark an audience’s imagination in theatre is not the same as designing interiors, the 10 years spent in theatre production has been instrumental in the way she works today, often making models from balsawood. “Both areas look at the way light transforms a space. Certain materials create a specific dynamic that I’m looking for,” she says.  Other freelance opportunities in theatre included the Malthouse Theatre, the New York Fringe Festival, as well as the Adelaide Fringe Festival. She also worked with the ‘Fruit Flies’, an ingenious theatrical outfit that combined high-wire antics in a carnival-like atmosphere. “I’m always mindful of how an audience occupies a space. The experience needs to be stimulating.”

Sometimes, it’s the small things that leverage a career. And in the case of Brustman’s, she attributes her initial success to the simple fit-out made for the Amelia Shaw Bar in Brunswick. Again, a modest budget resulted in the use of generic wall tiles and bands of colour to transform this bar. Vintage Japanese lights sourced at second-hand stores added to the ambience. Art deco furniture found on eBay completed the look. Other commissions followed, including the well-publicised ‘The Salty Dog Hotel’ in Hobart, a collaboration between Pippa Dickson and Michelle Boyde. Inspired by the early 1980s film Puberty Blues and Australia’s surf culture, the hotel, at Kingston Beach, was an instant hit with locals and those travelling from the mainland.

A renovation to a Victorian house in Camberwell, known as ‘The Matlock House’, saw Brustman transform a relatively tired period home into a delightful contemporary abode. Simple but clever detailing, combined with a dusty pastel blue and pink palette, imbue life into this home. “These playful details are drawn from my years in theatre.”

The Rigg Design Prize at the National Gallery of Victoria judged by the eminent New York architect Shashi Caan, awarded Brustman a special commendation on the night for her installation. Inspired by the film Xanadu, staring Olivia Newton-John, Brustman’s design drew on images of roller skating rinks and art deco band shells from the 1920s. Conceived as a hybrid between a living area and a commercial bar, the set came with sunken lounges, curvaceous lighting and furniture in soft pastel hues. “You could say it was an ‘interior with an interior’, expressing my inner-self (in a more fantastical way),” says Brustman.

Brustman’s installation at the NGV also caught the eye of Kay & Burton, a major sponsor of the event. “It appeared they’d been following my work, hence the opportunity to be invited to create a dining table for the Art of Dining (to be held in the Great Hall at the National Gallery of Victoria, opening on 1 May). They (Kay & Burton) appreciate what the value of design brings to the table,” says Brustman. “It’s an honour to be asked,” she adds.

Photography courtesy of Emma Jane Johnston (Danielle Brustman’s Rigg Design Installation), Belle Stewart (Danielle Brustman) & Nicole England (Matlock House and Frankie’s Story)

“Being an only child certainly made me more resourceful, needing to entertain myself. I spent a considerable amount of time drawing and entering into my own magical world,” says Brustman, who graduated from RMIT in interior design

A renovation to a Victorian house in Camberwell, known as ‘The Matlock House’, saw Brustman transform a relatively tired period home into a delightful contemporary abode.


The Rigg Design Prize at the National Gallery of Victoria judged by the eminent New York architect Shashi Caan, awarded Brustman a special commendation on the night for her installation. Inspired by the film Xanadu, staring Olivia Newton-John, Brustman’s design drew on images of roller skating rinks and art deco band shells from the 1920s.

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