Inspired by early Greek aesthetics and Roman functionality, Caecilia Potter established Atticus & Milo in 2000 as a small homewares store and interior design studio. After six years in business, operations moved from their initial Auburn Village location with the intention to narrow the focus towards architecture and interior design ventures. Now located in a larger studio in the city of Richmond, Atticus & Milo’s six devoted employees use strategy and finesse to ensure that each project meets all necessary requirements for both form and function. “We want to offer a full service, bringing everything together from architecture to interior design – we love to do bespoke furnishing and décor as well,” says Potter. “In terms of the practice, we still enjoy collaborations with other architects and also do a complete service in-house. We started out doing high-end residential; these days, we’ve also been working on commercial projects, multi-residential, and everything from renovations to new builds. We’ve got a range of exciting things at the minute.”
Since its conception, the business stayed small, in order for Potter to achieve balance between her work and home life; however, now that her children have grown, she is ready for Atticus & Milo to grow as well. “We’ve introduced our talented architect Deborah Johnson (more than 20 years experience including about 7 years at DCM working on the Melbourne Museum) to lead the architectural practice. We plan to grow the business over the next 5 to 10 years to be more mid-sized and do a mixed bag of projects, but always focusing on great design and great clients. I’m interested in exciting projects that are trying to achieve beautiful design, even if it’s simple – it doesn’t have to be a huge budget. For example, I think small apartments, beautifully done with clever joinery can be really functional, appropriate and wonderful to live in. We’re certainly not about things being overdone; we’re all interested in great design and the unique characteristics of different projects. We don’t have a house style. We really respond to the different briefs, sites, and contexts to try and do things a bit differently. Now we’re moving into that next phase, and that’s why we’ve expanded into some other areas as well – which we’re really enjoying.”
For each project, Potter and her team provide their clients with a “full range” architecture and interior design service right from the initial project concept – including “concept, design development and full documentation, bespoke joinery documentation, furniture designs, individual designs and customisations, contract administration and post-construction services.” They can also provide naturalistic 3-D renders for their clients and assist with marketing and branding. “We’re really enjoying that – doing a lot of artistic floor plans, and other creative elements for the marketing of multi-res projects in relation to design of brochures. When we are working on a project, there’ll be really important base ideas and concepts that we want to flow through the project itself, but that should also percolate into the marketing and graphic collateral around that project. So, we’re interested in adding that value for our clients and also collaborating with creators, providers like Seesaw, or other studios who might do more of the production of brochures and branding strategy for the client.
I also have a strong interest in landscapes, but we would typically bring a landscape designer into a project. We’re very much about everything being a harmonious whole – so, really working together with people to get the full final project effect. For me, landscape in the context is a vital part of that, our views on the architecture and design, how they integrate with the landscape, and how they work together.”
The importance of collaboration is a key concept at Atticus & Milo. Named after two close friends of Cicero, the company upholds the philosophy that the equal combination of Greek aesthetic and Roman functionality is crucial in order to guarantee a successful design. “If we’re designing architecture and interiors for people to live in, work in, or use in some way for their business, then the practical aspects are really important,” says Potter. “For us it’s about how we resolve those and make it a wonderful place to be that supports however people live or work in it, and make that beautiful, subtle, or expressive. It’s about bringing form and function together, so I don’t really say one is more important than the other. In the end, they have to work together and talk to each other; that’s so important to people when it’s where you live or work – or it represents your brand. I think it would be very irritating if it didn’t functionally work for you – and for commercial clients that includes supporting their marketing goals and business strategies.”
Sustainability is also a practical aspect of the company’s design strategy. In regards to energy conservation, every possible aspect is considered, including orientation of a design on its site, materiality, solar-powered options, deciduous screening, and seasonal ventilation. These sustainable homes have lower maintenance costs, and can also eliminate or reduce the need for heating and air conditioning. “All of those concepts add up to a much more comfortable, light, and attractive environment. We all value light and views; therefore, if you’re doing that, you have to think about how you make it all add up environmentally.”
All those things we take into account, and we also work with consultants who stay at the forefront of new technologies – whether it be solar hydronic or solar battery walls or systems for reticulating air underground; some of that’s still new and for sure expensive, but it keeps changing. So, for projects, we use different environmental consultants to try and find out what’s state of the art, what’s practical, how to future-proof and what’s the cost benefit; that’s driven not only because it’s more wonderful, great, and cheap to live in, but because it’s good for the planet and that’s something that, as a practice, we value. It’s far better to create things of beauty and utility that last the distance than be part of a throwaway culture – we don’t want to be part of a throwaway culture.”
