#199 Western Australian Indigenous Interior Design – Leah Bennet

When considering interior design, many of us will be aware of different styles whether it’s in our home or the spaces we move through. We may be familiar with overseas styles such as the Hampton style, European.

But ask yourself, what does an Australian style of interior design actually look like?

Or let’s go deeper – what would the style of design that’s influenced by the land and the deep culture here in Western Australia looked like?

It’s actually a difficult question to answer because very few designers are following this path, that is with the exception of this week’s guest Leah Bennett of Leah Paige Design.

Leah talks through the nuances and intricacies of interior design, so that we can understand it in more clarity and more depth. She then adds the layer of culture and land so you can really begin to get a feel of how she’s designing spaces that we can really connect to.

Leah also talks about the challenges of putting forwards this new approach to the interior design world and how often many people want to get involved but are just a bit too worried about where to start and getting ‘things wrong’.

Leah is a fantastic and articulate lady with a real drive and passion that shines through in this conversation and which is sure to underpin her impact in the future.

Website: leahpaigedesigns.com

Read Full Transcript

Bryn Edwards 

When considering design or interior design, many of us will be aware of different styles. Whether it’s in our residential home, or the spaces we move through. These styles might include like the Hampton style or European or Asian with many of us bringing back ideas and artefacts from places like Bali or Singapore. But what does an Australian style of interior design actually look like? Or more to the point? What were the style of design that’s influenced by the land? And the deep culture here in Western Australia looked like? Well, that’s a difficult question to answer, isn’t it? Because practically nobody is putting that forward. That is, with the exception of this week’s guest, Leah Bennett. Leah talks through the nuances and intricacies of interior design, so that we can understand it in more clarity and more depth. And then she adds in this layer of culture and land upon it, so you can really begin to get a feel of how she’s creating spaces that we can actually really connect to. Leah also talks about the challenges of get getting this new approach to interior design forwards, and how often some people want to get involved but are just a bit too worried about getting things wrong. Leah is a fantastic and articulate lady to talk to. She’s got a real drive and passion, which I really think is going to take her many, many places. So she’s really one person to look out for, into the future. So enjoy. Leah.

 

Bryn Edwards 

Hello, and welcome back to  WA Real. I’m your host, Bryn Edwards. Today I have the great pleasure of welcoming Leah Bennett onto the show. Leah, welcome.

 

 

Leah Bennet 

Thank you.

 

Bryn Edwards 

So we’re gonna talk about design to design today. And in particular, interior design, because you are an interior designer, and but we’re gonna look at it with a bit of a twist, aren’t we?

 

Leah Bennet 

Yes.

 

Bryn Edwards 

or more of a more or less? less of a twist more of a local focus?

 

Leah Bennet 

Yeah, for sure.

 

Bryn Edwards 

Yeah. And we’ll come to that in a minute. But let’s orientate ourselves right at the start of this with what does an interior designer do?

 

Leah Bennet 

Yeah, question that we all get asked. Again. So for his many people that fit onto the design umbrella. You’ve got architects, interior architects, interior designers, interior stylists, and there’s little bit of confusion on who does what. So your interior designer will do everything from your spatial plans, your furniture, layouts, majority of the time, they do a lot of the finished selections. So selecting your tiles, paint colours, along with doing the furniture layout there or specify particular furniture, pieces, tapware, that sort of thing. That’s how that’s everything that I’m capable of doing. So it goes right from a planning process, through to doing technical drawings for building applications through to 3d renders, yep. Which is kind of creating the space through a digital programme so that people can get an idea of how the space is actually going to look, which is a huge selling point on clients, because it allows them to see the space before any constructions. Yeah. And sometimes people have an idea of what they want in their head. And then when they actually kind of see what it is going to look like. It’s not what they were thinking or not what they were, it doesn’t work. Yeah. And then I that’s also a good way to kind of explain to a client, if they are wanting something that you can see, is not really going to achieve the end goal that they want. But it’s a way of showing them before constructions commenced and a lot of the time then they can see Okay, now let’s, let’s switch that up and do things differently. So, yeah, it’s a lot more than just fluffing cushions. I mean, at the end, when you’re doing the styling side of it, it is that fun element where you get to peek the decorative pieces and do your soft furnishings, you throw rugs and cushions and then which is an important part of finishing off the space and tying it together. Your interior stylist will do that in section. Interior Designers kind of do start to finish. Yeah, your architects look more at the construction side of it. Yeah, how it’s going to be built, I guess.

 

Bryn Edwards 

Like you say with the rendering. Yeah. The thing that sprung to mind there was that so so the best analogy I can give you is me me going in and asking for a haircut right? Sometimes I the words I say don’t necessarily translate. What the hairdresser. Yeah, and that and then I end up with something and I have done where I sit there go. How did we get to this place?

