Interview

Anna Spiro

Jo Hoban
Friday 23rd September 2016

One of the hallmarks of good design is leaving a positive lasting impression, and the work of Brisbane-based interior designer, Anna Spiro, does exactly that. Working out of her New Farm studio with her team of six, Anna designs colourful, elegant spaces, cleverly put together using an array of patterns, textiles and antiques.

Having run her successful interior design business Black & Spiro for over a decade, this month sees Anna and her brother Sam launch Anna Spiro Textiles, a range designed by Anna, inspired by her love of the tropical archipelago.

Our Brisbane contributor Jo Hoban recently caught up with Anna to find out more about her new business venture, and the inner workings of Anna Spiro HQ.

After many Hawaiian holidays over the years, the tropical archipelago has claimed a piece of Brisbane interior designer, Anna Spiro’s heart. Alongside her husband and children, she has spent countless days swimming in its azure waters, admiring the native flowers, relaxing to the twang of ukuleles, and generally soaking up the Aloha spirit of it all. Now, having just launched a new business venture – Anna Spiro Textiles – with her brother, Sam Spiro, Anna has designed her first textile collection as a tribute to these special holiday memories.

‘Lanikai’ is comprised of six Hawaiian-inspired prints, each rendered in at least eight distinct colourways. The deceivingly simple patterns have been developed from hand-painted watercolours, and the fabrics are made in Australia and screen printed by the hands of skilled artisans. The collection has serious boho appeal – layering the patterns offers a sense of that cobbled-together charm that Anna is so renowned for.

Anna Spiro has been admirably successful in the world of Australian interiors, though it has taken considerable hard work. As a junior, she knuckled down under the wing of respected old-school decorator, John Black, with whom she formed a business partnership called Black & Spiro in 2000, operating out of a gorgeous art deco building in New Farm, Brisbane. The pair dissolved their partnership a decade ago, and Anna has continued to run her own business under the same name out of the same space, developing a loyal following. She now runs a tight ship with six employees working across a variety of projects spanning residential, retail and hospitality.

The past couple of years have seen Anna author her first book, Absolutely Beautiful Things with Lantern/Penguin, and her name has become synonymous with the unique Halcyon House hotel at Cabarita Beach. Each room at Halcyon House has been individually designed by Anna and her team, who carefully selected antique pieces and contrasting upholstery to channel a deluxe yesteryear vibe.

We’re delighted to provide you with greater insight into Anna’s world in today’s interview!

Tell us a little bit about your background – what path initially led you to interior design and launching your own studio, Black & Spiro?

I was very lucky to be able to get a job as a junior at John Black Interiors just before I finished school in year 12. I started as a very raw, inexperienced junior assistant. I feel extremely grateful for the opportunity that I was given. I learnt everything that I practise today from John Black, an old-school decorator who knew how to do things properly. In my early 20’s I thought I was ready to leave John Black Interiors and go out on my own (how crazy is that?). However, John offered me to go into partnership with him, which I did. Together we formed Black & Spiro. We moved the design studio to New Farm into an old building named Hamel, which I’m still in today. We dissolved our partnership approximately 10 years ago.

You’re about to launch your new range of textiles, Anna Spiro Textiles. How did this venture come about, what inspires the range, and what are your hopes for it?

Fabric is my passion. For as long as I can remember I’ve always loved pattern, colour and the tactile nature of fabrics. When I first started as a junior I would pour over the textile library, and dream up room schemes in my head combining the available fabrics. I have always wanted to create and use my own textiles in my work. It was just a matter of getting to a point in my career that felt like the right time.

My brother Sam approached me in mid-2015 and suggested that we go into business together. I was thrilled as Sam is an extremely focused, clever man. He’s very organised and great at running a business, so I feel very lucky that he wanted to go into business with me – and I love working with my brother. Family is very important to me, so getting to see him almost every day is so nice. We do have our moments, like all siblings do, but we always get over them quickly. I don’t think I could have done this without him. It is so wonderful to now be able to present a scheme to a client with a few of our own fabrics thrown into the mix!

