Behind the Design: Lauren Li of Sisällä

Behind the Design: Ivy Design Firm Sisällä – Melbourne, Australia

Lauren – how did you get where you are today?

Lauen Li: I have always wanted to be an interior designer and I’m still so passionate to have the privilege to design the interiors for our client’s homes. Sisällä began quite organically as I took on projects whilst working as an interior designer at an architectural practice. I have experience at some of Melbourne’s top architecture practices working on commercial and retail interior design. It was at these architectural practices that I learned many different software programs and worked with some talented people. I also worked on high-end residential interiors in London, which was an incredible experience in historical and luxurious interiors.

I studied Interior Design & Decoration at Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology (RMIT) straight out of secondary school then went onto the Bachelor or Arts in Interior Design with honours Swinburne University. That was me sitting in the front of class taking notes!


Photo by Eve Wilson

What’s the design scene like in Melbourne, Australia?

LL: The design scene in Melbourne is thriving at the moment. Melbourne is known as the design and culture capital of Australia, it has a European feel with ornate Victorian architecture and a strong coffee culture.

The Melbourne design scene appreciates authentic design especially from Scandinavia and Italy. We have a rich community of designers and makers such as ceramicists, lighting and furniture designers. Interior designers strongly support pieces designed and made in Melbourne. This has meant that the Melbourne design scene has created a strong identifiable aesthetic.

In Melbourne, we are known for contemporary interiors with clean lines formed from natural stone and timber. Melbourne loves creating liveable luxury using black and grey with a good dose of metallic. Well-known designers are Hecker Guthrie, Mim Design, Carole Whiting and Fiona Lynch. Some Melbourne designers use a little more colour and patterns such as Doherty Design and Flack Studio.

Since Melbourne boomed during the 1850s, we’re left with an incredible array with ornate Victorian architecture. As a result, our interiors are often made up of original Victorian rooms at the front complete with original marble fireplaces and cornicing. At the rear of the property, an open light-filled extension opens out to the back garden.


Photo by Eve Wilson

Who are your favorite local vendors and people of the trade? How do you maintain healthy relationships with the vendors and tradespeople you work with?

We love to use handmade tiles by Melbourne studio Anchor Ceramics for kitchen backsplashes or fireplace cladding. Each tile is made by hand and each one is beautiful. We ensure that our project can allow the for lead-time in order for these to be custom made as they can’t be rushed.

For furniture we love Grazia & Co as they work with Melbourne’s top designers and release new product ranges. Everything is made in Melbourne, which helps keep the talented fabricators in business.

We have a fantastic cabinetmaker that we love to work with, Plane Architectural Joinery. When we work together, the process is collaborative. Rob understands what the outcome needs to be, and he thinks creatively to make it a reality. The outcome is always better with collaboration from the beginning. We believe in sharing the details of our trusted contractors, as we want them to grow their business too.

We are so fortunate in Melbourne to access the best in design from around the world and experience a thriving design community. We enjoy working with a great bunch of people; this business is all about relationships.

Maintaining healthy relationships is about mutual respect. When a vendor loans us something in order to show our client, we never take it for granted and try to return to them as soon as possible. Often we ask for bespoke pieces to be priced and we appreciate the amount of time it takes at their end.


Photo by Eve Wilson

Sisällä is known for creating highly personalized and responsive spaces with good vibes. What is your secret sauce to achieve that?

Our secret sauce in creating a highly personalized space for our clients is to listen. We like to get to know each member of the family and ask a lot of questions. We have a survey that collects information about their lifestyle, likes and dislikes, etc. Often it’s the ‘off the record’ chats that give us the biggest clue. We want to get to know what makes them tick, where are their favourite places to holiday and what are their hobbies. Then we can incorporate some of that information in the design concept. I believe that the space should say something about who lives there.

We are also a small practice, a husband and wife team. This means that from the moment we meet the client, they work with us throughout the whole process. Between Phil and I, we capture all of the information from the beginning and ensure that the project is completed successfully. We have been fortunate to have some really wonderful clients.


Photo by Eve Wilson

Many designers tell us that Instagram is the number one way they are discovered by new clients. What’s your Instagram strategy? 