 

Leah Bennet 

Yeah, I know what you mean and that sounds One of the important steps that I’ve missed before was your mood boards and your inspiration boards and style guides, which is taking what the client said, putting together their needs and wants and a proposal for them and then putting a pitch together. Yeah, which has, okay, so you’ve said that you want to go industrial style. But this element that you really like, is super classic. And it’s not going to work in that sort of style, which we have a client at the moment that we were working with, in Applecross, and we’d had a few, they’d gone through a few sort of designers and they had kept putting out there to the design at what they liked, and the style that they thought they wanted to go in. But nobody had really sat down with him and explained, this is this style. This is this style. And these bring in certain elements of each together to work together. But some things just will clash and won’t work together. And it’s Yeah, a lot. If you’re not a designer, you don’t have the vocabulary to sometimes Express express what you’re actually wanting.

 

Bryn Edwards 

Yeah. Yeah, I can imagine that being. Yeah, which is a chunk of the job,

 

Leah Bennet 

I benefit of then going through a designer, because sometimes you can go to I don’t know if you’re going to be a kitchen designer or a tile store. And you’re saying I want this, and then you go somewhere else. And you’re like, Oh, I like that I want this. And then when it actually comes together, it doesn’t work. Yeah. And it’s having that ability to be able to see what it’s going to look like as a complete finished product. Yeah.

 

Bryn Edwards 

So that gives an idea. Super orientates us in terms of what an interior designer does. Yeah. So one of the things why I reached out to you was because that your focus is slightly different to that of many interior designers here in wy to explain that.

 

Leah Bennet 

So I think design should be a lot more than just aesthetically appealing. There are designers that focus more on practicality and function, which all designers should do. And it should all be aesthetic. But I guess with the mentors that I’ve had, I’ve had some really great mentors caught Dwayne Rowan from cotton construction, he’s kind of challenged me to think well, what more can you do with it? Or what sort of benefits? How can you benefit people out of the designs that you’re creating? So what my nation where my focus has gone is bringing Aboriginal culture into contemporary design. So when I say contemporary design, I’m talking about modern spaces, whether it’s interior or exterior, because I think that a lot of people have the connotation that it’s a really, really old culture, but it’s not relevant in today’s in today’s society, which my argument is that it’s just as relevant today as ever. And my way, my reasoning for doing that is that it’s a way that I can get people to gain an emotional intangible connection to Aboriginal culture, because it wasn’t meant to be read about in a book, it was meant to be shared and experienced. And my way of being able to do that is through design.

 

Bryn Edwards 

And you have a background in this.

 

Leah Bennet 

Yes. So I’m a descendant of the what you’re a Naga mom from right and stop region. So why it’s so important to me is, I guess, because I have that heritage, but I didn’t actually, we didn’t know that we were Aboriginal. Yeah, growing up. I have the greatest respect. Yeah, I don’t look. Alright, just take that. So actually, a lot of Aboriginal people out there with pale skin and green eyes, and I’m not naturally white coloured hair. Yeah, light coloured hair. But my was when my granddad was passing away that we kind of got our acknowledgement and recognition and even found out that we were indigenous. And for me, it was just it was really bizarre to think that my granddad had grown up knowing or not knowing that his mum, that is huge portion of who she is, she wasn’t able to share and pass down to her kids. So I’m your great grandmother. Yeah. So I’m also a dancer. And to put that into perspective, to me, it would be like if I had kids, and I could never teach my kids dancing or even tell them that what dancing is that’s kind of how I put it into perspective for me, and just that thought was, it’s just crazy to think that that’s how Yeah, I mean, we found it was pretty incredible how we got our recognition and acknowledgement was through all of these letters that we had found from after the second war. My granddad’s uncle had returned from must have been the first war. Yeah, World War One. And he was in the tents, why? Horse and he was super respected in the war, but came back and he he was quite dark. And then there was letters about him not being allowed into the veterans club and bits and pieces because he was Aboriginal. Right. So that was kind of how we got our proof in the end. Yeah, and our recognition, but growing up and not knowing, and not being able to have that cultural knowledge passed down through my family, I feel like I’d missed out on so much. Yeah. And so that’s why now I feel like I can, if I can bring it into design elements, where everybody has the opportunity to learn and connect,

 

Bryn Edwards 

as well as yourself through the work that you do,

 

Leah Bennet 

as well, I’ve learned so much through the connections that I’ve made. It’s actually funny I met had a meeting with Dwayne, and he introduced me to one of his mates, Barry McGuire. And I sat down at the meeting, and he goes, you’re related to me, which most Aboriginal people will laugh at, because you meet another Aboriginal person. And there’s some way that you try at the time you connected or related. But yeah, he’s from the same route his family’s from the same regions, me. So it’s pretty amazing. And he’s offered me he’s been super supportive. And I’ve been really lucky that I’ve been able to make these connections in the business industry or in the business network that I can go back to for cultural support

 

Bryn Edwards 

and knowledge. I was gonna ask you more about that, I probably will come to that in a bit.

