Imitation: To copy, duplicate or reproduce a fairly exact replication of an original creation

Inspiration: The process of being mentally stimulated to do or feel something, especially to do something creative.

Inspiration pays tribute to, builds upon and advances independently in a new direction, igniting new ideas and expanding the conversation along the way. Whereas imitation simply seeks to take the path of least resistance, mimicking the already spoken, lazily reproducing the already seen.”

The world of design is based on a cycle of innovation blended with reinterpretation and reinvention. To be inspired means to pay tribute to the original source whilst also advancing in a new direction, in keeping with your own style – adding to the inspiration to provide a new twist. Imitation is plagiarising work without acknowledgement, copying something, and taking ownership of it as your own.

As designers we are constantly searching for inspiration to reinvigorate our work, to be innovative and emotive, and refresh our design principles. The world of Pinterest and Instagram provide easy access to global images, as do search engines that immediately provide visuals to match key words. We are given access to designs from around the world, and throughout history, at the touch of a button.

The world around us is a never-ending source of inspiration, from the beauty of Mother Nature to designers we admire, from fashion afficionados to cultural icons, from indigenous craft techniques to streetwear, from movie makers to celebrity chefs, from technological advancements to historical movements, everything we see and experience at home or on our travels can bring us closer to our design dreams.

What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun.” Ecclesiastes 1:9

Every design inevitably has some things in common with designs that have existed before. The goal is to seek the core goodness that stimulated our interest, to filter it through our own sensibilities and mix these with our own voice so it becomes something different, original and unique.

Inspiration gives us both the means and the motivation to rise above, be creative, grow closer to our goals, and learn from others. It gives us the energy to create new designs and to work hard to ensure they fit with our image or vision.  Inspiration assists us with brainstorming, mapping out new ideas and bringing these new ideas to life.

Inspiration awakens us to new possibilities by allowing us to transcend our ordinary experiences and limitations. Inspiration propels a person from apathy to possibility, and transforms the way we perceive our own capabilities.” Scott Barry Kaufman, Harvard Business Review

Last month one of our design projects was involved in a bit of a media frenzy. Any of you who follow The Block, and follow our design projects, will have recognised the nursery we designed for Cahill Building Group for their Mornington home, ‘Black Beauty’. This nursery was well documented on our social media channels, and in House & Garden magazine. It was much admired and loved for its key design features – the colour palette, the divine wallpaper on the ceiling, and the styling of the furniture and flooring.

KWD clients: Lucy and Steve Cahill and family – Cahill Building Group pictured at ‘Black Beauty’.

When The Block went to air, presenting the contestants’ nurseries – the imitation vs inspiration debate went wild online. Articles were posted on numerous blogs and online forums, from homestolove, 9Now and Kidspot to nowtolove, sodramaticonline and The uproar was focused on contestants Sarah-Jane and Tom, who presented their nursery to the judges without acknowledging where the design ‘inspiration’ came from. Unfortunately for them, the room design went well beyond inspiration and entered the realm of imitation.

Spot the differences?

Photography: Armelle Habib
Image courtesy
  • Wallpaper (on ceiling) in original room – Mokum Peonia Wallpaper from James Dunlop Textiles
  • Spearmint green paint on wainscoting
  • Bassinette in the centre of the room
  • Nursing chair style
  • Pink rug
  • Marble side table next to nursing chair
  • Inlay chest of drawers

Upon discovering how close The Block contestant’s room was to KWD’s design, Shaynna Blaze shared online that she was disappointed she didn’t learn of it during filming (which concluded some months before the show went to air). She wrote, “Since judging Sarah-Jane’s nursery, we have learned that the design was taken from amazing Victorian designer Kate Walker. We could tell at the time of judging that the design execution of this room was next-level. Now we understand why.”

Image: TLC Interiors

Shaynna took the time to speak at length with Kate Walker about the situation, expressing her concern over the obvious similarities. “Inspiration is one thing,“ she said. “Completely taking someone’s idea and making it your own is another. We all take inspiration when we’re designing, but you have to change the source of that inspiration a minimum 30% to be able to say it’s your design.”

Darren Palmer also added to the debate on his social media, “Noting one or two elements and interpreting them makes for authentic inspiration. Using the majority of same or similar elements however denies you the opportunity to make something truly unique and your own.” Darren shared pictures of our work on his Instagram page and credited KWD for the original design.

Following on from Shaynna and Darren’s posts, Neale Whitaker also addressed the controversy and was kind to thank us online for “providing the beautiful inspiration for Tom and Sarah-Jane’s House 1 nursery.” He added, “We hope that when contestants are inspired by a designer’s work they will either respectfully acknowledge the source or adapt it significantly to make it truly their own“.

We believe The Block contestant in question was relatively innocent, unaware of how to respectfully be inspired by someone else’s work. Sarah-Jane said on her Instagram page, “I am not a designer trying to rip off another designer’s work. I am a social worker who is building a house on a TV show and wanted that amazing room in the home.” She expressed that  she had always been open about the original design, and that she simply loved it so much, she needed to include it in her luxury home.

Explains Kate Walker, “As designers we take inspiration from the world around us, from fashion, from Mother Nature and from other designers who we follow and admire. We rework, adapt and merge influences to create our own unique point of view. The key is to create a result that is uniquely your own, and to acknowledge and give credit where credit is due. At this point we feel pleased that the online debate has created a sense of awareness about inspiration vs imitation, and choose to feel flattered rather than infuriated about Sarah-Jane’s use of our original design.”

KWD images: Armelle Habib

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