spence & lyda's fiona lyda

Fiona Lyda is well-known in the design industry for her must-visit shop Spence & Lyda. But she actually started her career in fashion. It was only after working in LA, and falling in love with the modernist architecture there, that she got inspired to open a shop on her return to Australia. Since then she's become a tour de force in Sydney design circles, and has designed several amazing interiors. One of them - in the Lumiere building - I got to see first-hand and interview Fiona about for real living magazine some years ago. I've never forgotten her layering of paint to create a rust/rain-like finish.

Which five words best describe you? That is a difficult question, impatient x 5 would be some people's answer. I might like to include other more positive traits and I am sure they exist but I don't dwell on it much.

How did you get your career start and what path have you taken since? On completion of my degree in fashion and textile design I went straight into costume design for film. It was a buoyant time for the industry so there was a lot of work, sadly not the case now. The skills I honed there to do with work ethic, attention to detail and speed problem-solving have proved invaluable tools. My work took me all around the world and included a number of years in Los Angeles. The Rose Bowl flea market in Pasadena became a major source of inspiration as did the modernist architecture in the Hollywood Hills so my move into production design and then interiors was inevitable. I started Spence and Lyda in an 89 square metre shop on my return from LA. The rest has been dogged determination, hard work and naivety.

What’s the best lesson you’ve learnt along the way? There is a story in the costume design world about a young assistant who was sent on an emergency dash from location at Palm Beach to the city to pick up a pair of leopard stilettos - we are talking early eighties here, don't forget. The shoes arrived back and were taken straight to the actress ready on set only to find the box contained two left shoes. Lesson: you can never over-train, always check the supposedly obvious so you don't find yourself in difficult situations.

What’s your proudest career achievement? Rosita Missoni gave me a note which read, "You are a star". It referred to a huge event we had staged to launch the 2008 Missoni Home collection in a penthouse in the city. The effort involved in preparing the interior and the event had just about killed me so it meant a great deal to know that she understood and approved.

What’s been your best decision? Aside from deciding to have a child, the decision to launch off into the whirlwind that has been Spence and Lyda was undeniably the best. It still inspires me after 12 years; I get to work with great design every day and travel to find it.

What inspires you? Beauty, mainly. Something, almost every day, will catch my eye, be it the light from the afternoon sun on foliage to the pattern of an old sand-stock wall or the fabulous colour combinations in a bird's plumage. I am blessed like that, there is beauty everywhere free for the seeing.

What are you passionate about? Textiles and wood, but I suppose that is no surprise; the showroom is full of both. The idea that interiors can be an enriching element to life, chronicling our journey, and adding pleasure with textures or colours. Not a testament to who we want to become.

Which person, living or dead, would you most like to meet? I am currently intrigued by Frank Lloyd Wright. I have studied his work over many years but have just read The Women, an account of the muses in his gargantuan life and career. It has revealed both a positive and negative side to him that I would love to understand better.

What dream do you still want to fulfil? I am actively fantasising about a trek, all be it a five-star version, up into what is called Little Tibet in northern India. The Himalayan culture is still more or less intact there and the beauty legendary. Stupidly, for a person with my passions, I have only just come to explore India and I cannot get enough. I have dreamt of building a house for many years - not just a renovation: I have been involved in many of those - but an architect-designed manifestation of where my aesthetic is at now. That dream looks like coming to fruition in the next couple of years on a piece of land we have found just south of Kiama. I can't wait.

What are you reading? I am halfway through The Spy Who Came in From the Cold by John Le Carre, which I found in an airport newsagent of all places. I am also reading a brilliant book given by a friend to my daughter Marlo. A little history of the world is essential reading for all those, young and old, keen to understand why we are where we are.

images courtesy of fiona lyda