Shackpalace head designer (and my Dad), Frank Macchia has designed many beautiful homes, spaces, objects and structures over his 35 year career. For the most part he has avoided marketing himself and has rarely taken much notice of what journalists write about his work, always focusing on his evolution as a designer and on his personal relationships with his clients, many of whom have become close family friends. Although, as we all know, he is always up for a good chat, he doesn't tend to put himself out there professionally, so I've put together a few questions to dig a little deeper and find out what really drives Frank.
Are you a design addict?
Definitely - if I have nothing on the drawing board to design, I start to make stuff up. I will walk past a cabinet in the hallway and my mind will run off with a number of different ways to reimagine that storage idea in that space. I rarely switch my design brain off- I reimagine spaces, objects and ideas all the time, continually questioning purpose, aesthetic and how something could be better.
What is your favourite thing to design?
Anything! No favourites, whatever I am immersed in that that time - I am fully in it and loving it. I get joy in reimagining how something could serve us better, and it doesn’t just have to be physical like a home or a coffee pour over, it’s often how an idea or way of living or philosophy or perspective on a topic could improve our day to day life.
So your initial training at University was in architecture. How valuable has your degree been to what you do and how have you evolved as a designer since?
The course was 6 years long- 4 years full time and 2 years part time, so I suppose as with most things you do for a significant part of your life, it had an impact. To be honest, while I enjoyed my Uni years, I didn't really develop a passion for design through the course- I felt too restricted - I couldn’t connect - I always felt like I was on the outer. I wasn’t a great student and just did the bare minimum to get a pass. Within my final two years I worked in an architectural practice and I found the whole structure and process uninspiring.
My turning point was upon visiting my parents one weekend, when dad had a heart attack and I stayed home to be with the family. I left my work in the architect office and vowed never to go back to that kind of work environment.
I then gravitated more towards what I was most interested in - designing what I understood and could relate to at that time which was homes - mainly extensions and renovations of character homes. We moved to the eastern suburbs of Melbourne which was full of Victorian & Edwardian homes and Californian Bungalows.
With a business partner, we went from designing to building. We registered as builders and I realised that I enjoyed being on site as much as I enjoyed designing in the office. My onsite time was not so much spent labouring or on the tools (although I did a little of this). It was mostly spent talking to the tradespeople and learning the construction process better - not just the nuts and bolts but also the psychology of site - the strengths and weaknesses of the individuals and the process. I felt like I learnt more in the first six months in our design and construct business than in my whole six years at uni. I certainly felt more at home. Coming from a small country town, I connected more easily with tradespeople and makers in general.
We also did a few of our own developments; units and renovations, which I found exhilarating- full control from land purchase to design to construction to sale. On these projects I experimented lots, it was fertile ground for me developing my own design language and I loved it!
So you are no longer a Builder, but you remain a Building Designer and now design objects for the home as well?
Correct. Whilst I have an architectural degree I have chosen not to register as an architect. When I weighed up the pros and cons, the only good reason I could find to register was to be able to put the word ‘Architect’ next to my name. I figured that some people may want that in the person they chose to design for them, but I learnt that what most clients were interested in was my design aesthetic and whether they connected with me well enough to work together.
(So please if sharing any of my work make sure you refer to me as a ‘designer’, or anything else… ‘crazy man’ has been mentioned a few times!)
I have come to understand more recently, that I don’t gravitate towards being part of any organisation or club in general. As well as design, my other passions are philosophy, understanding human nature, spirituality and individual and collective growth of the human species. While I will read, watch and listen to many different professional views, ideologies, beliefs and methodologies I have never committed to becoming a member of anything. I am grateful that so many people have dedicated their lives to the full study of one discipline, ideology or religion as this has allowed me to find the specks of gold within each of these that serve me best.
This is also how I find inspiration in the design process. I will analyse and admire the works of those in many different creative fields as well as taking inspiration from nature, humanity and my clients themselves, to develop my own design language.
Remaining free of dogma and ‘unnecessary’ rules allows me the space to feel fully inspired and remain in love with designing.
So what does a typical day look like for you?
Over the years my day to day has evolved to be a direct reflection of how I want to live. Unpredictable, moving from designing small objects to homes, spending time on site and on the drawing board, listening and reading about philosophy & human nature, and having inspiring discussions over a brew with family, friends & anyone else who’s up for it.
I haven’t had a physical office for many years now, and that is perfect for me as I like to re-imagine and design in environments and spaces that change from day to day. One day I could be in a café with a note pad designing a spatula and the next hour I could be on site brainstorming a window jamb to wall detail. It’s all fluid and connected in my mind, although it may look random and disconnected from the outside.
What have you been working on lately and how is this all connected?
Well that’s the most important question!
I'm interested in how we can question the way we live so that we can live better.
From the spaces/homes we live in to the objects we use on a daily basis – how do these impact our psychology and physiology? I have an intention to help develop the next evolution of homosapiens – 'Homosapien 2.0'. I'm interested in having a discussion on how much AI/ technology is useful and sufficient and how much is making us weaker. I feel that we need to become more resilient and adaptive to be able to engage in a world that is changing fast. I am interested in human happiness and the role our homes/spaces/objects play in this. For example, in designing our homes what is the optimal/comfortable size that humans need? What impact does tone and atmosphere have on our happiness? How can we design spaces and objects to help us become more mindful? How can we transform our mindless routines into mindful inspiring rituals?
And so what have you been working on?
From our own camper van, portable tiny homes, a mixture of different scale homes to spatulas, oil burners, coffee pour overs & meditation stools – all of these are connected experiments. I am learning so much every day and am keen to share this more and more.
Yep, I am a design/philosophy addict!