People Profile: Senior Interior Designer Michaela O’Hare on the importance of user-focused design

Michaela O’Hare is a Senior Interior Designer who has been with Chapman Taylor’s Manchester studio since 2015. She trained at Manchester Metropolitan University and qualified as an interior designer in 2009. Since joining Chapman Taylor, Michaela has worked on the interior design of a number of high-profile projects, including the ISG Headquarters at MediaCityUK Tomorrow, MediaCityUK Bupa Place and Quayside MediaCityUK (formerly Lowry Lifestyle Outlet), where she has developed the interior concepts for the Watergardens F&B area.

Michaela champions the use of Revit and Enscape to develop and communicate interior design and, as a Next Gen member of the BCO, Michaela is currently working on proposals to achieve a WELL® accreditation standard for the Manchester studio. In this profile, Michaela tells us about why she became an interior designer, her design philosophy and the importance of remembering to enjoy the job.

Tell us about your background and how you became an interior designer

I am originally from Rostrevor in County Down, where my parents were primary school teachers (both warned my siblings and me not to go into teaching!). My mum loved to draw, and art was a major component of her degree, so I may have inherited some creative genes from her – I loved spending time in the studio at my school creating art for my A-Levels.

I originally moved to Manchester to study Architecture at the city’s School of Art, but, after about 18 months, I realised that what I really enjoyed was the interior element, so I transferred to Manchester Metropolitan University to study Interior Design. I loved every minute of my course and treated it as a full-time job. While there, I gained work experience in a summer job at a firm in Belfast, where I also learned AutoCAD

When I graduated, the post-2008 economic downturn was at its height and it was very difficult to secure permanent work. I got fed up with working in a bar just to be able to stay in Manchester, so I decided to move back home to Ireland. Within three or four weeks of returning, however, I was contacted with a job offer by an Irish lady who owns a small interiors firm in Delamere, Cheshire (I was initially confused and thought it was a job in Ireland that I couldn’t remember applying for!). So, having returned to Ireland, I was back in Manchester within weeks!

What did your job there involve?

There were three or four of us working from a converted barn at the back of my boss’s house – I learned to drive just so I could get to work, which was in a relatively remote area of Cheshire, from central Manchester. We predominately worked on office refurbishments for John Lewis and Waitrose. Working within a close-knit office created a great foundation for getting into the design industry.

I worked there for nearly five years, but wanted to experience new types of projects, so decided it was time to move on. However, I have remained great friends with my former boss and colleagues since then.

MediaCity Tomorrow

You joined Chapman Taylor in 2015?

Yes – I applied for a number of jobs in Manchester, and Chapman Taylor responded. To be honest, I hadn’t heard of Chapman Taylor at that time, nor any of the big architectural companies in the city. However, when I came in for interview, I very much enjoyed the experience – I was made to feel at home very quickly, and I liked what I heard about the company’s ambitions in Manchester.

MediaCityUK Phase 2

What were the first projects you worked on at Chapman Taylor?

Initially, I worked on early stage designs for various projects, including the masterplan for MediaCityUK Phase 2, the Knightsbridge residential project in Baku and creating models for the Port Baku Towers office development, also in Baku. I also worked on designs for the Tomorrow building’s reception area at MediaCityUK and retail spaces at the Gloucester Quays outlet centre. There were lots of small project parts to begin with, which gave me a good grounding in varied types of work in different sectors.

ISG northern headquarters

You then worked on the ISG northern headquarters interior design at MediaCityUK Tomorrow building

That was my first ‘full-package’ project and was very enjoyable for me. It was a very fast-paced project, where I led the fit-out alongside (Interiors Director) Jon Grant. ISG was moving from another base and wanted to reuse and recycle some furniture, but we were essentially fitting out the whole office. As Chapman Taylor had designed the building itself, we were able to benefit from insider knowledge on how everything worked, which meant we could complete the project efficiently and quickly.

Around the same time, I worked on the delivery of Bupa Place, also at MediaCityUK, where my role was to examine all the construction drawings for the fixed joinery etc. – checking the detailing and ensuring everything was as it should be. It was another interesting project to see coming to life.

Bupa Place

You have worked a lot at Quayside MediaCityUK (formerly the Lowry Outlet). Tell us about that.