We have named our first collection ‘Lanikai’, after the beautiful Lanikai Beach in Hawaii. I remember when I first visited this beach many years ago, being struck by its absolute beauty. Hawaii is a place my husband and our family have enjoyed visiting again and again. I always feel so happy when we are there. I hope our collection has the same feeling of beauty and happiness and is loved by people in their homes for a very long time.

You work on a great variety of interiors projects, spanning residential, retail, and hospitality. What have been one or two of your favourite projects recently and why?

I am currently working on two beautiful houses for the one client in Melbourne. This client is a once in a lifetime client. He has been very trusting and basically given me free reign to do what I do best. He stayed at Halcyon House last year, and loved it so much he wanted me to do his houses in Melbourne.

One of the houses will be finished before Christmas this year, and the other one will hopefully be finished by Christmas next year. They are amazing projects and I am so grateful that he has asked me to work with him. We have used lots of wonderful fabrics including a few of my own from our new collection, and I can’t wait to finish off the first house later this year.

As well as the Melbourne houses, I am also working on two beautiful houses in Sydney at the moment. I’m really excited about them, as they are both old houses, which I adore working on. And I’m working on a number of fabulous houses in Brisbane too.

Of course, Halcyon House has also been one of the most amazing projects I have worked on in my career to date. Again, the clients were so trusting in my style and aesthetic. I really do believe the best results come when clients trust the process and trust their designer.

How would you describe your design aesthetic generally, and also specifically in relation to your new range of textiles?

I am a traditionalist at heart, but I also like a bit of quirkiness thrown in. I don’t like things being too perfect, but a bit of perfection is important! I don’t like anything that is mass-produced. I love antiques and bespoke custom made soft-furnishings. Detail is very important. I like pieces that are unique or one-off, and I love to use beautiful patterned fabrics in the rooms I create. I always think that fabric can change the face of a room in an instant.

I am also very passionate about my philosophy of ‘Buy Once, Buy Well’. I really loathe waste – I believe it is worthwhile investing in good, well-made furniture. And if you can’t afford to do it all at once, then stage it out, instead of buying a whole lot of cheap, badly made, mass-produced furniture that you will likely end up throwing or giving away in a few years. I try to encourage people to buy pieces they love that are good quality, and then they will never want to throw them out.

Your role is to realise other peoples’ dream homes and spaces, but what about your own home? How would you describe your personal aesthetic at home, and how in sync is this with the aesthetic you bring to your clients’ homes?

Our home is like a test-lab. It’s the place I try different things and it’s often an amalgamation of bits and pieces I’ve collected along the way. Home is very important to me. It is ever evolving. When something new arrives, my boys often ask me: ‘Is this staying forever Mum?’ They have gotten used to things coming and going.

There are things that will stay forever though, like my grandmother’s old dining chairs and the art and antiques we have been collecting since we bought our first house.

Can you give us a little insight into the inner workings of Black & Spiro AND Anna Spiro Textiles? Where are you based, how is your office structured, how many people do you employ, and what significant tasks do you outsource?

I employ six girls at Black & Spiro: Annabel Sawyer, our head project manager; Kaylee Steane, assistant to Annabel Sawyer; Annabel Hill, who deals with our smaller-scale decorating projects; Michelle Woods, who runs our accounts; Emilia Kosiek, our CAD technician; Kelly Polkinghorne, who runs Anna Spiro Textiles wholesale; and then there’s me and my brother, Sam Spiro – my business partner in Anna Spiro Textiles.

Sam also has his own Town Planning Business which is located about 500 metres up the road from Black & Spiro, on Brunswick Street. We see each other almost every day of the week working on Anna Spiro Textiles together.

All of the work we do is in-house. I do all of the decorating and design side of the projects and Annabel Sawyer does the project management side, along with the other girls in the team. I think we have a wonderful system and I do like to run a tight ship. Communication and organisation is paramount when you are dealing with numerous large-scale projects, and the girls are amazing at making sure our clients are given the very best service possible.

What does a typical day at work involve for you?

