The Rigg Design Prize is the highest accolade for contemporary design in Australia – a generous legacy of the late Colin Rigg (1895–1982), a former secretary of the NGV’s Felton Bequests’ Committee. Previously known as the Cicely and Colin Rigg Contemporary Design Award, the invitational prize was established in 1994 to recognise contemporary design practice in Victoria. In 2015, for the first time in the award’s twenty-year history, the Rigg included short-listed designers from across the country – a reflection of Australia’s burgeoning design culture.

The Rigg is awarded as an outcome of an exhibition and was conceived as an opportunity for invited participants to present their ideas and practices to a broad public audience. The 2018 exhibition features large-scale installations by ten outstanding Australian practitioners working in the field of interior design and decoration. Participating designers have been selected for their contribution to the practice of interior design in Australia, and more broadly because they work in unique and independent ways that demonstrate original ideas that engage with contemporary issues. The participating designers for 2018 are Amber Road, Arent&Pyke, Danielle Brustman, Flack Studio, David Hicks, Hecker Guthrie, Martyn Thompson Studio, Richards Stanisich, Scott Weston Architecture Design and The Society Inc by Sibella Court. The exhibition manifests as ten idiosyncratic and immersive installations – each an interior; a room on view – responding to the theme of Domestic Living.

These ten rooms are diverse, representing the varied trajectories, styles and conceptual underpinnings within the world of the interior. Each designer, in their own way, has carefully considered interiority; spatial creation; decoration; and the deployment of materials, processes, methods, traditions and aesthetics.

Throughout history, designers of all types have conceptualised domestic interior spaces capable of shifting perceptions, manipulating the senses, telling stories and setting scenes for the theatre of life. By focusing on domesticity, the 2018 Rigg Design Prize sets out to better understand the common ground across Australia in relation to the way we occupy and live in space, while also celebrating and interrogating our fascination with domesticity as it is portrayed in the media – a complex convergence of aesthetics, aspiration, property speculation and self-representation. Something as seemingly benign as an exhibition about domestic living can in fact help to peel back the layers of society and culture, enabling fascinating observations about contemporary life and the role of the designer as facilitator and storyteller.

Experience of the domestic realm, whether it be a tent, hut, share house, hotel room, apartment or architecturally designed home, is universal. There are divergent meanings and interpretations of home, and the ten viewpoints expressed within the Rigg bring this clearly into focus.

The exhibited schemes explore exciting crossovers between contemporary practices including architecture, design, craft and art, thus allowing the exhibition to contextualise Australian contemporary interior design, and reveal some compelling and emotive undercurrents swirling within the domestic sphere.

The exhibition challenges each participant to produce an interior capable of transcending basic functional qualities, and to express the ways contemporary interior design can act as a form of communication embedded with values and stories. While the exhibits are diverse, and at times divergent, some common themes emerge.

Martyn Thompson Studio’s Atelier installation explores the somewhat old-fashioned notion of the atelier and how in the present, when the line between work and home life is blurred, this type of space takes on a new relevance and becomes an arena for complete creative expression. Similarly, Arent&Pyke reveals that humans are increasingly searching for restorative spaces, expressing the domestic interior as the ultimate manifestation of soulful wellbeing. Richards Stanisich’s installation is wrapped in black gloss tiles edged with a grid of blue light, representing the intangible digital world. Meanwhile, in the centre of the space, living zones are handmade, tactile and textural, their earthy qualities representing our natural needs.

Other schemes set out to question how our domestic living spaces reflect our cultural and social values and conditions. Flack Studio’s emotionally charged room is saturated in a gold hue. Its opulence highlights that while parts of the world are in crisis, many Australians are living in a ‘golden age’ with enough wealth to create custom interiors. Panic room by David Hicks is a satire that asks whether homes have become fortresses, sanctums and containers of consumerist ideals. Are we worried about the potential risk of others invading our personal space? Are homes now solely for psychological comfort and self-protection? Conversely, Danielle Brustman’s Inner-terior proposes an alternative domestic living space that asks if the home can be a more fantastical place. It provides a place of comfort, rest and refuge but also explores new possibilities that transcend conventional domestic confines.

Focusing on an element of domesticity – the table – as a symbol of home life, Hecker Guthrie adeptly conveys how this modest and unassuming object with an invisible ‘gravitational pull’ brings people together and binds them in space. Scott Weston’s six small rooms each feature a cabinet for displaying prized ‘jewels’ created in miniature by six of the artists he most admires. In The Society Inc by Sibella Court’s Imaginarium, a home is inspired by sixteenth-century ‘cabinets of curiosity’. These small rooms house collections of objects and invite storytelling and discussion. Looking beyond the interior, Amber Road’s concept Take it outside celebrates the verandah as a domestic space that features in the homes of many cultures.

The diversity of ideas represented in the Rigg Design Prize 2018 highlights the complex nature of international contemporary interior design practice. ‘Good design’ is no longer principally commercial, client-driven or the domain of trained professionals. It is now more common to encounter designers who invest in the creation of their own design ideas and production through collaboration with other design disciplines, artists, craftspeople, and trade and disciplinary specialists, or by demonstrating their own craft and making expertise. The output of these types of design practices tells us different stories.

The vision for the Rigg exhibition and prize is to recognise excellence in Australian contemporary design, to celebrate the contribution of design to Australian culture, and to bring into focus designers who imbue their work with ideas and narratives and who explore design process. Through these ten rooms we are provided with a unique insight into the role and capacity of the interior as a facilitator for life, a retreat, a conversation starter, and ultimately a marker for our values, preoccupations and aspirations as a society.