This design space is a gallery for other people's art

The Collective's simple, cosy Sydney studio is brought to life with paintings, sculptures and a mysterious gnome.

The Collective's office is filled with art of all shapes and sizes. Housed in a warehouse in central Sydney, it has a wall of tall windows overlooking a leafy central courtyard, letting natural light and fresh air flood into the space. The room is kitted out with simple furniture - a huge bookcase, sofas and communal work tables - creating a cosy, welcoming vibe. But it's not these features, delightful though they may be, that make The Collective's studio space sing.

"I already had quite a few paintings and a couple of wall sculptures when we started the business, so art is a very big factor in how our office looks," says Margaret Nolan, who founded the studio back in 2002 along with partner Rowena Curlewis. "It's quite amazing how you can have very basic furniture but with some great paintings the space can look fantastic."

The studio even has its own 'art fund'. "One of our clients was launching his own brand and was very tight on money. Instead of a design fee he offered us a percentage of his takings," explains Nolan. "Row and I agreed the royalties should go towards buying art for the office."

The first piece of work to yield from the fund is a sunshine-yellow painting by Aida Tomescu (1). "The yellow makes me feel great," says Nolan. "It emits this gorgeous glow: the paint has a depth of colour and texture I never get sick of looking at."

Other office art comes courtesy of Nolan's talented family members. A ceramic pot with a handwritten story winding around it is the result of her sister's foray into ceramics (2), and a felt chicken (3) is her daughter's handiwork. "I just love the Frankenstein-like stitching and the lopsided beak and eyes," smiles Nolan. "The things little kids make just have this wonderful gamminess that unfortunately most of them lose when they learn to do things 'properly'."

Finally, there's the studio's gnome (4). A mysterious figure, no one quite remembers how he came to join The Collective. "He has appeared dressed as me, a Mexican bandito, a Jedi and Santa Claus," laughs Nolan. "He even travelled secretly all the way to Tasmania to emerge as the surprise guest at our 10th anniversary dinner."

This article originally appeared in Computer Arts issue 226.