Q&A: Michael McCormack, Milieu Property


 Director at Milieu Property, Michael McCormack, has over 10 years experience in property development and construction. Michael is also a director of Milieu Built, a residential and commercial builder with an emphasis on delivering unique projects.

How did you enter the property industry?
After finishing school I worked as a carpenter. I enjoyed the trade, however learned that I was a small part of the process. I wanted to be involved in the entire development cycle. I went back to school and while studying was fortunate to have an opportunity to work with a development consultancy business.

Initially, I wanted to develop homes for people like my wife and me, our friends and siblings. Those that want to live close to Melbourne where they work and hangout; that at a particular time in their lives might not be able to afford an established property in the area they wish to live – but who don’t want to live in a large-scale apartment building in order to live in that area; they also appreciate good design and are prepared to pay for it provided it is attainable. There is still an undersupply of this type of housing.

What motivated you to step into the world of Melbourne development boutiques?
I determined pretty early on that I wanted to be involved in property development. After working in the industry for a short time, I had a desire to do something different. Study was my way of preparing myself. During my career to date, I have been fortunate to have a number of very good professional mentors, including my Milieu business partner, Ross Troon. Together we established Milieu motivated to meet a market that I had direct experience with.

Why the name Milieu?
Milieu by definition is the environment or context in which one lives and is influenced by. When establishing Milieu with my business partner, Ross Troon, we wanted to develop properties that considered this context and contributed to it. Spaces of Influence – inside and out – is a description of this objective. Buildings that positively add to the built environment and improve the social setting of those that inhabit them.

How does Milieu differentiate from other designs?
Our projects are in highly desired areas, close to amenity and public transport and with an emphasis on design that considers context – the built environment and the social – this assists to ensure we meet the market. The profile of management at Milieu is consistent with our target market – hence we understand what is required, desired and attainable for this market.

What are boutique buyers looking for?
Unique, well-considered, efficient spaces they can actually live in that are attainable.

Is there a demand for boutique buildings outside of the CBD?
I think there is this demand, however there is also a better opportunity for buyers to purchase an established property as you move away from the city. Therefore, it gets tougher from a commercial perspective to meet the gap in the market we target. That said, last year we launched and sold out our Albert Street, Preston project – this was aimed at purchasers that wanted to live in the inner north, but required a little more space and did not want to sacrifice design for price point. It has been a very successful project and is under construction.

In your opinion what is the social setting of Melbourne and how does this inspire your designs?
I don’t think I could attempt to comprehensively describe Melbourne’s social setting. It’s vastly diverse from one area to another. However, some common themes in the areas I’m familiar with, without limiting to these points and in no particular order, are:

  • Multicultural / international
  • Food / coffee
  • Design / arts
  • Urban / streets and lanes / neighborhoods
  • Discovery

Whitlam Place is the result of a collaboration with Anon Studio and Freadman White. The property sits within the golden triangle of Fitzroy – it’s actually a square bordered by Gertrude, Smith, Johnston and Brunswick Streets. The immediate context includes Whitlam Reserve adjacent the site to the south. Opposite the reserve further south is the Fitzroy Town-hall and to the east the Napier Hotel.

The building design involves a heavy element sitting over a lighter podium. The solid element above is subtracted from and added to with balcony cutouts and expressed windows. There is a copper oxide finish to the fluted concrete façade layered with green wall creepers.

The classical proportion, rhythm and hierarchy of the Town Hall are reflected through a modern interpretation in Whitlam Place. The richness of detail, texture and formal profile of the Town Hall’s fluted columns are reflected in the building’s façade treatment. The arches have been flipped vertically to balance the heavier concrete top on a more transparent podium.

What is next for Milieu?
2015 is set to be a huge year for us. We have four projects launching for sale through the year - including our first project south of the river in Windsor in the coming weeks and our two largest projects to date, one in Collingwood and the second in Fitzroy North. Milieu Built is also set to commence construction on our Whitlam Place project in Fitzroy and our Waterloo Street project in Carlton. At the same time, we are also actively considering further projects and keenly exploring opportunities to work with new people on our current and future projects.

What are the proudest moments for Milieu?
I am proud of all of our projects and am known in the office for wanting to live in each of them when working through the design process. However, to name a few specific moments: successfully completing our first project in Moor Street, Fitzroy; establishing our building business – Milieu Built - with the view of controlling the delivery of the promises we make while marketing our projects; and personally, being able to work within Milieu on a full-time basis without having other professional responsibilities.

Do you think you could set a trend and inspire developers to consider their surroundings when developing?
I think, particularly with larger scale projects there may be a tendency to create iconic standout developments in terms of architecture and brand in preference of design that responds to context. This is probably a result of the nature of these projects and might be necessary from a marketing perspective. That said, there are other developers that inspire us through their projects – including BPM, Neometro and Kalex to name a few.

What are some of your favourite urban developments?
In terms of urban spaces, I tend to prefer areas that have had the opportunity to evolve with time rather than spaces that have been specifically conceived and developed at once. For example, the area where the top of Melbourne meets Fitzroy is great. Gertrude is my favorite street in Melbourne, I love the Carlton Gardens, and the City Wine Shop and Cumulous are some of my go-to places to eat.

Regular meetings see me living in cafes through the week, and I enjoy the ambient noise to work through reports and emails. My regular café is Alimentary on Smith Street in Collingwood as it’s a 30-second walk from our office and the coffee and food is consistently good.

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