Next in our lineup of Permaculture Design Course grads is Megan Norgate from Brave New Eco, a sustainable design + interior service based in Melbourne town.
While the dream of building our own ultra-sustainable, self-sufficient, ethically-made homes from scratch exists for many, the reality of the current age and circumstance is that most of us live in pre-existing homes.
So when it comes to making them functional, low-impact and liveable it’s all about the retrofit.
Someone who knows this particularly well and is a pro at wrapping her head around the complexities of living, renovation, and sustainability, is Megan Norgate of Brave New Eco in Melbourne – a sustainable design and interiors consultancy service.
Offering up a range of services for your home from sustainability assessment to consulting on separate elements or an overall plan for a home retrofit, down to interior design, Megan has carved a niche in a world where we’re continually bombarded by information and options.
We grabbed Megan in a moment of downtime among her busy day to find out a little more about what she’s up to.
Can you give us a rundown on what Brave New Eco does?
“Brave New Eco is an ecologically sustainable design and interior design studio and consultancy.
Essentially we work with homeowners to retrofit and renovate existing houses to make them more efficient, healthier and to support a lower impact lifestyle.
We do this using a resourceful and analytical approach, which is essentially about achieving the greatest gain for the inhabitants of the home with the least possible environmental impact.
And in what I like to think of as a side effect of that process we also create beautiful spaces.
The core Brave New Eco team is small but powerful! There is myself as principal designer, Shannan and Grace my design and admin assistants, Emma my comms manager, and other team members are collaborators that are put together based on the needs of each project.
I work often with building designer Logan Sheild and various engineers, builders, solar installers, trades, landscapers, cabinetmakers etc.
What is your background and how Brave New Eco come to be?
I’ve got a creative arts and industries background. I studied sculpture and film- making at university.
And I spent many years working as a set decorator and buyer for the film and television industry, which honed my skills for treasure hunting and repurposing things.
When I became a mother I saw it as an opportunity to jump off the film industry train which is reasonably relentless lifestyle wise and the waste of the industry was really starting to get me down.
While my children were young I retrained as a home sustainability assessor and in interior design, and then the business kind of happened in a pretty organic fashion.
I found this intersection between making something better in terms of function and efficiency and also identifying a space’s inherent beauty and potential, and then creating that transformation.
I discovered such a huge demand from householders who wanted to make the best of their existing homes in terms of retrofitting and sustainability.
I discovered such a huge demand from householders who wanted to make the best of their existing homes in terms of retrofitting and sustainability but are overwhelmed with greenwash and varying options, and want somebody to guide them through that process to a cohesive and effective outcome- that also looks good!
I was doing the consulting and the home sustainability and interior renovation design and I found that they completely overlapped and intertwined.
What’s your day-to-day activity like?
Full of variety, I’m pretty frantic. I spend a lot of time with my clients and at their houses.
That first permaculture idea of observe and interact is a key and huge part of my design process and so I spend as much time as I can – without it being weird!
Just hanging out at my clients houses and watching the way they live, walk around their gardens, look at what exists in their home, looking at what’s growing in the landscape, wandering around the neighbourhood, seeing what they community is, and just listening to them.
I also spend quite a bit of time with makers, suppliers, crafters and sourcing things. Communication is a massive part of my job.
How did your Permaculture Design Course influence your enterprise?
I did my PDC with Milkwood in 2011, and I did teacher training this year with Nick and Ro Morrow. I was already in business when I did my PDC and I had been using the permaculture principles as a framework for the work I was doing for quite some time.
The PDC really gave me a much deeper understanding, especially about systems and patterns and how they work in nature and in human endeavor.
It was a real connecting of all the dots, it enhanced my reverence for the complexity of the natural world and reiterated the idea that diverse and locally resolved solutions are the best type of design.
And it reinforced that what I am doing is part of the bigger picture, and that even though sometimes you can feel like ‘oh is this making any difference’, that idea that every little bit is part of a bigger ripple.
So the PDC was highly motivating and inspiring to me in that way. I really came out of it feeling like my community was really expanded.
Do you find yourself using skills in your enterprise from your PDC?
All the time. It is more in the philosophical ideas of permaculture, I do find myself applying them even in the minutia of practical decisions and it’s actually created a really wonderful framework for my design process.
For example if I’m working with an interior space I’m always looking to ‘stack function’ by every area of a house to have multiple potential uses and adaptability.
In terms of the way I will approach a project I’m always looking for the least physical change – so the least resources we can use for the maximum gain.
Things like integrate rather than segregate – something like that I’d apply over a whole lot of layers, it might be social behavior and the way you interact within your home and within your family.
And integrate in how you use your home, but also with your community, so if I’m thinking about the way your kitchen integrates with the garden and the way that windows and spaces open up to your community, and then what creates privacy.
Designing from pattern to detail – once again I’ll think about patterns of use and patterns of efficiency and human behaviour and then that will influence tiny little details about cabinetry, finishes, the way doors open and close, that sort of thing. All the time I’m using them.
It was quite a conscious thing when I first started out and now it’s almost not because I’ve been doing it so much it just is the way I think about things.
What keeps you motivated and inspired?
Lots of things! First off the job I do is just something I’m naturally adept at and it’s where my natural inclinations lie.
Secondly I feel that the work I’m doing responds directly to the problems that are at the centre of my circle of concern, about climate change, resource scarcity, community building and connection with nature. So I do feel like I’m responding to those things that are of concern to me.
Thirdly, the connections I make, with other colleagues, teachers and people working in the field who are inspiring and fill me with a lot of optimism.
But I think the number one thing for me is actually my clients. Because I am working very closely with people it’s a very intimate relationship and they’re all sorts of different people, you can’t make any predictions about who they might be.
I’m continually humbled by their personal commitment to creating a home in an ethical and sustainable way and to living a bit differently.
That is hugely motivating. I feel very lucky to be doing what I’m doing.
Any particularly memorable experiences?
They’re all pretty memorable because of the clients, I get to know the people I work with so there’s always a whole human story behind every project I do. That makes them very memorable and very tangible to me.
Something that has been great in recent years that I’ve found people are increasingly open to doing is bartering expertise.
Especially with consulting services, I’ve been able to exchange that for legal advice, photography, business mentoring, preserves, and in a favourite project that’s still in development at the moment, I’m designing a kitchen for one of my permaculture mentors Kat lavers , and in exchange she is raising all my seedlings in her magnificent northcote productive garden ‘the plummery’.
Every couple of weeks I get five or six new seedlings to go into my productive garden, which has been so great because as the work I do gets busier and I become increasingly time poor, the garden and I tended to have more of a glut and famine approach – in that I’d do a whole heap of planting of seedlings and then everything would be ready to harvest at once.
But because she’s feeding it to me at just the right time I’ve actually got this constant yield in the garden. She’s saved all the seeds herself, they’re all local, they’ve all been tried and tested, they’re perfect and for me, the value of that is immense.”
Thanks Megan! You can visit Megan and her team at www.BraveNewEco.com.au
We run Permaculture Design Courses in Sydney and beyond to add permaculture design + thinking to your professional or home toolbox.
Interview by Emma Bowen – grower, writer and thinker – find her over at The Slowpoke
All photos above by Emma Byrnes-Barrett