 

Leah Bennet 

Because I don’t. As I said, I’ve always been very transparent about the fact that I’ve grown up not knowing a lot. But I’ve wanted to learn and I’ve reached out and I try to reach out to as many different people and elders that I can to get the proper to do things the proper way.

 

Bryn Edwards 

How are you generally received?

 

Leah Bennet 

Um, I think a lot of a lot of people can tell that I’m pretty genuine in what I do. And because I don’t say that I know everything that I know that I have a lot to learn in that sense, that they’re pretty receptive of what I wanted to read. And they can definitely see that I’ve got the drive and passion behind me to make some real changes. In the design industry, at least, that’s my way of doing it. Yeah.

 

Bryn Edwards 

So authority be good to orientate ourselves again. So so we can actually, I and the listener can understand sort of, from the inside out what it is exactly. We’re talking about here. Yeah. So I thought what I thought would be interesting was, if you could give me some points of reference, like underlying coordinates, as to bits of not bit parts of elements of interior design that we that the everyday person would notice. Yeah. And then if you could sort of explain, this is what we would probably be used to if we were going towards a an American, European style. This is how I think about it. Yeah. So then, then I and the listener can actually begin to comparison Yeah, and tangibly start to experience.

 

Leah Bennet 

Yeah. So I guess this direction of where I’ve headed, and why I’ve got such a drive to create a authentic Australian, and more specifically, West Australian style started from a uni project that I was doing, where we were exploring, reducing the vacancies in the east end of city of Perth. And my proposal was to do a inner city yoga studio. And I was looking at bringing in the Aboriginal culture, having some wallpapers put up, and I was looking at indigenous style tiles. And I could not find any products, couldn’t find any products. And it was just like, hmm, there’s, there’s a whole missed market here. And I wanted to draw then on our history in our culture, but I could find tonnes of Moroccan and Nepalese star tiles that worked in with the yoga studio, but you look at a lot of the patterns. And there’s a lot of similarities that would crossover in that sort of setting, but I couldn’t find any that would work that were in Australian or indigenous. Yeah. So that was kind of where I realised that there was this missed opportunity in the market. But then I started to look at it more broadly. And a lot of people still with clients, you’ll get asked for Hamptons style kitchens, or classic kitchens or European kitchen. European kitchens are a lot more contemporary. For me. I a lot of the time I see that they’re the best Can media sort of times where you don’t have your handles? Everything’s quite flush, you pushed open cabinet tree, that sort of style. Yeah, sleek finishes. And then your American style kitchens or your European style kitchens. Sorry, your American style kitchens are a lot more classic. We’ve got the Hampton style cabinetry, your antiquey, sort of looking handles and pull knobs. But if you went into a kitchen place here and said, I want an Australian style kitchen,

 

Bryn Edwards 

what does that mean?

 

Leah Bennet 

What does that mean? It’s very broad. What that kind of covers. And for me, I’m starting to see it develop. For me, it’s your kitchens that connect directly to your outside space. Because half the time of the year we’re outside cooking as well. And I think that it’s done well, when it’s brought in with a lot of Australian timbers. So you have your spotty Garmin, your gyros, which are coming back around and becoming more popular. Yeah. But it’s still as a base, quiet, moto tone. You’ve got your whites and greys and your blacks. Yeah. Which is just, it’s not really, to me an Australian style are an Australian feel. I wouldn’t look at that and think, oh, that’s apart from the timbers. I wouldn’t look at it and think, Oh, it’s Australian. Yeah. For me, having your Eucalyptus tones, having your burnt orange sort of colours coming into it is where we have the opportunity to bring some colour into our homes and also create a style which is uniquely Australian.

 

Bryn Edwards 

It’s interesting, because using the word Australian, yeah. One could go to the modern day culture of Australia. But you’ve gone to land. Yeah, it’s interesting. You know, you’re talking about Eucalyptus tones and burnt orange. That’s maybe that’s the Aboriginal Oh, yeah. automatically connect with it. Yeah, this is the point. And this is this is, this is what I wanted to explore and understand in this conversation. Yeah,

 

Leah Bennet 

yeah. So I have seen, I guess, also, because in the design trends that I’m seeing come through, which are kind of pulling on the Australian landscapes if you go to have you been to the Qt in Perth here, no. Sorry, I went when I first came into the design industry, leaving uni did a tour there with my business mentor, Carrie Allen. And a lot of the colour palettes there were drawn from West Australian, which is where I kind of first saw it happening as well as learning how this is, how was this good? We need more of this. But it was done in a very abstract, contemporary sort of way. Yeah, so a lot of the colour palettes, in the rooftop bar, they’re drawn from the aerial footage of Shark Bay, which is the contrast of the oranges and the blues, which is exactly what I was doing with that yoga studio, which was fun, because I started to see it pop up a little bit more. And then some of the hallways there have got rather than having your typical boring photos of wild flowers on the wall, they’ve like grabbed one and blown it up and then done it where it wraps around the stairs. It’s it’s just putting a little spin on it. How do you create or take something that’s already been done or created and add a new spin onto it? which is then what I’m trying to do with the Aboriginal culture rather than just taking something that’s that more the traditional side of it, but I’m focusing more on the contemporary contemporary art pieces.

