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P0LY Designs : The Ultimate Pandemic Pivot Project

Studio Visit

The last 18 months have seen a new sub category of small businesses emerge in the design space. These are the businesses of people who lost their jobs, or whose workloads drastically decreased following the onset of the pandemic, and those who needed a creative outlet to keep their hands and brains busy during the many long months of Melbourne’s lockdowns.

Aided by the chronic online-ness of the general population during this time, new businesses (particularly those with aesthetically pleasing outcomes) have quickly grown massive followings on Instagram. This, combined with the urge many of us felt to update our home spaces, provided fertile ground for P0LY Designs founders Lara Fisher and Andy Kepitis to launch a pivot-project that has quickly grown into fully fledged business – all from the backyard of their Northcote sharehouse.

After 18 months of creating their tiled plinths, consoles and side tables from home, Lara and Andy have recently moved their fast-growing business to a beautiful new work space and studio in Fitzroy North. We caught up with the business partners (and couple of 10 years!) to learn more about the future of their ‘accidental baby’!

18th October, 2021

Andy Kepitis and Lara Fisher (Raf the pup), founders of P0LY Designs. Photography – Amelia Stanwix.

All the pigments used in POLY Designs grout are naturally derived. Photography – Amelia Stanwix.

Andy and Lara grouting one of their tiled side tables. Photography – Amelia Stanwix.

Every piece from P0LY Designs is customisable and made-to-order. Photography – Amelia Stanwix.

It’s just Andy and Lara running the whole business – from design and manufacturing, to customer service and admin! Photography – Amelia Stanwix.

P0LY Designs have recently moved into a beautiful new space in Fitzroy North. Artwork by Mitch English, print available from Illusory Interiors. Vase from Lope Home. P0LY X Bootleg Studio wall hooks. Photography – Amelia Stanwix.

A Soda Fountain hand-painted vase atop a P0LY Designs plinth. Photography – Amelia Stanwix.

A Lope Home vase atop a P0LY Designs consol table.Photography – Amelia Stanwix.

Raf the pup hanging out in the studio! Cushions by Hommey. Recycled plastics planter by Joshua Space. Photography – Amelia Stanwix.

Towel by Baina. Hook by P0LY Designs X Bootleg Studio. Photography – Amelia Stanwix.

The workstation at the new Fitzroy North store. Photography – Amelia Stanwix.

Lara takes care of all the customer service and admin for P0LY Designs. Photography – Amelia Stanwix.

Sally Tabart
Monday 18th October 2021

We really get to be our most creative selves – constrained by the straight lines of tiles that is.’ Lara Fisher. 

It might surprise you to know that this story officially starts in 2009 at Stereosonic Music Festival. That’s where Lara Fisher and Andy Kepitis, co founders of homewares business P0LY Designs, first met! The couple have been dating for 10 years, and working together on P0LY Designs for the last 18 months. And it all sort of happened by accident, in a tale as old as Melbourne’s lockdown.

‘At the start of [the pandemic] I lost my job as a Brand Strategist and was pretty lost. I was applying for jobs all day from bed and was feeling seriously blue if I’m honest’, admits Lara. Looking for a way to use her hands and to ‘fill those grim lockdown days’, she had the idea to make a tiled plinth as a way to display some of Andy’s potted plants (he’s a horticulturalist by trade and has amassed quite the collection).

‘Andy worked out how we could make one, and after finding some really beautiful tiles we had a go’, says Lara. ‘It wasn’t perfect but it looked really cool, so I put a picture on Instagram’. A friend saw the piece and asked if the pair could make a bedside table for her in a similar style, and it all snowballed from there.

Since then, Lara and Andy have made around 450 tiled plinths from the backyard of their Northcote share house for customers all over Australia, amassed more than 26,000 followers on Instagram, and have perfected their tiled side tables and plinths. Each piece is made to order by Andy, while Lara takes care of the consultations, customer service, accounting and administration side of the business. The pair are committed to creating pieces that are made to last, establishing meaningful relationships with suppliers, and developing fully customisable pieces to perfectly suit the needs of their clients.

Recently, Lara and Andy have moved the P0LY Designs operation from the backyard to a beautiful new by-appointment retail, studio and work space in Fitzroy North, where they’re working hard to expand the P0LY universe.

Hey Lara and Andy!  P0LY has had such incredible success over the last 18 months, but neither of you guys have a background in design or homewares. What were you doing before, and how did this bring you to P0LY?

