Sydney’s Star Decorators Who Are Adapting To A New World
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Sydney’s Star Decorators Who Are Adapting To A New World

Here are a few emerging talents to watch.

By Kirsten Craze
Mon, Jul 25, 2022 10:44amGrey Clock 6 min

Interior designers shape how we exist within internal spaces, blending form and function to create inner sanctums that embrace us physically and emotionally. In a post-pandemic world, where home has become our sanctuary, interior designers are stepping up the plate to produce palettes that both comfort and inspire.

In Sydney,  interior designers have never been busier as the city experiences a buying and building boom. From private harbour-front mansions to more humble residences, talented stylists and decorators are in high demand.

Here are a few emerging Sydney talents to watch.

Shakila Shaflender

Shakila Shaflender. Photo: Bureau SRH

Growing up in Iran, Shakila Shaflender, 37, dreamt of a career in design but it took two decades and a relocation to the other side of the globe to see her vision come to life.

“In Iran it wasn’t easy because being creative was sort of looked down on. I grew up in a family where my mom and dad were professionals and their feeling was ‘Yes, you can do that in your free time, but you really have to have a proper job’. Design and creativity was appreciated but seen as a weekend thing in an environment where unemployment was high,” Ms Shaflender said.

“I studied politics and African studies back in Iran and then, sadly, I had to leave the country. I lived for a while in Malaysia before migrating to Australia but I couldn’t continue working in politics when I came here as an immigrant in 2010. I knew absolutely no-one and English wasn’t my first language. It was extremely difficult, so I just had to begin again. But I always had the attitude that I do want to learn and I will do whatever it takes.”

After Arriving in Sydney 12 years ago, Ms. Shaflender worked as a restaurant manager for several years before returning to study her first love—design. She graduated with a Diploma of Interior Design in 2021, and landed coveted internships with leading Sydney interior designers Claire Delmar and Megan Morton, before scoring a full-time job with award-winning architecture and interior design firm Bureau SRH.

The diversity and inclusiveness of Sydney’s design scene is Ms. Shaflender’s ongoing inspiration.

“It’s wonderful because there’s space for everyone and a place for everyone’s own style. I grew up in the Middle East and it’s a very different type of architecture and interiors. When I moved to Malaysia I saw the amazing temples and buildings and thought they were beautiful. Then when I came to Australia it was all really different again. So as I develop as a designer I think I can bring bits and pieces from all these different quarters that I love.”

Since entering the industry, Ms. Shaflender has worked on the redesign of several high-end Sydney homes including a Queens Park apartment, a waterfront residence at Bondi Beach, and is currently working on a semi-detached house in Dover Heights Semi and a house in Bondi.

Photo: Bureau SRH

Focusing on residential design, Ms. Shaflender said she aimed to create spaces that not only looked appealing, but also promoted a sense of wellbeing.

“I am all about how it affects our health and mental health. I’ve worked a lot with building biologists to make sure the spaces we create are healthy, so we don’t create something that grows mould or has high electromagnetic impact on people who live there. That’s quite important for me to make sure spaces are created in healthy ways, both physically and emotionally.”

Kyara Coakes

A love of travel and design played a tug-o-war at Kyara Coakes’s heartstrings straight out of college. Although she’d studied interior design, a 21-year-old Ms. Coakes (now 34) followed the well-trodden path of many 20-something Australians and took off to discover the world.

“I lived in London for two years, but it was in the middle of the [global financial crisis] and I couldn’t find a job in design so I ended up falling into real estate,” she said.

When back in Sydney, Ms. Coakes’ real estate career flourished, but so did her love of design and property styling.

“My interior design background was always in the back of my head. As a compromise I started styling my own properties for sale. From 7 p.m. to 5 a.m. I was styling properties and during the day I was selling them. Then one night it just came to me while sitting on the floor putting together flat pack furniture. I thought ‘I love this so much more than the selling side, I need to change.’”

The career pivot from agent to founder of The Property Stylist in 2019, in a city where real estate agents have become the nouveau riche thanks to skyrocketing property prices, was more about emotion than money.

“It was the perfect marriage for me; merging my love of property and design together. I can’t help using my years in real estate to impact what I do. I know how buyers flow through a space, I know what agents are going to say and do so that’s how I put the furniture and layout together.”

“Styling for sale” has become a common selling tool in Sydney, with research from one agency group, LJ Hooker, suggesting a styled property will sell for between 7.5% and 12.5% more than an empty or poorly presented home.

Styling for sale might have been the jumping off point for The Property Stylist, which is now a team of 12, but a hunger for high-end interior design and project management quickly saw the business expand.

“It happened organically with agents saying to us, ‘We can’t get carpet, we can’t get a painter, or a handyman.’ So I adopted a project management side of the business where an agent literally hands me the keys and two weeks later I hand the keys back to a new look home. We then started creating such great relationships with the homeowners that we began doing the interior design of their new homes.”

Previous projects for Ms. Coakes include a luxury penthouse fit out in Sydney’s harborfront suburb of Milsons Point, a French-inspired chateau in the Southern Highlands of New South Wales and the office space of financial firm Pac Capital in the CBD’s iconic Macquarie House building.