The Lowry / Quayside MediaCityUK has been very interesting to work on – we have been involved in its development for a number of years now and it is really beginning to take shape. When we were first engaged, it was quite tired and in need of a rethink to help it retain high-quality tenants. We are currently refreshing the main mall – all the shopfronts, ceilings and floors as well as the entrance signage. As part of the first phase of works, we have reconfigured the newly reopened Vue cinema while making way for a new leisure attraction, the ‘I’m A Celebrity Jungle Challenge’ which will open later this year – as soon as it opens it will no doubt be a social must for Chapman Taylor’s Manchester team!

We have most recently been working on The Watergardens – a new dining experience on the formerly unused southern side of the centre. The area is perfectly placed for a new entrance and a dynamic and attractive waterside leisure destination. The concept derived from the idea of creating a “ribbon of light” linking the waterside landscape, the new Watergardens and the mall itself, giving the sense of a seamless transition from the outside in.

In addition, we are currently on site with a new casino located in the heart of the city. Even though I am very new to the casino world, it has been a brilliant project to be involved with, and a fantastic client – I have never specified so much gold before!

Lowry / Quayside MediaCityUK

What else are you working on?

I have also been working on the full interiors package for the new Marriott Courtyard Hotel in Keele – following sign-off of the guestroom areas, we are now developing the front-of-house areas.

It has been another fast-paced and enjoyable project, which I can’t wait to see become a reality.

You are very involved in Chapman Taylor’s social side – tell us about that.

I oversee the Manchester studio’s social events and try to get involved in most things that we do – especially the more active events. I have been involved in Chapman Taylor’s regular mountain climbing challenges, such as the 3 Peaks Challenge, as well as the annual JLL triathlons.

I also head up the studio’s wellbeing drive, including speaking at external events about how Chapman Taylor’s Manchester studio is being redesigned for WELL® accreditation – most recently, for example, I gave a presentation, along with (Associate Director) Mark Doughty, to assembled guests at Hilson Moran’s Manchester offices about our redesign. It’s not just about design, of course – it also involves such things as organising social activities which encourage good physical and mental health. We are looking, for example, at organising yoga sessions in the studio’s mezzanine area.

In addition, I’m a member of the BCO ‘Next Gen’ group and Women in Property – these are excellent forums for meeting likeminded people within the industry and promoting progressive activities.

Do you have a design philosophy?

My approach is to keep things simple and avoid gimmickry. Well-considered design is fundamental – the end-user(s) of the spaces we create should be the focus from the outset, and it is important to filter out the noise beyond that.

It is important to ensure that spaces are attractive but, first and foremost, it is crucial to think about who is going to use the spaces, and how. It’s also important to ensure that the schemes we create are sustainable – not just environmentally, but commercially and socially also. My philosophy is to create exciting places which avoid unnecessary flashiness and ensure that the basics are in place.

What advice would you give to someone starting their career in interior design now?

Don’t take things too seriously! A lot of people can take constructive criticism to heart, holding on to ideas and concepts that they think are right, but which others may see flaws in. It’s important to be able to step back and objectively reassess an approach, and to listen to input from others.

I know what it is like to think up what I think is a brilliant idea, only for it to be (correctly) critiqued by others who see potential problems with it. You need to be able to brush such things off and to appreciate the advice – which can save a lot of problems later!

Just enjoy the experience – sometimes it can be stressful, but it’s a wonderful career and most days are great!

MICHAELA O’HARE (BA (Hons) Interior Design)

SENIOR INTERIOR DESIGNER

Michaela is a Senior Interior Designer who has worked on several high-profile projects, including the ISG Headquarters at MediaCityUK Tomorrow, MediaCityUK Bupa Place and Quayside MediaCityUK (formerly Lowry Lifestyle Outlet), where she has developed the interior concepts for the Watergardens F&B area.

Michaela trained at Manchester Metropolitan University, qualifying as an Interior Designer in 2009. She been with Chapman Taylor’s Manchester studio since 2015.

She champions the use of Revit and Enscape to develop and communicate interior design and, as a Next Gen member of the BCO, Michaela is currently working on proposals to achieve a WELL® accreditation standard for the Manchester studio.

Areas of Expertise:

Interiors / Office / Leisure / Hospitality / BIM / Wellness

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