Lara: I worked in Fashion for 10+ years and have a Degree in Fashion/Merchandising. I worked for brands like Scanlan Theodore, Josh Goot and Bassike. I love being creative and think I have a pretty good eye for design but I especially loved connecting with my clients and seeing the product fit into my clients life. Whilst working in Fashion I completed my Masters in Marketing and Journalism and was working as a Brand Strategist until Covid hit.

Andy: I’m a horticulturist who spends the majority of my spare time pottering around the garden admiring my plant collection. The garden is my happy place where I can get creative and also spend time winding down from a long day of looking at clean, straight lines of tiles. Alongside my work with P0LY I do a range of garden design, horticultural services and interior plantscaping jobs to keep my hands dirty. I have absolutely loved becoming a tiler over the last 18 months and creating pieces for people all across the country. I’m a huge fan of colour so I love when clients ask for some quite bold colour combinations – a special thank you to those people for keeping my days interesting!

Did you go into p0ly with the intention of starting a small business, or was it just for a bit of fun?

Lara: P0LY was totally an accidental baby. After making a few pieces for mates someone said we should make an Instagram account for them…and I laughed I’m pretty sure.

I remember a friend taking a screenshot of our page when we had 1 follower and said you’ll want this image when you’re ‘famous’. We were having a bit of fun – and we still are. It’s such an enjoyable business model because everything we make is made to order so every piece is a little bit different.

We really get to be our most creative selves – constrained by the straight lines of tiles that is.

How do you guys split up the workload of p0ly?

Lara: I do all the logistics. I’m chatting with clients about bringing their vision to life, sourcing tiles, liaising with couriers as well as the boring bits like accounting. I also help with grouting but the perfection needed for tiling is not my thing.

Andy does all the tiling and majority of grouting. He is super methodical and efficient – his lines are always perfect and he does it all by eye!

Can you talk us through the process of actually making one of your pieces?

Lara: We work with a master joiner who creates all our amazing custom frames. He never says no to any of our ideas and is quite seriously a genius. I’ve also spent a long time sourcing the best quality materials I can find – our tile adhesive, tiles and grout all come from Italy and are Green Build Certified.

All the pigments in the grout are naturally derived, I think that’s one of the coolest things for us. The amazing colours are all found within nature (for example the white pigment is marble dust from quarries in Italy), which we love.

Once we have the frames Andy will get onto tiling. The process needs to be done over a few days with the drying times or glues and grouts. After Andy lays the tiles we can get onto grouting, when the magic all comes together.

Tell us about your new retail and work space – what happens there?

Lara: Until last month we had been making all our pieces (something like 450 so far) in our backyard of our rental share-house in Northcote. Rain, hail or shine we would be outside under our little umbrella making everything and then storing them in our bedroom. It was very impractical but it worked while it worked.

Our new studio on Nicholson Street has a big space for us to store all our tiles and frames, craft the pieces, have desk space and a shop/window display. Once restrictions ease we will be open by appointment so clients can come view the pieces, select tiles and go over design concepts in person.

It’s such a joy having our little studio and seeing people walking by admiring our window display. We get lots of people knocking one the window telling us they already follow us on Instagram and find us after walking by.

What has been the best part about starting p0ly together?

Lara: Having a shared vision. We both like working hard but now we get to do it for ourselves on something we’re really proud of. We really love the industry, and have made some really lovely relationships with all our suppliers.

Andy: We’re free to create whatever we want which makes the ‘job’ feel less like work and more like a creative pursuit.

And the hardest?

Lara: Switching off. Anyone who has started a small business will tell you the same thing I’m sure. We work…a lot.

Andy: Tiles are heavy, that’s the other major grievance. Lots of heavy lifting in this business.

What’s in store for the future of p0ly?

Lara: We have a new idea every minute. We’re excited to continue collaborating with other local artists/makers on new styles (non-tiled!!) As well as continuing to evolve our designs.

We’re loving exploring new ways to include storage options (storage is king) in our designs – push to open drawers, cupboard doors, shelves etc which is a fun challenge. We’re also doing a few exciting shop fit-outs which is very fun.

Email Lara at hello@p0lydesigns.com for all  enquiries, and follow along with the future of P0LY Designs on Insta!

P0LY Designs Showroom
Open by appointment (when restrictions lift)
730 Nicholson Street
Fitzroy North, Melbourne

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The Design Files acknowledge the Traditional Custodians of the lands on which we work, the Wurundjeri people of the Kulin Nation. We pay our respects to Elders past and present.

First Nations artists, designers, makers, and creative business owners are encouraged to submit their projects for coverage on The Design Files. Please email bea@thedesignfiles.net