LM Woman #19 / Dana Tomic Hughes
When we meet, Dana's home is filled with the heady scent of fresh blooms. She has just celebrated a birthday & the floral arrangements are in abundance. Describing her living room as a "floral forest", she gets to work arranging - with some difficulty - the sheer number of well-wishes. After all, the table on which they are upon is only so large.
Dana's brand of humour is instantly recognisable; her online prose is unequivocally amusing and at the same time relatable, devoured daily by the many loyal readers of Yellowtrace, the design blog she created 8 years ago. Dana moves about her home with joyful energy, recounting endless anecdotes - to which we hang to every word...
You founded Yellowtrace in 2010. What was your inspiration behind the blog & how has it evolved since then?
I am an interior designer by training, and have worked in the industry for over 15 years. I became a design writer, editor, curator and a digital publisher completely unintentionally, fuelled by my passion for design and for sharing.
Yellowtrace has grown up from a personal blog into an influential publication that champions good design through highly researched and carefully curated content in Interiors, Architecture, Art, Travel & Design Culture… But I particularly like how some of our readers describe it – ‘A Designer’s Companion’ or ‘Essential Reading for Progressive Designer’ or, my favourite ‘Like Christmas All Year Round!’
I started the site after more than a year of agonising. I was overthinking everything, something I’m really good at, and this overthinking crippled me and gave rise to a huge fear of failure. It was with Nick’s great encouragement (my partner in life, business and crime) that I eventually did start. He said to me, “just write a few posts, you don’t have to tell anyone about it, just see how it feels”. So I did. And he read them and told me they were completely crap, I sounded forced and fake – he said "just write the way you speak, you are hilarious, that’s what people want to read” etc. But that wasn’t so easy at first. It takes time to find your own voice, and writing as you talk went very much against the rules of design writing, especially back then.
You also head Studio Yellowtrace, a multidisciplinary design practice – how do you balance time between the two?
Studio Yellowtrace was a boutique interior design business well before the website ever drew any income. Interior Design is what I know how to do, and what I believed I was actually good at. The website was only ever meant to be a hobby, but the universe had other plans, and Yellowtrace grew to the point where we had to make a difficult decision of letting go of running a traditional interior design studio. We now run a consultancy with design still very much at its core, but the studio is now an extension of our work at Yellowtrace, allowing our clients to build relationships and communicate with their audiences in meaningful and intelligent ways. We guide our clients on Strategy, Creative Direction, Content Creation and Special Projects.
What is your ideal brief?
It’s not so much about the brief, as it is about working with the right client. To me, trust is the most important part of any working relationship. It’s been a hard slog, but we have slowly been realising our dream of working with people and brands who understand and respect what we do, allowing us to play to our strengths and give us freedom to execute ideas which deliver ultimate win-win scenarios.
Do you have a favourite project or article you’ve worked on?
It’s impossible to choose just one! But… we’ve been running a regular column called Stories on Design for a few years now. This is one of the aspects of Yellowtrace I am most proud of.
This highly curated series is presented through an informed and finely tuned eye for spotting trends and memes across all forms of design and other media – shared via visually arresting imagery. Stories on Design provide an extensive resource for designers, and they equally explore current projects but also the history and design classics, straddling both tradition and innovation. Or they might simply be interesting observations that stimulate thinking.
You travel to Milan each year to cover the Salone del Mobile & Milan Design Week. What were your highlights of 2017?
This year marked my 8th visit to Salone. In many ways I feel nostalgic for the early days when I would head to Milan with zero clue as to what to expect, or occasionally sticking to a very lose plan – i.e. today I will wear my ‘cute outfit’ and head to Brera... These days our itinerary is meticulously planned, leaving nothing to chance, in order to maximise our time on the ground and ensure we can bring back the very best Milan report, aka the infamous MILANTRACE.
But although we’ve turned our trips to Milan into an extreme sport, I still managed to experience moments of pure delight and sheer awe – with an occasional tear shed along the way, due to extreme levels of awesomeness before me. I’ve wrapped up our highlights from Milan right here plus we made a very special e-report on the subject (you see, I’m not very good with short answers!). But if I must, my top 5 were – Hermès’ temporary brick pavilion designed by Charlotte Macaux Perelman; Nendo’s gobsmacking ‘Invisible Outlines’ at Jill Sander; Foundation show by Formafantasma at Spazio Krizia, The Visit by Studiopepe, and DECODE / RECODE by Luca Nichetto and Ben Gorham for Salviati.
You’ve welcomed us into your home - tell us, what is your approach to interior design and what makes a home to you?
To me, a real home truly reflects the spirit of its occupants, warts and all. They are authentic spaces that appear real and effortless. Our home has very much evolved over time – it’s completely ‘un-designed’, far from perfect, and a little bit bonkers. Just like us.
You’re not one to shy away from print & colour – what is your approach to style? And do you think this applies broadly to both fashion & interiors, or do you have separate attitudes towards the two?
When it comes to my home or my personal style, I don’t think too much about it. I respond instinctively to the pieces I like, and yes, these often involve pattern and colour. I guess this has a lot to do with my personality – I’m quite optimistic and love a good laugh, but on a more subliminal level this attraction stems back to my childhood and growing up in former Yugoslavia where pattern and colour was (and still is) king. And I’m ok with that!
Your favourite design movement or era of design, particularly in architecture?
Having grown up in Eastern Europe as a child of Communism, I can’t go past the bold, heroic and hard-core Brutalist buildings. So good!
Your favourite up & coming design studio?
Not sure they are technically up & upcoming any more, but I adore the work and the minds of Andrea & Simone of Formafantasma, Italian duo based in The Netherlands.
Your all-time favourite furniture designer?
Your favourite artists?
Yayoi Kusama, Anish Kapoor, Ai Weiwei, Malcolm Liepke, Anna-Wili Highfield.
Your go-to inspiration sources?
You have a healthy 117k followers on Instagram. What role has Instagram played on the development of Yellowtrace?
I love Instagram because it allows us to directly engage with our community in realtime, but what I don’t like about it is that it’s made people obsess about the number of likes or followers, developing strategies on how to beat the dreaded algorithm, rather than sometimes focusing on what they are doing, or on delivering good content/ product/ etc. I feel that Instagram has also played a major part in reducing our already short attention span.
For Yellowtrace, Instagram is, of course, super important, but the website remains the main priority, and our social content is tailored from what gets published on the site.
If you could live anywhere, where & in which building/interior would it be?
I’ve always been in love with The Astor building on Macquarie Street, and I probably wouldn’t knock back a Parisian apartment somewhere in The Marais. Yeah, I’m simple kind of gal, hahaha!
You travel regularly for Yellowtrace – could you share with us the most inspirational person or people you’ve met?
Oh my goodness – so many amazing, inspiring people! I’m utterly in love with Stine Gam and Enrico Fratesi of Gam Fratesi and their beautiful home in Copenhagen. Meeting revered British designer Ilse Crawford a couple of years ago was a dream come true. And I recently had an opportunity to meet the world’s most respected design critic, writer and all-round bloody legend Alice Rawsthron when we were both invited as keynote speakers at the inaugural National Design Writers Conference in Canberra. A definite “pinch me” moment right there!!
What’s next on the horizon?
A quick trip to Shanghai, more hustling back home, then a much needed HOLIDAY! It’s been a massive, busy year and I’m very grateful for it all, but I’m officially exhausted. Then it’s onto making sure 2018 is our best one yet.