Interview with Gary Chard of Chard International Pty Ltd – Creative Director of Australian Open 2016 

Once in a lifetime you may get to rub shoulders with someone that inspires you beyond your wildest dreams. (And I truly hope you do) As that is when you will know you are in the presence of greatness, for they will have not only made you see, but FEEL a different way.

This is exactly what happened to me when I had the recent honour of shooting the work of world-renowned Creative Director and Designer, Gary Chard for The Australian Open. Despite working on hundreds of magazine shoots over the years, I left this particular event a changed woman, for I experienced the power of transformative imagery. Gary not only managed to create beautiful spaces that worked stylistically, but also evoke intense emotions and connections to these spaces that were visceral, addictive, curious and transformative. I spent a dizzy day between marquees lost in space and time, stepping in and out of reality. It was quite an experience.

Picture a small dark entryway to a marquee, beckoning you with the mysterious sounds of African beats playing in the distance. The space is dark, moody and screams of intimacy, divided by layers of hand- sewn and tucked raw hessian resembling buckled brown paper, black mesh and decadent gold sheers. The tables are adorned with exotic orchids with exposed bulbs that could have emerged from an archaeological dig. You can’t actually see four feet ahead of you. The ancient, heady soft scent of wood fire and saffron of earlier centuries has left you wondering if you are in fact, in the middle of an exotic Middle Eastern dream. And then you wake up and realise you are far from the Byzantine era but at the Australian Open instead. Transported? Yes. Genius? Absolutely! In awe? Definitely. Gushing? Guilty. Compelling? Keep reading!

We took 5 minutes (well in truth it was much longer- but who is counting when your story is this interesting!) with design royalty, Gary Chard to dig a little deeper into his world, understand his motivations, desires, inspirations and creative dreams and are chuffed to be able to bring it your way for viewing and reading pleasure.

Gary now owns the definition of ‘inspiration’ in my styling dictionary. And that is no mean feat.


How did you get started in this field and what was your life’s previous incarnation?

When I was a child in London, there was a vacant block where my friends and I used to play. One day we went down there and the adults had taken it over. There were bands, stalls, and smells of amazing food. Everyone was having such a great time. I’ve always remembered that day and thought that’s what I want to do…to create spaces for people to enjoy”

Along the way I have led a national fashion festival, produced large scale public events for major arts festivals, managed corporate brands, created public identities, expos and commercial interiors, worked on political campaigns, exhibited and sold artworks to private collections, designed editorial layouts, contemporary theatre sets and luxury packaging, secured significant amounts of sponsorship from corporate investors, conceptualized launch events for new products, directed television commercials, and raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for charity.

Can you talk us through how a typical year looks for you?

I dedicate 3 months of my year to personal development and usually take this during the Melbourne winter, when I travel overseas to experience new things. For the past 5 years I have been spending most of this time each year in Madrid. It is an amazing city and I am learning the language. I visit furniture expos, artist spaces and view developments in retail and interior design.

For 11 years I have designed and created the rooms at the Australian Open in Melbourne. The project has grown considerably for me from one room in the first year to over 20 rooms this year. I am the Creative Director of the Australian Open and I manage my project from inception through to installation working alongside my great colleague Courtney Dunn – Tennis Australia’s Functions and Operations Manager. This year we started with a meeting in Madrid in May where I was briefed on the changes and new rooms. In 2016 many of the rooms that had previously hosted corporate guests were opened up to the general public for the first time.

Given the scale of the rooms I am required to develop, I purchase and hire around 20,000 items per annum. All items are then returned and/or packed away for re-use. My work for the Australian Open finishes each February and then I move over into other independent new projects that continue until I commit myself back to the Australian Open.

What was the first interior design job/event that you took on, and what were the key learning’s?

I love the idea of allowing people to escape their every day lives.

In the late 80’s I was invited to transform a foyer and associated shop of an existing art deco theatre into a Kubrick-esque arts house venue. The budget was tiny but I wanted the gig, and the space is still kicking around today, so I consider it as a great success.

What I have learned the most about interior design is that it is not always about how much you spend nor is it about trying to desperately follow a trend. It is about realizing what it is you want to say and working with likeminded clients to build shapes, select furniture and fittings to articulate your vision. To me the best spaces are not trend focused.

How would you describe your style/aesthetic?

In one sentence, “I will take you to another place”

I believe my style is driven by my past, growing up in London. The wallpapers I use play a pivotal role in English houses and bars, the candles, incense and smells I utilize are associated with seasonal change and the transience of the streets where I spent a lot of my life. During the early stages of my career I studied fine art photography, graphic design and advertising. The qualities that underlie these principles add to the palette of my work. The strategy involved in building a successful advertising campaign, the bold illustration and balance that lead your eye through marketing collateral and editorial layout, the careful selection of image that sits within the frame of a photograph. My style relies on leading your eye through a space, taking you on a journey. I am a storyteller.

What do you like about your job the most?

I adore making people happy, I like to surprise people through introducing them to new concepts and different ways of seeing the world. I like to challenge people with experiences that make them think about new things that allow them to share together as a group or community.

I love creating homes for people with special touches from other places that add magic, for instance it might be bringing Boab trees along with their red earth from the central desert, or painting other trees ultramarine blue so the green leaves burst in contrast. I like working with artists and creators to develop unique items for projects and hopefully this in turn inspires the people that inhabit my spaces to think creatively also. Art and unique items bring with them stories that light up dinner parties and conversations…watching a 30-year-old Boab tree previously in the central desert now growing leaves on a Melbourne balcony can create an awe-inspiring moment that makes Spring worth waiting all year for.

The more people that can experience my work the happier I am and that is why I love my work with the Australian Open Grand Slam. I have been building their restaurants, bars and VIP areas for 11 years now and I have witnessed a lot of “Wow’s” when people discover the spaces. This is what I love about my work.

Where do you find inspiration?

Big question…I am truly inspired by everything- colours, smells, art and artists, people, food, fashion, textures. But my personal inspiration comes from the ocean and travel. I dedicate most of my life to these and they in return reward me endlessly.

Your recent work at the Aus Open was mind-blowing on so many levels. What is the secret to designing and creating these inspired spaces and being able to do it year in, year out?

The Australian Open as a project encapsulates everything that is important to me. It is a festival that encourages enjoyment and celebration. It has a global profile and brings so many people together. It encourages and celebrates excellence and achievement.

My scope of work each year is exhausting, with 20 venues, some catering for 350 guests and others for royal visitors, each space must have its own identity and be delivered at the highest possible standard. There is no opportunity for deadline extensions. The secret is to believe in what you are doing, to surround yourself with people that share your commitment and to give your life over to the work. This is not like creating one marquee at the races- it’s a marathon and the work must be robust because the Australian Open is one of the longest events on the calendar.

I have invested so much of my life in the Australian Open I feel that I am part of it and it is part of me, I know it so well. 

Do you have a favourite project?

My life is my work- I love it. I don’t accept commissions that I don’t believe I will enjoy. I am lucky in this way but then it makes perfect sense because my enjoyment infuses my work and the end result benefits from it.

What’s on the radar/agenda for you next?

Now I have finished the 2016 Australian Open I am dreaming of my escape to Madrid during the Australian winter. I am managing the design of a new accountancy office in Abbotsford and preparing a 50th year celebratory campaign for a state opera company.

And after winter? The possibilities are endless really.

Story by Julia Green, Greenhouse Interiors, Contributing Interiors Editor for RJL