 

Bryn Edwards 

So how do you do that? I mean, I can see how you’ve linked to land. Yeah. To add this layer of the culture. Yeah. indigenous culture. What are some of the sort of elements in there? We’re looking at?

 

Leah Bennet 

Sorry, my argument with that. And what I’m struggling, I have struggled with in terms of what I’m doing is quite niche. And there’s not a lot of people doing it. Yeah. Is the mindset of when it should be. Included? Yes. So I’ve had a few proposals that I’ve done to some larger commercial for some large commercial products or projects. And they kept saying to me, it sounds like an art project. That sounds like a phase two.

 

Bryn Edwards 

Yeah. Why? When you say it sounds like an album, it sounds like face to do

 

Leah Bennet 

because what I was doing was facilitating and Aboriginal artists. I don’t do that art myself. Yeah. I don’t have the knowledge to do them. So I’m facilitating eight Aboriginal artists and putting it into a design element through wallpapers through flooring through through the actual design.

 

Bryn Edwards 

So we’re not just talking cushions and pitches on the wall. Yeah. So that’s even before that.

 

Leah Bennet 

Yeah. So that’s exactly my argument is that it shouldn’t just be cushions and on the wall because to me, that’s an afterthought, which isn’t that part of the problem is That part of the problem that kind of a metaphor in and of itself. Yeah, that when I was a little bit discouraged that kind of drove me those a little bit more, because I just realised in your eyes, it was just they had reached out. The reason that I approached this company to do this is because they had reached out to elders to get specific site specific stories before the project went, and then they handed it over to architects, and I’ve seen some of the proposals, and I was like, I can’t see how these stories have been put into place at all. And then it’s just going to be a face true, which is saying that Aboriginal culture then needs to work around what is has is already there in terms of the building. But yes, reality right came first.

 

Bryn Edwards 

Yeah. The building has come from a mindset that is probably Yeah, sorry. Yeah, my weird. Yeah, Western industrial, educated, rich and democratic. So my,

 

Leah Bennet 

what I’m trying to say is that it should be driven from the culture, yeah, rather than the culture having to work around the building. So in that sense, it’s bringing things into the design from the beginning, it’s not on the wall, because everybody walks past on the wall. And it’s, you need to have something that’s actually going to make people stop and look and take in. And I guess this also has kind of come back from before my design degree, I did a acting degree, yeah, with, which was a double degree in contemporary performance and theatre studies. And essentially what that whole degree was was taking, apply an existing play and flipping it and thinking how we could do it differently, but also how you could get a certain reaction from the audience or get them a, an emotional response, which, when I first left, that, I didn’t leave that degree, I finished that degree, but then go out into the industry realised wasn’t something that I wanted to do, was a little bit disappointed in myself when I had built up all of his hex debt. And then I felt like I was kind of doing nothing with it. But then I didn’t realise how much of that was actually going to influence the way that I design because then I’ve brought all of that into my design. And it’s like, well, how can we actually get a response from the design? How can we get people to emotionally connect, because that’s the biggest thing for me is that people read about, or learn about your Aboriginal history in high school, and primary school. And for me, that’s where I learned about majority of it until I left and then went down this venture. But I think where a lot of this disconnect happens with indigenous culture is because people have this perception of what they learned in high school, and then have no way to connect to it. Because it’s just so different to it’s never put into, as I said, like me thinking about not being able to pass down the knowledge of dancing. Yeah, but he thinks about it in perspective to how it would affect them. Yeah, put it into their life. So a lot of people have the idea that Aboriginal art is dot paintings. And it’s not. There’s more to it. Yeah, there’s a lot more to it. There’s that’s one thing, one style. And I remember what I learned at high school kind of gave the perception that it was. And I don’t believe this, but it gave the perception that it was an education, an educated civilization. We never really learned about the complexity Yes, of the culture, which is what I’m trying to do with my design is raise awareness that he

 

Bryn Edwards 

wants, the subtlety, the laxity, that there’s more,

 

Leah Bennet 

it’s more than just paintings, all of the paintings have meaning. There’s all of the dreamtime stories, there’s all of the knowledge of bush medicine, there’s all of the years and years of that they worked out that certain mods could only marry other mobs so that they had created like a elite sort of that they had had healthy bloodlines. Because they saw that there was no crossing over. Yeah, it’s there’s so much more to it and there’s so much more that I know that I still have to learn

 