Maybe it’s not a strategy so much; it’s just that I find social media as an easy way to be social. It’s fun to flip through the stories to see what people are up to and say a quick hello! Don’t overthink it. It’s been fun to connect with designers from as far as Norway to New York though little chats on Instagram.

I have seen a boost in my followers since I started writing as the Interior Design Contributor for popular blog The Design Files. A few clients have found me though Instagram, however, word-of-mouth and referrals seem to be the number one way clients get in touch. I’ve actually found it’s not one single thing, for example they follow me onInstagram and also read an article on The Design Files and a friend-of-a-friend mentioned us. It appears that our clients have done their research before they get in touch with us.

Photo by Tess Kelly

How does designing make you feel? What’s your business mantra?

Our business mantra is we design spaces with good vibes, for good times. We mean this sincerely. We design for our clients; it’s not for us or to inflate a designer ego. We believe that good design can greatly enhance daily life.

When I’m designing a space, I love to imagine how our clients will use the space. How the light comes in during different times of the day, how they will use the storage we have designed and how the space will function when entertaining. Our designs are the backdrop to everyday life and those special events.  

A client has told me that sometimes she will just step into the formal lounge room to admire the space and that makes me feel happy.

I love nothing more than to get in the zone, put the tunes on and get designing. I’ll have a SketchUp model going, material samples, and an InDesign presentation cooking at the same time. It’s really satisfying when a design concept comes together.

Photo by Tess Kelly

What are some common business dilemmas you face and how do you navigate them?

There are many business dilemmas! Where do we start? When running a business, there are so many hats to wear and a lot of them don’t have anything to do with design. It can be tricky to ‘find time for design’ and I often feel like I’m flipping from one thing to the other. Staying focused on one thing is difficult when managing multiple projects, as well as taking care of marketing opportunities and meetings throughout the day. I’m sure many of you can relate.

I also realise that I’m a control freak! I like to do everything myself so I have had to learn to delegate. I am fortunate to know many talented architects, illustrators, and designers from working at architectural practices that I can call on. I need to surround myself with people that have better skills than me, which isn’t hard. I’m constantly learning.

Photo by Tess Kelly

Do you regularly attend trade markets and conferences? If so, which ones and what’s your strategy? 

I make an effort to attend two trade fairs in Melbourne (Denfair and Decor & Design) and one international fair per year where possible. I headed to the Salone del Monile Milano last year and it is so intense that it feeds my design soul for a good year ahead. I’m heading to the Stockholm Furniture Fair next year and I’m really excited to explore Sweden and immerse myself in design.

I try to attend local events and seminars as I find it so inspiring and I always take something away. Plus, it’s a nice way to catch up with past colleagues and designers.  

Photo by Tess Kelly

Why did you choose Ivy as your software of choice for your design business?

We searched online for ‘interior design software’ and found Ivy. We were doing a lot of decorating projects at the time and it felt like we had struck gold. We haven’t looked back.

Photo by Tess Kelly

What’s an Ivy feature you can’t live without?

My favourite feature is the ‘Create Purchase Orders’ function. This saves us so much time in sending out a million emails and trying to capture all of the items from the vendor. One click of that button and it happens by magic!

Photo by Tess Kelly

How has Ivy transformed the way you run your design business?

Since we’ve used Ivy, we have so much more control on our projects. It’s an easy process for the client to approve the items they want, they can do it in their own time and see the total adjust. Prior to Ivy, we would print out a spreadsheet and use a highlighter to select what the client wanted to go with. There is so much room for error, and we made a few!

Photo by Tess Kelly

What do you learn from the Ivy Designer Network?

The biggest thing I have taken away from the Ivy Designer Network is the spirit of sharing and the entrepreneurial advice. Since I joined The Ivy Facebook group, I started the Melbourne Interior Designers Network. It’s been amazing to connect with some talented and lovely local designers and meet in real life.

The entrepreneurial spirit of the group gave me the courage to launch a new part of our business. So I have all of you to thank. We launched ‘apartment’ earlier this year. It’s a space where we hold Studio Sessions for interior design professionals to up-skill and we’ve had a wonderful response. The space is completely shoppable with local design, artwork and ceramics alongside Danish pieces. We wanted to create a inspiring space to connect with other designers and learn some new skills. It’s been a lot of fun and it’s been keeping us so busy!

Photo by Tess Kelly

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