Leonard Joel Hawthorn: Behind the Design

We hope that you may have already had the chance to visit us at our brand-new galleries in Hawthorn and enjoyed the elegant, contemporary setting designed by Studio Doherty as you browsed our collections. Renowned for their playful approach to design and bold use of colour, Director Mardi Doherty and her team were tasked with designing a space that combines Leonard Joel’s 105-year history with an exciting new future. Here, Mardi gives us an inside look at her design process.

Leonard Joel’s galleries in Hawthorn.
Photography by Prue Ruscoe. Styled by Bea + Co.

How did you approach this project in the beginning?
With great excitement – here was a business I had been intrigued by since my late teens, and getting to go behind the scenes was like finding a golden ticket to Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory! 

Leonard Joel has such a strong history in Melbourne’s cultural landscape, and part of their charm was the building they occupied for over 30 years in South Yarra, with a warm sense of history, and a series of busy rooms. We needed to acknowledge that this new building was vastly different and respond accordingly. This contemporary building has over 3,000 square metres of space across two levels, allowing us to create large gallery spaces and viewing areas, a spacious reception and communal bar area, and theatrical auction spaces. 

Our approach was to create a calm and elegant backdrop for the ever-changing landscape of antique furniture, fine art, jewellery, and decorative objects. 


Leonard Joel’s galleries in Hawthorn.
Photography by Prue Ruscoe. Styled by Bea + Co.

Tell us about the design layout.
The ground floor level has an expansive Auction Salon display space, and a carpark/pick-up area where clients can drop off their items and collect their purchases. Upstairs on the first floor is the Fine Auction gallery (Leonard gallery) and the Art and Jewels Salon (August gallery), along with a large communal reception area, and a dedicated auction space. A series of consignment rooms, meeting rooms, and a cashier sit between the two gallery spaces. At the rear of the building is an expansive open plan staff working space, with associated meeting rooms, auction rooms, and amenities. 

Flexibility in the gallery spaces is important, so large sweeping curtains and movable pod walls have been introduced. The auction space can be made smaller by a large J-shaped curtain track, which can be pushed back to reveal the surrounding Leonard gallery, or closed to create a more intimate, moody space.  

What do you think Leonard Joel clients will enjoy most about the design?
We think clients will love how much space there is in this new building. It’s a place you can nip in to for a quick visit, or meander in for hours. Oh, and the views from the top floor windows are fabulous, it feels like you’re in the trees!

What is your personal favourite space in the building?
My favourite part is walking past reception into the Leonard gallery and the main auction area. This space is so generous, yet it also has a quiet, warm, sophisticated feel to it. I’m really looking forward to attending auctions there. 

Leonard Joel’s galleries in Hawthorn.
Photography by Prue Ruscoe. Styled by Bea + Co.

Could you tell us about the thought behind the colours and finishes you chose?
In the design of the new premises, we have referenced the history of the business through the use of materials, colours, and forms, including introducing traditional rich colours that would have been seen in 19th century galleries, such as deep petrol greens and dark smoky blues, interspersed with accents of mustard and grey/blue quartzite. 

We stripped the interiors of the typical commercial office ceiling grids, thereby exposing all the structural and mechanical components, creating a somewhat industrial feel. The existing concrete floors on each level have been retained, and help contribute to a contemporary, fresh interior. 

How did you incorporate the history of Leonard Joel into this contemporary space?
We designed a space that references Leonard Joel’s history, and also pushes it towards a progressive future. The building needed to have a sense of permanence to reference its past, so features such as signage have been embedded into the facade, giving the appearance that it’s been there for decades. 

We introduced quartzite skirting and architraves, curved displays, and bronze cast signage as nods to design gestures associated with the 1800s. These insertions were offset by a deliberately modern approach to the overall design, namely the large flexible spaces boasting all the amenity and efficiency (lighting, volume of space and technology) needed for the fast paced and ever evolving nature of Leonard Joel. 

Although Leonard Joel are now in a contemporary space, what’s sold there is a precious time capsule that will continue to reflect the history of Melbourne, its inhabitants, and their stories. We also acknowledge that Leonard Joel is as much about the interesting people and their stories as it is a marketplace for fabulous treasures. 

With thanks to Mardi Doherty.

Visit us at 1A Oxley Road, Hawthorn. 

Top Image: Mardi Doherty, Director of Studio Doherty

April 2024