Bryn Edwards 

and there’s as I have found out recently through people I’ve spoken to on the podcast and things that I’ve done it was interesting you talking about you know, you contemporary performance and stuff is that I’ve learned that you know, language in words is only just one part of it. You know, there’s art song dance stories language Yeah. And and once I have started to engage with more that it’s given me more avenues. Yeah, and I’ve ever had in my life to express myself. Yeah, whether it’s Britain’s little doodle pad. Yeah. Nobody say, but I freely doodle in it. And they make sense to me. Yeah. Oh, oh, singing in the car. Yeah. You know by myself. Yeah. So. So it’s interesting when, you know, going back to where we were before you’re saying about all that sounds like a phase two thing. Yeah. That in and of itself, I can now begin to orientate is such a pent up lack of understanding of how to express and I think that’s such a lost opportunity. Yeah. Because then otherwise, it’s like, you know, just another Stark square building. Yeah, with some with some nice stuff in it. Right, as opposed to Whoa, what’s this have just stepped into?

 

Leah Bennet 

Yeah, so the biggest thing that I’m wanting to do as well as to have meaning behind the designs that actually raises awareness. So, for example, one of the one of the projects that I worked on for a school was just meant to be a mural. But the way that we did the mural was having the rainbow serpent coming down over the stairs. Yeah. So that from the front, it looks like it’s moving over the land, which is reflecting the story of how the rainbow serpent shaped the land. So it’s more than just art on the wall. It’s actually has the meaning behind it.

 

Bryn Edwards 

Yeah. So there’s again, yeah, the subtlety and nuance and complexity. All interwoven? Yeah. So you can access it at lots of different places. Yeah. Aside from your couple of disappointing projects, where they didn’t get, how is this generally been received? And surely, it was a fair bit of education. I mean, we’re having to have a conversation through our entire

 

Leah Bennet 

Um, I’ve been, there’s a lot of people that I’ve had very positive feedback from a lot of people and a lot of support. A lot of people have said, I love what you’re doing. But when it’s actually come time to engaging with projects, I think people are still a little bit scared of doing it the wrong way. And I think that that’s also

 

Bryn Edwards 

Yes. When you say the wrong way, what do you mean, the wrong way,

 

Leah Bennet 

as in, I think that a lot of people have the good intentions of wanting to have more cultural inclusion. But they’re either not sure how to they’re not sure how to approach the project. So for more teachers, I was talking to a few teachers, and they want to bring in more knowledge through their school, but I don’t know how, because there’s certain things that you have to be know God to teach you, then there’s certain things that then they like, well, I don’t really know understand what I can and what I can’t teach.

 

Bryn Edwards 

You don’t want to get it wrong, and you don’t want to get it wrong, modern day context of not offending people. Yeah. But then you can get lambasted for that.

 

Leah Bennet 

Yeah. And I think that there just needs to be, people need to kind of get over the fear of doing it wrong. And just realise that if you there’s so many people that you can reach out to that can do it, right. Because even with me, that I’m Aboriginal, I always when I’m working with artists, I always go back and I ask them, Is this okay, with how your arts being used? Are you happy for that? Has it changed how it’s going to be perceived, or anything like that before it goes through? So I think that if you are quite open, and just willing to reach out to either there’s a lot of people that do consultancy, that have a consultancy sort of business that can provide knowledge and provide direction. If you go about it in the right way, even if you sometimes fumble. Yeah, and do things where they are slightly. not correct. Or you you might I mean, you I think if you have the right intentions a lot of the time as well. But at the same time, you still need to ask for permission.

 

Bryn Edwards 

Yeah, yeah. Yeah. Yeah, I guess it comes back to doing it from the right place. Yeah. Yeah. Now I could understand how because going back to the question of how it’s been received, I can understand how there’s something there. Which is poorly many of us once were Yeah. From the outside this polling is because there is genuinely something bigger. Yeah. And then you want to know you want to be able to experience you want to

 

 

Yeah, involved. There’s

 

Leah Bennet 

I was gonna say it’s definitely more there’s more desire for it now. Like it’s, the support is growing and it’s a great time with To create time for it to happen, because there is that growing support and with schools, we’re seeing a lot more data, genuine dedication. And that’s the thing that I’m coming back to is like a genuine dedication rather than

 

Bryn Edwards 

talking tick box.