Strong relationships with contractors, suppliers and staff have a major role in demonstrating Atticus & Milo’s commitment to interior design and architecture. In creating her own business, Potter sought to build close working relationships. She hoped that this approach would help her gravitate the business towards colleagues with similar values and, ultimately, ensure success within each division of each project. Potter frequently praises her co-workers, who are always willing to go the extra mile to ensure client satisfaction. “I wanted to have a very strong sense of respect for others and a family feeling of a small practice – everybody knowing each other and enjoying working together, and a bit of laughter and fun,” she says. “When you have a practice, it means you can also choose who you work with as clients and suppliers to extend that sense of shared goals.
We want to really contribute to really good design in Australia to create better, more exciting, and more beautiful spaces; but, we want to do that in a way that is a fun journey. So, we want to try and do our best to not only do a great design, but make the projects themselves efficient and well-run, avoid risk, try to maintain the design intent and have happy relationships with everybody on the project – whether it’s the client, the tiler, or the builder. I think that’s what we care about. So, we don’t want to just design something beautiful, then have a horrible time getting there. I think you can do that, also, by finding great builders and tradespeople, and people who do really care. There’s nothing more exciting than working with people like that.”
A very passionate art collector, Potter also ensures that she takes care to support the prosperity of independent artists through her practice; as a result, she has made friends within Australia’s local art scene. “We also do a lot of art advisory services for our clients, because I think spaces come alive with art. We’re also really interested in the nexus between the design and art, and how you might choose art or work with artists to really bring projects to life; that’s a huge personal passion, and something that does come into quite a lot of projects. We, as a studio, are all very passionate about trying to work as much as possible with local designers and artisans. We do work quite a bit with small local manufacturing practices, and often do some custom collaborations with them.”
Aside from the ever-present environmental issues affecting a variety of industries within Australia, Potter believes that the quality of design planning approved by government will affect the overall perception of architecture and design for the future. “You drive around Australia and you see a proliferation of really terribly designed new estates,” she says. “Even in an environment now, where the government is mandating certain environment standards for houses, it seems strange to me when I drive around the country and see so much bad design.
Often, through planning, you have to take really exciting and great designs to VCAT because they don’t tick the basic boxes, they are a bit different, or they are pushing the boundaries a bit – which is often an aspect of really good design. Why are they making it difficult, slow, and cumbersome to get good design up, yet allowing so much really unfortunate, just plain bad (or simply not designed) projects to go ahead? I think that’s really important, because we do have a growing population – with that sort of growth, you need more housing and you want it to be well designed and sustainable. A lot of architecture is going to be built in the coming years. I think that’s a complex issue and there’s a lot of factors; but, if you’re trying to increase density in the inner city – which is a good thing overall – then make sure that you can have creative freedoms there, but also that bad design or non-design doesn’t get through. “
“Why is it that the government seems to terribly overregulate but just not get it right? A case in point is the recent Victorian government draft apartment standards – there were some improvements but they don’t mandate an architect for the design process, which is such a shame. How can we get better designed urban structures unless we use trained architects to design them? It’s like saying anyone can do your heart transplant – maybe they can but would you bet on the outcome? Let’s keep advocating for better design and society will benefit, in the end it is more cost effective not less!”
Going forward, the ultimate goal for Atticus & Milo is to expand their knowledge of commercial and multi-residential projects in order to become key players in each respective industry. “That’s really the next thing,” says Potter. “We’ve dipped into that area and are really enjoying it. We’ve really built up a great body of knowledge and skills, and now we want to promote that, do more, and be involved with high-end developers that do care about getting a really great result – who are not just trying to do something ordinary, but to do something special and at different price points, because I think good designs don’t have to be expensive. I think small apartments at a low price could be very fun to do and especially environmentally sound; small developments that are a clever use of space because, personally, I think houses and homes that have a lot of multifunctional spaces that get a lot of use are much warmer and more welcoming than homes that have too many rooms that you hardly ever go into. I think we know what makes a space special and have a lot to offer our clients to achieve that, in a great range of projects! ”