Late last year I received an out-of-the-blue email from the award-winning educator and bestselling author Dannielle Miller. It proposed a project that the likes of our studio (and, to be honest, probably no other interior design studio) has ever seen. But more than that, it discussed a topic that doesn’t come up too often at all. Anywhere. Ever.
And more specifically, girls’ high school toilets.
‘It’s one of those ideas that NO ONE has ever discussed. Yet when you hear it, it makes absolute sense!’ Dannielle wrote.
She was right. As I read through her email, I was instantly transported back to my schoolgirl days, back to navigating my way through puberty, friendships, a broken family, acceptance, romance (or the lack of), fashion on my ever-changing body, self-respect and struggling grades.
I remembered moments in school bathrooms – spending time with girlfriends away from authoritative eyes, confiding, grieving, expressing frustration or simply having a much-needed moment of solace.
Picturing that time brought back memories of the unloved, unrecognized and underfunded environment that held us during our schooling highs but mostly lows. I wondered, what could that austere, and often dirty, space have done to make us feel better during those moments of vulnerability?
The answer is Dannielle’s brainchild; the inspired idea that considering the design of a school toilet might have a positive influence on teenage girls.
Encouraged by my own ethos that good design truly can change lives, I was excited to take on the challenge as Dannielle invited me to mentor a group of girls at Sydney’s Cheltenham Girls High School through the re-designing of their school bathroom.
Over the course of a day I talked them through the design process, beginning with my ‘life changing’ design philosophy, colour psychology, the design brief, the floorplan, and then to balance, focus, rhythm and repetition, scale and proportion, colour and light, harmony and unity, onto brainstorming, developing, presenting ideas, improving ideas and finally, the execution. Needless to say, it was a full day of learning, for all of us!
The actual concept design of the bathroom was entirely in the girls’ willing hands. I was there to mentor, guide, and (hopefully!) inspire them, but it was the girls who spoke beautifully and expressively about what their space could do to serve them.
The overarching idea was to empower the girls to do the work themselves, so they would respect and embrace the space as their own. We discussed what colours might inspire them during moments of deflation, what shapes might soothe them through the exam period, what words might uplift them on those down days. Each girl had their own ideas of the potential of the space, but we weaved together a common thread (just as we would in all of our AKD design projects), assigning different roles to small groups for the final stage of execution.
Aside from being a priceless lesson in project management, team work and brainstorming, the result is what every child deserves to have – a place to escape to, be inspired in, to feel comforted and nurtured.
Last month, I proudly cut the ribbon on Cheltenham Girls High School’s new bathroom, their inner sanctum, ready to support the students through all the trials and tribulations inherent to a day in the life of a schoolgirl.
It’s a space that was much needed during my own teenage years, and one I hope can inspire more student-designed bathrooms to support my daughters through theirs.
The renovation of the Cheltenham Girls High School bathroom was generously funded by the Department of Education.