 

Leah Bennet 

Yeah, token tick box, which for me is even to some extent, I did a project and I had the some of the colours were ochres and colours of your land and that sort of thing. And then they wanted to go back to your red, black and yellow, and I was just cringing. bit more to it than that. Yeah. Because I’m like, it’s that’s just oh, that’s, that’s what we see is Aboriginal. It’s not, it’s then going, ignoring everything else. Yes, that’s all of your acres, and you bet oranges. And those sort of colours are more than your primary black, red and yellow. Whereas to me, that was just like a will include the colours of the flag so that it’s obviously Aboriginal, which is where I think that that we need to make sure that it’s obvious enough, is where its riches become striking is such a Western thing, or make it really obvious. Yeah, let’s make it really obvious, which is where it then becomes one tokenistic. And then everybody goes, Oh, I can’t relate to this. Yeah, that doesn’t understand anything, because they’re pretty. Yeah, pretty stark colours. Yeah. Yeah. I mean, I would never do an interior. Oh, yeah. But that’s where the shift is in. So I’m doing a bit of product design as well with saying, but I realised that there was this missed market. So one product can’t really talk about what the product is. Another product which is getting produced over in Sydney at the moment is a modular sofa, which I’ve created, which is based on the sevens Boomerang shape. So the reason that I did it around the sevens Boomerang is because it’s, I didn’t want it to be around the traditional Boomerang shape, because I wanted to make people aware that our there’s more than one Boomerang shape is this. Sorry. It’s kind of like that. Right? That sort of shape, right? Yeah. But yeah. So a lot of people have the perception that the boomerang is the same across all of Australia. And that’s the only Boomerang, but it’s not. And then I’ve worked with a indigenous artist as well, so that she’s created two art pieces, which we’ve done in three different colour ranges, we’ve got six fabric options as well. one’s quite contemporary, so it just has the symbol of human Oh, man. Yep. And then she’s done another one, which is more like your song lines and journeys. So that we’ve got the two different options there once a bit more traditional. One’s a bit more contemporary. But I lost my train of thought of where I was going with this. Um, what was I talking about before the site before I said, where I’m at so far, I’m

 

Bryn Edwards 

cocky. Normally, I’m following the sofa

 

Leah Bennet 

that needs to be obvious. So the reason that I did obvious, is I wanted it to be a patent that somebody thinks, oh, that’s really cool. And it’s a bit more of that graphic design sort of feel sorry. It’s like, I love that patent, love that print. And then they come up to it and approach and realise, ah, it’s an indigenous. Yeah, patent. Oh, whereas Yeah, I like it because of what it looks like. Yeah, I’m not buying it. Because it’s Aboriginal. Yeah, I’m buying it. Because it’s good. It’s good. And I would put it in my home rather than I need to. I need to go out to find that yes, to meet that criteria,

 

Bryn Edwards 

because then you’re entering into the market, like every other product. Without the How should I put it? The modern day political correctness you need to buy this? Yeah, cuz you’re in Australia. Yeah. Don’t you know? Yeah, you know?

 

Leah Bennet 

Yeah. Which is what I wanted to stay clear of. Yes. More like, Oh, I love that so far.

 

Bryn Edwards 

I love the sofa. I love the design. I love the print. But then it’s got this Oh, and it’s got this thing. Oh, that’s cool.

 

Leah Bennet 

So the story behind folds, yeah. is more of a added bonus to actually liking the product. Yeah, I think that there are a few products out there as well, where you do see your indigenous prints on it. But to me, it’s quite has that quite in your face? Which then a lot of people either feel like they can’t purchase it if they’re not Aboriginal. Yeah. Or they just don’t know how to relate to it because they’re like, well, I don’t understand the story. So I should just stay clear of it. And a lot of the time that is, which is not normal. Yeah. So you’re numa is a lot more of the lines, which is where a lot of the interior spaces that I’ve created. So for one of the rooms in the uppercross residence that I was working on, we, there was four bedrooms there, and we wanted each room to have its own story. And sorry, I had kind of had this crazy idea, which I didn’t really think was gonna fly. But I was working with my mentor Carrie and said, What if we did each room sort of around a different point in time sort of thing, because the house was a heritage home and it had this rich history. And the client was super supportive of restoring the house back to its former glory, and was really wanting to keep some of those heritage items through the home and in other areas that had kind of been stripped out a little bit. So this was a good opportunity for us to bring back some of that cultural side of it and the historical side of it. So for one of the rooms, we I came up with the idea of basing it around the indigenous history of the side, right, which being an apple cross was like a popular hunting area. And I came across a word duck, Noma artist, which is yandi, Shane Hansen. And I had seen one of his pieces, which his work is incredible. But it’s, it has that traditional feel, but it’s so applicable in a contemporary space uses a lot of black and white tones, right. So instead of putting it on the wall as a piece of art, we engaged to use it as a wallpaper instead. And then the rest of the room revolved around that wallpaper. Cool. Yep. So the colour palettes then as much as that was black and white, which I know I said we needed to move away from the black and white. We then drew on a lot more of the overtones through the bedding, the bedhead the rug and everything. So

 

Bryn Edwards 

earlier on, you talked about support from the the wider environment, the wider culture, community. Yeah, word I was looking for. And how was that come through? How have I found the support? Yeah. And how do they provide the support into this? I mean, let the one thing that springs to mind is that interior design is a quite modern, yeah, thing. Yeah. Whereas what we’re talking about here is a culture that’s, you know, 60 80,000 years old. Yeah. So we’re talking about something that’s just turned up in the last 50 6070 8090 100 years? If you look at it, so how does that translate and help what you’re doing? I think

 

Leah Bennet 

given the timing of everything, as in that there is a lot more desire for cultural inclusion, a lot of Aboriginal artists that have worked in traditional art forms, and more contemporary pieces are seeing that this is an opportunity to get their art out there. And to put it on to different mediums rather than just art. Because there’s also there’s a, there’s a lot of amazing Aboriginal artists out there. And I think that the ones that are willing to give themselves a point of difference, willing to do so because that will help them. Yes, the business side of it.

