Hayley Mitchell / Founder and Creative Director / Design BY QU  / 
changing rooms

story / Interview / May 7, 2018

I have wanted to be an interior design since I was seven. There used to be an English show called Changing Rooms; it was some really bad TV, but I would watch it every week without fail. One week I was watching it and I turned to my mum and said ‘I want to be an Interior Designer!’

I was born in Hertfordshire, just outside of London. I studied Architecture at Brighton University. I’d been working in retail design and I wasn’t really loving it. One day on LinkedIn, I got an email from Hirsch Bedner Associates (a big international design firm) asking me if I wanted a job. It sounded amazing but it was in Singapore. I phoned my Mum and asked her whether she had ever been before. She said she had and it was lovely, so I thought, ‘Alright, I’m moving.’ There was no hesitation.

I ended up staying at Hirsch Bedner for six years. I worked my way up from a junior to running my own projects all over the place, from Bali to China, Myanmar and Vietnam. I moved to Bangkok when they decided to open another office there. We grew the office to seventy employees. I can’t believe how quickly it escalated.

I found working in Bangkok a real struggle. My partner loved Bangkok but not his job there and I found the culture a real challenge. He wanted to move home to Melbourne so I thought, what am I doing? I’ve been doing this for someone else. Why don’t I move to Melbourne and try and do it myself?

I started Design by Qu a little over a year ago now and we currently have 11 live projects across three countries with our first hotel opening in October 2017. I’ve met some amazing people over my career and most of my business today has come from those people and their referrals. The most incredible support for my business has come from my suppliers. I was told at the beginning of my career that you should really respect suppliers – a lot of people treat them like they are disposable. But if your main suppliers for everything from lighting to fabrics and finishes aren’t keen to help you, then who is? I am endlessly grateful to these incredible people!

In Asia throughout Thailand, Vietnam, Myanmar and Cambodia, I found challenges with ageism as well as gender. It’s interesting, in Thailand, older women hold the most respect, followed by older people in general and then younger men. Working as a young woman was a nightmare. I’d walk into meetings and Clients wouldn’t even want to look at me. They are looking for the old, experienced person with the grey hair. It was however character building and taught me to have confidence in myself no matter what the situation.  It has been the complete opposite in India however. In my experience, India has been the easiest market to work in. People seem to have less concern for age or gender and just want to work with people who can deliver what they want.

My number one piece of advice to other young women, or men, is just do it. If you said to me move to Singapore, my answer is ‘Yep, when do I leave?’ or start a business? ‘Sure when do I start?’. Just do it! There’s so much more regret for people who don’t even try, when what do you really have to lose? Especially when you’re young, what’s the worse-case scenario?

My mother always said our door is always open. This gave me the encouragement to go out and do new things with the security of my family and home always being there waiting for me, should anything not go to plan. I think it applies to many situations in design and in life. When you move around, meet new people, new clients, new mentors and new friends, and when you experience new cities, traditions and lifestyles. It’s so important to keep those doors open and use them to inspire your future ambitions.


Meeting at old-trusty (Fatto), we sipped vino with Hayley, whilst listening to her story and her life from Britain to Down Under.  Hayley has a wonderful charm about how she talks about her work and her life. A certain joie de vivre for design, for travel and for her business, which is successfully making a name for itself in a particularly tough part of the industry.  Hayley has a gorgeous sense of purpose and a great trust in her instincts. Something that has obviously held her in good stead.We wish Hayley and Design by QU all the best! Go check out their gorgeous Instagram too! J&D xx

Hayley will be joining us for UDIA Gazella Live V 3.0 on 24th May 6-8:30pm at Clayton Utz, Level 18, 333 Collins St. Book here.

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