Australia Restaurant Designer: Matt Woods

wall design Matt Woods

profile Matt Woods 4Matt Woods is based in Sydney, Australia and fast becoming a name to reckon with in the world of design with his distinct eclectic industrial style.

His work in the hospitality sector has received rave reviews and many awards.

How did your journey in interior design start?

Well I almost went down the architecture path at university but ended up deciding to study Industrial Design. That said, I was always more interested in designing environments whilst studying. Two major projects in my 4th year at university were the interior and exterior of a caravan, which drew inspiration from the 1970’s Land Yacht that Syd Mead designed for Playboy Magazine, and a modular bus shelter that had reusable components so that bus routes could adapt to changing demands.

Once I completed my studies, I did a short stint with Sunbeam appliances, and quickly realised product design was a path I wasn’t interested in. Thereafter, I worked as a joinery designer, primarily for residential kitchens. I did this for 3 years, followed by a 3 year stint as an interior designer/ documenter for a small interiors company. It was here that I realised I wanted to focus on interiors as I saw the potential of making a positive aesthetic with reference to the environmental influence on human environments. I’ve always been influenced by anyone that has the ability to successfully move away from the so called norm and change perceived concepts of what constitutes a good design— be it in music, fashion, or architecture.


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The Avido restaurant owned by Ian Summers has a long history as it was once the Hot Gossips Cafe and then The Cupcake Bakery. The design for the new restaurant was to be modern while retaining many of the existing elements. Natural cross-ventilation and dematerialisation were a prime focus. The vine outdoors was converted into a green canopy. The rustic brickwork of the interior walls were highlighted using contemporary lighting and macramé rope designs by Sarah Parkes used to draw the eye upwards.

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The colourful stools by Mark Tuckey are combined with century old reclaimed oak planks for the bar counter, offset by tessellated tiles used in a geometric pattern. The kitchen was opened up using reclaimed windows and the hardwood floors have white paint borders. The general brief was “a modern dining environment that takes the aesthetic and menu cues from the popular Rissoterias in Soho, New York.”

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“The primary aim of the sites transformation has been to create a unifying aesthetic which is warm, inviting, interesting and unique. This has been achieved through the combination of reclaimed and new materials. The individual elements have been selected with their environmental impact in mind and are fused with classic design techniques and furnishings in a contemporary, slightly industrial way.”

Could you tell us something about the interior design industry in Australia with reference to your work?

My focus has mainly been on hospitality projects, although in recent times I have moved into residential too which I’m really excited about. Up until recently I was not too impressed with the bulk of Sydney’s hospitality spaces but the last 2 years have seen the emergence of a Small Bar License which has allowed the smaller players to move into the bar scene. Earlier, liquor licenses in NSW were really expensive and therefore only allowed those with a lot of capital into the market. A big problem in Sydney has been that the market was dominated by venues with large poker/ slot machine revenues. Venues were just big, generic and boring spaces to be in. Other cities, like Melbourne, have for some time had cheaper licences and as such there bar scene was much more diverse and advanced than Sydney’s. That’s all changed now and Sydney has a rapidly growing bar scene. Smaller designers, such as myself, are being given the opportunity to flex our muscles and it’s creating a more vibrant atmosphere out there in bar land.


Bloodwood has the characteristic eclectic, reclaimed modern style of matt woods’ design. All the seating is reclaimed in a new avatar.

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The exposed yellow pipes are also functional and lend a lot of character to the space adding an industrial edge. The large expanses of reclaimed timber have also been used for ceilings, walls, seating and tables.

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The areas have been divided into a bar, communal seating in the basement, mezzanine and deck dining and natural cross-ventilation has been given high priority in design integration.

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With Matt’s focus on lighting, LEDs have been used extensively for bar and deck features. While function is an important consideration, the lighting has also been given an aesthetic dimension and created as an element of art.

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“At night the deck’s mood is enhanced through recycled jars with a simple tea light candle, while the suspended and knotted cables in the dining room are finished by dimmable cold cathode long life compact fluoros. De materialisation has been a focus with a conscious effort made to retain and work with the primary structure of the existing building.”

Could you tell us more about the awards you have won (or have been shortlisted for)?

In 2010, my first project, Bloodwood, was shortlisted in the Interior Design Excellence Awards, for Best Hospitality Interior and Most Sustainable project, and I was shortlisted in the Emerging Designer Category. I was also invited to submit Bloodwood in the UK Restaurant and Bar design awards, which is a really good nod as it’s an International Award.

Earlier this year, Avido was shortlisted for the Australian Interior Design Awards for Best Hospitality Interior and this month, Avido is also up for the Best Hospitality Interior in the Interior Design Excellence Awards. I was also shortlisted in the emerging designer categories for both these Awards.

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“By drawing inspiration from my very first visit, to the what was then a construction site, almost all decorative elements have been sourced from the waste and leftover materials from the other levels at the Kings Cross Hotel which at the time was under construction. Other than the base building works, which were designed by Humphrey & Edwards architects, the only non recycled feature in the venue are the VOC-free paint finishes.”

What is your approach towards sustainable design and what are some of the trends you see changing that are moving in a positive direction?

Soon after I set up Matt Woods Design, I enrolled for a Masters in Sustainable Design at Sydney University, so it is very close to my heart. It is often difficult as an interior designer to get really substantial sustainable principles over the line. Building orientation is critical to sustainable principles and concepts like passive solar design or natural ventilation are often decisions that are out of my control, as a building’s orientation is often determined long before I’ve even been commissioned. But refurbishments are an interior designer’s bread and butter, so for me, the focus is on material selection, and using recycled materials whenever possible. I take the indoor environmental air quality of my work very seriously, and make decisions based on life-cycle analysis, embodied energy, embodied water and volatile organic compound (VOC) content of the finishes, materials and products I specify. I’ve found that these decisions can make a substantial difference to both a project’s environmental impact and a client’s bottom line, so they are definitely worth the effort.

Perhaps it’s a cliché, but I’m very design focused, so at every step of the design process I try to think outside the box. Of course design needs to be functional but I want my designs to be first and foremost— original, cutting edge, playful and unique. It also has to be as sustainable as possible.

From a design perspective every decision I make has the environmental impact in mind. Sometimes you win and sometimes you lose, but I always try and present what I think is both best for the client and society as a whole.

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Keep the plan simple.

Make the features interesting.

Lighting-lighting-lighting! It’s the most important part of any design and a bad lighting design will ruin an otherwise good fit-out. So no skimping!

Don’t be afraid to use colour! Not every thing has to be a colour but a bright piece of something special can really offset an otherwise neutral room.

If you don’t have a designer make sure you do your research, spending time to ensure you get the right contractor to make your vision a reality!

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What have been your experiences in residential interior design?

Residential design is a lot of fun and at the end of the day, as with all projects, my job is to get the best result for the client. It’s great working so closely with clients who obviously have to live with your designs so they show a special interest in what you are doing. There is also an extra level of excitement from the client when things are going well. I really think the clients play the most important role in anything we designers attempt to do. They can make or break a project and I really enjoy working with open-minded people. Not to say that it’s my way or the highway, but I love it when clients are receptive to creativity and simply don’t want to regurgitate something they saw somewhere else.

That said, residential projects seem more susceptible to ‘build fatigue’ so sometimes a little more effort is required to reassure the client that things are going to be ok, which can definitely be a challenge.