 

Bryn Edwards 

Yeah, yeah. Yeah. Yeah.

 

Leah Bennet 

And then, I guess a lot of the other, I’ve done a lot of networking I’ve been so at the side of the year was when I first went out on my own. Before that I was working part time with carding construction, which is an Aboriginal construction company. So I made a lot of good connections through them and was able to get in front of a lot of the right people doing proposals and stuff like that, so that people were kind of becoming aware of what I’m doing. I’m also planning on doing a business launch in a few months, so that I can actually put my face out there and say, This is what I’m doing, because I know that I have received a lot of support, but I know that there’s a lot of people that have probably come across me a little bit too late in their project. Yes. It’s like, Oh, I wish I knew that. That’s what you did. Yeah, sorry. I just need to get in front of them sooner.

 

Bryn Edwards 

What would be the ideal project for you?

 

Leah Bennet 

I would love to do which this is really funny because when I was at uni, I was like, that would be boring. And now I’m in the industry. Yeah, me The industry and I would love to do a hotel. Yes. For me at uni. That’s just a room after room boring, same, same thing. But there’s, I think doing a high end luxury hotel with indigenous culture would be amazing. Because there’s off the top of my head, there’s not really a hotel that is embedded with culture, InDesign, or it’s not just art on the walls, and for tourists coming from overseas. So

 

Bryn Edwards 

yeah, I still

 

Leah Bennet 

see at some retails where there’s kind of Asian design elements through our hotels here. You want to come here and experience our culture. When I go overseas, I want to go overseas and experience that culture. Yeah, I know, some people like to go to Bali and feel like they’re in Australia still and sit by the pool drinking cocktails, which is not really Bali. But yeah. majority of people want to go overseas and experience the culture of that place that they’re in. And I think that, sadly, there’s a lot of appreciation for indigenous culture overseas, but not here. As in I say that as in sadly, because it’s appreciated more over there than it is here.

 

Bryn Edwards 

But wouldn’t it be fantastic if the, you know, the indigenous culture through things like you’re doing? Yeah, as you said, you know, you could go to an Asian themed. Yeah. Hotel here in Perth. Yeah, it was vice versa. And, yeah, we started exporting more than just, you know, sport, neighbours. cheap wine and beer. Yeah, yeah. What’s

 

Leah Bennet 

I probably guilty of this as well. But a lot of there is a lot of tourist companies as well that offer your indigenous experiences. And they probably a lot of overseas, Asian European people, do those experiences more so than someone from Perth going to Shark Bay or going to a broom or whatever? Yeah, I need to find the time to do that. I’ve been meaning

 

 

to travel at the moment.

 

Bryn Edwards 

True. True, but then he does touch back on. Yeah. Some of the things that were talking about earlier on, which is even if you wanted to, how do you access that? Yeah. How did you not get it wrong? Yeah. You know, that, that can leave you in a real light? I’ve experienced that. Yeah. Yeah. Huh. Huh.

 

 

And

 

Bryn Edwards 

just sort of coming out of? Well, it’s as a consequence of your work, but out of the work as a direct focus, how has the process of creating your design company and doing the work that you’ve done? How does that further your knowledge of your ancestry and your background? Yeah. Which obviously you didn’t know about? Yeah, till later in life? What have you taken from that as for you as a person? I the question. Good question. Mmm hmm. It’s been

 

