Meet our Grad | Anna McMillan

Meet our Grad | Anna McMillan
May 5, 2022 SydneyDesignSchool

Meet Sydney Design School graduate Anna McMillan

Anna McMillan came to Sydney Design School after a 20 year career in the corporate sector. A passionate renovator and decorator, Anna was keen to change things up, be creative and work for herself. Since graduating her boutique interior design studio, McMillan Design, has gone from strength to strength, including features in Australia’s leading interiors magazines.

Sydney Design School graduate Anna McMillan
Sydney Design School graduate Anna McMillan

Can you tell us about your path to studying interior design?

I’ve always been a passionate renovator starting with my first property (a very dated, daggy 1-bedroom redbrick apartment) at 26, and since then I’ve completed nearly 10 renovation projects, so I guess I’ve always had an interest in design and the transformative effect it can have on the way we engage with a space and how it makes us feel.   Fifteen years, on when I was exploring what life outside my corporate career might look like, I had an epiphany when I realised that I could potentially build a career and business doing exactly that – transforming spaces and creating homes that could have a positive impact on those living in them.

A few years on with the idea continuing to brew, I finally made the leap from corporate to start my own business.   Whilst I had quite a lot of renovation and decorating experience thanks to my own renovation projects, and helping out friends with their projects, I knew I still had a lot to learn and decided to study at Sydney Design School.

What led you to start your own business?

I guess I grew up with the idea of running my own business from a young age…I just never knew exactly what.  My dad had his own business, so I was influenced by his entrepreneurial spirit and was always doing little side businesses along the way – from making and selling Christmas decorations at 14yrs old, to designing and making boxer shorts at Uni to sell at the local markets.   Also, having worked for nearly 20 years in the corporate sector I was super keen to create something for myself, and take a bit of control back in my life, rather than work for someone else.

Tell us about McMillan Design

McMillan Design a boutique interior design studio based in Sydney’s lower North Shore. We specialise in transforming homes for busy families and professionals who are looking to create warm, inviting homes that reflect their personality, support their lifestyle and give them energy.   We focus mainly on residential projects ranging from full-scale renovations, to individual room-makeovers.    

We work closely with our clients to really understand their needs, their lifestyle, their likes and dislikes, so that we can bring them thoughtfully designed solutions and create spaces that are beautiful, functional and uniquely them.

Sydney Design School graduate Anna McMillan
Sydney Design School graduate Anna McMillan

Do you have a particular design style?

I’d say my preferred style is relaxed, coastal luxe.  Having grown up near the water (and being a Cancer!) I’m drawn to the coast and love the references it provides in design – from colour, to texture, to lifestyle.

When working with clients though, its really important that my design is unique to their needs and reflects their personality and lifestyle, so not every project is going to follow that specific design style.  I’d say my over-riding design ethos is ‘relaxed and liveable’.

A day in the life…

Every day can be quite different, but a regular one might have me working on 2 or 3 client projects.  I like to start off at my desk completing any follow up actions first (such as checking on order status or arranging delivery details with a supplier) and then get onto my core client work.  That might include working on joinery designs in Auto CAD for one project, selecting finishes, fixtures for another project, and furniture and furnishes for another.  This often involves some desk research to kick things off and then I might head out to some suppliers to check out options and get samples.  If its finishes, like tiles and fabric, that I’m selecting then I like to get out to the showrooms to see larger samples before locking in my selection.  I’ll then return to the office and update my FF&E schedule with the selections and costings and then work on the client presentation.   I’ll normally wrap up the day with some admin such as emails, preparing any quotes or invoices for clients, and paying supplier invoices.

Is there a particular aspect of your job that you love most?

Both the start and end of a project (I think most designers say this!)  I love the beginning of a project when you are getting to know your client’s and the space you are working with … the idea of what could be is so exciting, and my mind is normally buzzing with ideas.   I also love the end of a project, when you can step back and see the transformation that you’ve created.  It’s just the best feeling and so fulfilling seeing your client’s reaction.

What are the most important lessons you’ve learned on the job?

Recognising that running a creative business is 80% business and 20% creativity.  There really is so much you have to be across when you have your own business – from finances, marketing, technology, business development, just to get you started.  Then there’s servicing your clients and bringing creative ideas to life.  I’m a great believer in setting up your business processes to help streamline the way you do things, and thereby allowing more time for creativity.  Having said that, Interior Design is such a personal service so keeping it real, personable and approachable is really important to me and my clients.

Sydney Design School graduate Anna McMillan
Sydney Design School graduate Anna McMillan

What did you enjoy most about your course at Sydney Design School?

Oh my gosh, that’s a hard question.  Each part of the course seemed to offer so much.  I loved working on the Cert IV major project as it gave us the opportunity to work with a real-life client and really immerse ourselves in a large-scale project. I had originally planned to finish after completing the Cert IV but realised how much more there was to learn and kept going with the Diploma course.  Learning CAD and Sketch Up opened up a whole new world of skills which I loved using on other projects, like the café project and my final Diploma Restaurant project.  Looking back on my 18mths studying I am still blown away by how much we learnt and how far we came in such a short space of time.

One of the things I loved the most was studying with other people who had similar passion and interest in Interior Design.  I found it really inspiring and I loved the friendly, collaborative environment that the school provides.  I’ve met some fabulous people and made great friends thanks to studying together.

What advice would you give to current students who are thinking of starting their own interiors business?

Be prepared to focus lots of energy on the business side of things, not just the creative, design-side of the business.   I was told to think of it as 80% business and 20% creative and I think it’s very true.  Look for ways to develop your business skills early on in your journey.

Favourite recent interiors trends…

I can’t get enough of all the soft curves and arches that we are seeing in design at the moment.

Words to live by…

You get what you put in.

Your design heroes

Hare and Klein.  I love Meryl Hare’s layered, textural design style.  I find it beautifully understated yet loaded with personality.

Favourite apps or websites

Asana… I’ve just got onto Asana this year in a bid to be more focussed and productive.  A great tool for project management and all my other to-do’s.

What are you passionate about?

Helping people feel more energised by creating a fresh relationship with their home

What are you reading?

I just finished “When God was a Rabbit” by Sarah Winman – a beautiful, eccentric read

What are you listening to?

“Seize the Yay” podcast by Sarah Holloway – really inspiring and motivating interviews

Favourite secret (or not so secret) Sydney spot…

My home!  I’m a bit of a home bod, so I love being in my space


Visit McMillan Design’s website here. Connect with Anna on Instagram @mcmillandesign

Christina graduated with a Diploma of Interior Design. Find out about the course here.


You might also be interested to read:

Meet Our Grad | Keeley Baird – Something More Design

Meet Our Grad | Laura Downie – Studio 1 Interiors

Want to read more?

Back to Blog