Ike Sonder 

Ike Sonder 

After graduating with a Diploma of Interior Design in 2021 from TAFE NSW, Ike Sonder recently celebrated one year at residential design firm Lawless & Meyerson, but he is already filling up his metaphorical trophy cabinet. The 41-year-old creative recently won TAFE NSW’s Excellence awards as the Creative and Design Ideation student of the year, plus the Graduate Of The Year Award for interior decoration awarded by Design Institute Australia.

They’re proud achievements for a later-in-life newcomer to the business who, as a kid, would spend hours sketching at home in The Netherlands, where he grew up. Not only did a young Mr. Sonder never imagine his ideas could one day come to life, he didn’t expect to be creating beautiful spaces for Sydneysiders, thousands of miles from his homeland.

“I used to watch movies in the days of VHS tapes and pause and rewind them to sketch out the houses I saw, or study home and garden shows back in Holland just because I liked copying what they did,” he said. “Back then I also went to IKEA almost every week for inspiration and I remember having a little briefcase I carried around with all my drawings in it.”

After studying event management, he worked in hospitality and then retail before a redundancy in his late 30s sent him back to his beloved sketch pad.

“I had been working in designer homewares, selling furniture to designers and architects but when that company restructured it was actually the welcome push I needed to go back to study.”

The work selling high-end design pieces was an ideal apprenticeship according to Mr. Sonder who arrived in Sydney 13 years ago. Another string to his bow is his heritage, which he said directly plays into his creative work, and its uniqueness appeals to Australians seeking a fresh approach.

“Because my background is European I do feel like my aesthetic is a little different than the average Australian. I’m 100% minimalistic and I’m in love with the color black. I like geometry and working with shapes or playing with proportions and the simplicity that comes from that. Whereas, I feel like Australian design is traditionally a lot softer.”

“I quite like the fact that I’ve discovered my own style through study later in life. It forces you to do a bit more research into what you really like, what you can create and how you create it.”

The award-winning recent graduate has already designed an office space for a real estate agency in Sydney’s edgy city fringe neighbourhood of Darlinghurst and is currently working on other confidential projects.

Reprinted by permission of Mansion Global. Copyright 2021 Dow Jones & Company. Inc. All Rights Reserved Worldwide. Original date of publication: July 24, 2022.


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Renters are returning to the apartment market, leading to higher growth in weekly rents for units than houses over the past year, according to REA data. As workers return to their corporate offices, tenants are coming back to the inner city and choosing apartment living for its affordability.

This is a reversal of the pandemic trend which saw many renters leave their inner city units to rent affordable houses on the outskirts. Working from home meant they did not have to commute to the CBD, so they moved into large houses in outer areas where they could enjoy more space and privacy.

REA Group economic analyst Megan Lieu said the return to apartment living among tenants began in late 2021, when most lockdown restrictions were lifted, and accelerated in 2022 after Australia’s international border reopened.

Following the reopening of offices and in-person work, living within close proximity to CBDs has regained importance,” Ms Lieu said.Units not only tend to be located closer to public transport and in inner city areas, but are also cheaper to rent compared to houses in similar areas. For these reasons, it is unsurprising that units, particularly those in inner city areas, are growing in popularity among renters.

But the return to work in the CBD is not the only factor driving demand for apartment rentals. Rapidly rising weekly rents for all types of property, coupled with a cost-of-living crisis created by high inflation, has forced tenants to look for cheaper accommodation. This typically means compromising on space, with many families embracing apartment living again. At the same time, a huge wave of migration led by international students has turbocharged demand for unit rentals in inner city areas, in particular, because this is where many universities are located.

But it’s not simply a demand-side equation. Lockdowns put a pause on building activity, which reduced the supply of new rental homes to the market. People had to wait longer for their new houses to be built, which meant many of them were forced to remain in rental homes longer than expected. On top of that, a chronic shortage of social housing continued to push more people into the private rental market. After the world reopened, disrupted supply chains meant the cost of building increased, the supply of materials was strained, and a shortage of labour delayed projects.

All of this has driven up rents for all types of property, and the strength of demand has allowed landlords to raise rents more than usual to help them recover the increased costs of servicing their mortgages following 13 interest rate rises since May 2022. Many applicants for rentals are also offering more rent than advertised just to secure a home, which is pushing rental values even higher.

Tenants’ reversion to preferring apartments over houses is a nationwide trend that has led to stronger rental growth for units than houses, especially in the capital cities, says Ms Lieu. “Year-on-year, national weekly house rents have increased by 10.5 percent, an increase of $55 per week,” she said.However, unit rents have increased by 17 percent, which equates to an $80 weekly increase.

The variance is greatest in the capital cities where unit rents have risen twice as fast as house rents. Sydney is the most expensive city to rent in today, according to REA data. The house rent median is $720 per week, up 10.8 percent over the past year. The apartment rental median is $650 per week, up 18.2 percent. In Brisbane, the median house rent is $600 per week, up 9.1 percent over the past year, while the median rent for units is $535 per week, up 18.9 percent. In Melbourne, the median house rent is $540 per week, up 13.7 percent, while the apartment median is $500 per week, up 16.3 percent.

In regional markets, Queensland is the most expensive place to rent either a house or an apartment. The house median rent in regional Queensland is $600 per week, up 9.1 percent year-onyear, while the apartment median rent is $525, up 16.7 percent.


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