I arrive into the office every day at 9.30am as I like to make time for my boys in the morning and drop them to school. I live 40 minutes out of town, so the drive in is a great way to get my head prepared for the day. When I get into the office I like to make sure all the girls are happy and on track for the day ahead. They are a great team of hard-working, beautiful, kind people and they are all much more organised than me!

After that, I might have a ‘meet and greet’ client meeting or a site visit meeting, and one scheme presentation meeting per day. In between those meetings I am: preparing schemes for various projects we are working on, working with the girls preparing design proposals for new projects, preparing quotations, project management, working on room layouts and plans/elevations for projects with our in-house CAD drawer, specification documents, etc. In amongst the client projects, I also work on our textile business each and every day with my brother and business partner, Sam.
I talk with clients and suppliers on the phone and deal with lots and lots of emails.

I also try to fit in at least 40 minutes of exercise per day as I always feel so much happier and am able to deal with things so much better if I have exercised. It’s like medicine to me! We generally leave the office at around 6-6.30pm at night and we never seem to get everything done even though we haven’t stopped working all day!

Once home at night, after dinner and when the boys are all in bed, I generally do another two hours of work which would incorporate sourcing for projects, replying to emails that I didn’t get to during the day, and emailing the girls with lists of things we need to attend to the following day.

Which other Australian designers, artists or creative people are you loving at the moment?

Pip Spiro Pip is my sister-in-law and is an incredible artist with a huge following on Instagram. Her work is amazing and I am so inspired by her creativity and brilliance.

Lucy Folk – Lucy is a jewellery and accessories Designer. I think her designs are fabulous and unique and I love following her journey on Instagram.

Anna Charlesworth – Anna is a lighting designer based in Melbourne. I have used some of her amazing lights at Halcyon House in the restaurant and also in a bedroom in an art deco apartment in New Farm. Her lights are amazing and sculptural. I adore her work.

Can you list your top resources across any media that you turn to when you’re in need of a bolt of creative inspiration?

My favourites include Cabana Magazine, World of Interiors magazine,
Elle Décor magazine, UK House & Garden, Habitually Chic Blog, and Pinterest.

What would be your dream creative project?

I would love to do another boutique hotel in my signature style, using lots of amazing fabrics and found, vintage/antique furniture. I also love it when a client asks me to do their entire house, and they are really trusting! I think those are the dream projects, and often they are the projects that turn out to be the most beautiful, because I haven’t been restricted in what I want to do.

What are you looking forward to?

I’m looking forward to going to our house on Stradbroke Island for three weeks at Christmas. I’ve been re-decorating it these past few months, so I’m really excited to spend some time there with my boys over the summer holidays. It’s been a big year and I can’t wait for endless days at the beach. Going to the beach and swimming in the ocean is one of my favourite things of all.

BRISBANE QUESTIONS

Your favourite Brisbane neighbourhood and why?

New Farm. I love the old houses, the proximity to the city and just the fact that New Farm has everything you need from fabulous food to clothes stores, gift stores, galleries, etc.

What and where was the last great meal you had in Brisbane?

Longtime in Fortitude Valley has really great Asian-fusion food.

Your top three shops in Brisbane for great furniture, home accessories or other finishing touches?

Michael Allen Antiques for beautiful antique furniture and collectables, Black & Spiro for custom made furniture, lamps, lampshades, cushions, etc. and Vieille Branche for old French furniture and collectables and they have a gorgeous coffee shop and garden area too.

Where would we find you on a typical Saturday morning?

In bed. I always sleep in on a Saturday morning (I’m usually absolutely exhausted at the end of the week!), followed by a good long exercise session. Then it’s coffee and whatever the boys want to do – they are the focus on the weekends.

Brisbane’s best kept secret?

I love heading out to the bayside suburbs where I live with my boys. I think Manly foreshore and Cleveland Point and Wellington Point are beautiful places to visit on the weekends.

Lounge space and classic salon hang, featuring Anna Spiro Textiles and a collection of antiques and secondhand artworks sourced by Anna and her team. Photo – Jared Fowler.


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