After years of working in finance, Belinda began to realise her corporate day job no longer felt like the best fit. So naturally – as one does when facing a crossroads – she booked the first flight to Italy and took her first steps into a life and career of creative pursuits.
Always having a love for interiors, history and the arts, when the serendipitous opportunity to run an antiques’ business arose, she thought – why not. Learning all the tricks-of-the-trade from a 81-year-old, one-toothed chandelier connoisseur, Belinda gathered an abundance of knowledge that allowed her to launch her own interiors and styling business.
Nearly a decade and hundreds of projects later, she shares with us the process of conceptualising, styling and fitting out spaces in order to create a deeply layered story.
How did you find your way to the world of styling from a career in a very different field?
It was a bit of winding road but one that seemed to flow organically. As it turns out, very early in my finance career I’d worked on some ideas for a styling business but it was more about personal styling. That went in a drawer, was promptly forgotten about and off I went deep into my finance career, with a focus on marketing, strategy and IT. I was in my element there managing a big business, it was a role I has been shooting for, but it still wasn’t quite right. So off I went… to Italy.
Where did you develop your craft?
On the road. After five months in Italy, I came back to raise capital for a branding business and got an insight into the commercial creative for big brands like Kellogg’s. I later for worked for Oroton on the Ralph Lauren licensed relationship and other in-house brands. When my job was done there I was asked to run an antiques business. I thought sure why not. I’ve always loved interiors, history and the arts. What a dream. So again I learnt on the job, I learned the craft of chandelier restoration developing a great relationship with our 81 year old one-toothed chandelier restorer (previously an aircraft engineer) who machined chandelier parts from scratch in his Surry Hills terrace. I learnt about timbers of all kinds, Australian hardwoods, antique French oak from the Loire Valley or reclaimed parquetry flooring from Europe. About antique cement encaustic tiles, how they’re made, how to install them and maintain them. All this product knowledge left me in good stead. The business on Danks Street Waterloo was in the art gallery precinct and was well patronised. Here I built relationships with magazine editors and stylists who would use and shoot our products. After a couple years there I was ready to move again. I went to Argentina and started sourcing. Not sure who or what for, I was going to figure that out later…
What kinds of brands / individuals hire your services?
Back from Argentina with my haul, I built a website, printed some business cards and called my first potential client. A large hospitality group had bought a few pieces from the antique store and just opened a bar in in Surry Hills. He said I should pop by and have a look when they open. So I called and said I want to come for a look. He showed me around. At the end I said, I do sourcing, here’s my card call me if you need anything. He said actually we could need some help here. We met again the next week and I was building my first bar Manly Wine for the Keystone group. Hospitality brands that had multiple venues and needed someone to be across the needs to each and source to suit their unique needs became my launch pad. 10 years ago before vintage hunting was a weekend occupation for most people, I knew exactly where and how to get anything, or get it made or altered if I had to. After working with the Keystone Group, Hamilton Island, Swill House Group and other big operators, I started styling for Guzman Y Gomez, I did a bit of an overhaul at their Bondi Junction store, from there I moved into the retail space designing my first retail store from top to bottom for Bailey Nelson on the Gold Coast. It was a full new build in a new development, so a completely blank canvas. Following its opening they engaged me to design the next dozen or so new stores. They have continued to roll out my custom joinery designs and layouts for all their stores since. I do some residential styling as well.
What’s the smallest and biggest a job can scale for you?
Smaller jobs would include re-styling spaces, giving a restaurant or shop a new look with new upholstery, furniture, accessories, lighting etc. The bigger projects and the bulk of my work involve concepting and creating an entire new build, be it a retail store, a 5-star hotel bar or an inner city venue. Then fitting out the entire project. When it come to the bigger builds, I’m often engaged specifically for the creative concepting, that drives the vision for the rest of the project and a larger team. This is a lot of fun and it’s the part I love most, its where most of the magic happens!
What’s your first step when getting started on a new space?
Understand the client’s needs. Then understand the needs of the users of the space and the experience we want to create. Then get to know the space itself, its features and limitations.
What’s the favourite part of your role?
The creative idea development phase is pretty exciting, when anything is possible. The styling install day when it all comes together is seeing the vision come to life is a close and very satisfying second.
Which of your projects has experienced the most dramatic transformation?
Gurdys (bar) in Newtown received a dramatic makeover from a dated café to an urban escape and saw it on the list of best new bars of 2017 after its opening. It was a very 90s looking café and the brief was to create a space that was all about bringing back what is great about hospitality. The look and feel was to be understated, casual and welcoming with a deep sustainability and recycled component. We stripped the walls to reveal a raw brick underbelly and hand finished the remaining walls with custom painted finishes. We clad the columns in recycled timber and used the same for feature shelving. We created a dining room featuring a vintage three metre French country table with vintage industrial stools, recycled iron wall panels and a vintage Gothic style chandelier. In the main bar we custom made recycled timber tabletops and hung huge iron lights through recycled casement window frames over our raw brick back bar. There was no sign of the 90s once completed!
What kinds of objects or feature can make the greatest difference and how/why?
It’s all in the layers and details for me but a good canvas is always a great starting point. Quality floors, I love timber and stone, textured wall finishes for impact and ambience or even just the right shade of white to create the backdrop for the décor items to follow. The rest is about telling a deeply layered story.
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