Leah Bennet 

probably, up until recently, I didn’t realise how passionate and how much drive I had about this. Up until, because I think until you experience some of the setbacks, as I said, like with those meetings, and just the mindset, I didn’t really gauge how far we still have to go. And I mean, I haven’t experienced racism myself, because I’m white. But yeah, I’ve been in the industry, but just become aware of that there is a big difference between somebody who has that genuine desire to do better and do different and other people that meeting a criteria because they have to. Yeah, or aren’t meeting the criteria at all? Yeah, sorry. That’s kind of been the biggest eye opener I guess for me. For me being in the industry. As a and the process of developing my business, it’s been a big challenge because there hasn’t really been anybody who is doing what I’m doing. Yeah, for me to kind of look at them for Inspiration or direction, I’ve been finding my own way along the way, which a lot of I guess, has been good in the sense of where I’ve found my inspiration has come from cultural knowledge, more so than looking at Pinterest. or looking at what other designers are doing. Yeah. So that’s, it’s been a challenge, setting out my business kind of going through it blindly. And but I’ve been surrounded by some amazing mentors, which have kind of helped me have, as I said, I’ve got Carrie Allen, who’s my business mentor, and Dwayne who’s kind of helped me with how to look at things differently. And then also lucky that I’ve got Barry in my corner who helps me with a lot of the cultural side of it. And the artists that I’ve worked with have been super supportive as well. So I mentioned Shane before. The artist that I worked with for the sofa was Buffy. Corona. So she’s actually from Albania, her family’s from Alberni way as well. So yeah, so I’ve been lucky that I’ve been surrounded by people who’ve kind of believed in the direction that I’ve been going. But it’s been difficult working out where I need to pitch my market to. And in the beginning, I was kind of going more towards commercial because I thought that the commercial projects would have the opportunity to do a lot more bigger scale. But so many commercial projects are so driven by budget and time that it doesn’t really allow for. It doesn’t really allow for the timing of Okay, well, how can we gain some stories from this specific site, then we need to do a bit more research into how we can bring that into design and create that from the beginning and kind of cuts itself short a little bit there in terms of the timing with the strict Yeah, timelines that they have to meet the deadlines, but, and I thought, Oh, this is probably not going to be as popular in a residential environment. But then as I was saying, with that wallpaper project that I worked on, I was a little bit hesitant with that I didn’t really think that it would be so well received, but I’ve had so much positive feedback for that. And I think that when it’s put into a residential setting as well, because it’s somebody’s home, that they it’s more than just a, they’re not doing it for the criteria to actually do. Yeah, they’re actually doing it because they genuinely want something that’s meaningful.

 

Bryn Edwards 

Yeah. And I guess, drawing on a few data points throughout this discussion, your background in art, yeah. And wanting to bring culture in. And and, you know, one of the things that shines through is that you’re, that you’re trying to create a response and emotional response. So therefore, there can be a connection. Yeah. So therefore, I guess, just on on a logical basis, it’s not surprising that somebody in their own home, and it’s an actual person that Yeah, buying your work. Yeah. will connect with it? Because an organisation is a memetic. entity? Yeah, it’s it’s not a person. Yeah, it’s, it’s, you know, this. This is the one thing that that surprises me how surprised people get when companies and fire in companies and institutions don’t act like people, because they’re not people. And the netic, you know, they remain they’re made up, they don’t really exist any great. They don’t exist, because we agreed that they should exist. Yeah, a company. And so therefore, there is no real heart and soul in it. You know, it’s there for financial gains. Yeah. Which is why you’ll have time and budgets and things like that. So you have to probably find a couple of unless you find elements working through this unless you find the actual owner of the company. And then you actually deal with the person rather than the entity itself. It’s always going to be a bit of a trouble, isn’t it? Yeah. Yeah, I’ve had this just as a completely different but I had this in the early part of my career with a background in business psychology, I’m trying to relate with people, then you relate with the organisation about the people, but the organisation isn’t a person. Yeah.

 

Leah Bennet 

Yeah, it’s funny, because as designers, where a lot of people their point of difference, or through their ethos will say that they’re people driven. Yes on is that they design is driven around what the person wants, but there’s a big difference as well between the client and the end user. A lot of the time Yeah, commercial settings. 100%. Yeah. Which is where I guess what I’m doing is probably a lot more suitable in residential setting.

 

Bryn Edwards 

Yeah, well, the hotel Yeah. Yeah, well that’s different. Yeah. You’re doing with people. Yeah. within an organisation that end user comes under the auspices of Human Resources. Yeah. And listen to that now. Lovely, isn’t it? Human Resources? So given your and depth of nuanced field of knowledge of design and spaces and how they’re put together, how is it for layer as you walk through Perth generally? Like going to different places? And and and see the different design that you interact with? on a day to day basis? How does How is that for you? Well, you’re obviously attuned to something that up until this conversation, I wasn’t

 

Leah Bennet 

everything, everything in your life. Yeah. has been designed by somebody and a lot of people I think exception

 

Bryn Edwards 

of nature.

 

Leah Bennet 

Yes. Which I think a lot of people forget that. Yeah. Because it’s just, you never Well, there’s a little saying you don’t always notice good design, but you always notice bad design. Yes. Yeah, yes. Which, I think Perth has a lot of potential. There’s a reason that after step, after graduating, I stay in Perth. A lot of interior designers go over to Sydney and Melbourne. Yeah, but I think part of that was growing up as a dancer was like, if you’re ever going to do anything with your career, you have to leave Perth. And the only reason that that’s true is because everybody that then goes into the industry leaves Perth. Like somebody needs to stay here and make purchase the centre of design or the centre of dance or whatever it is, because you’re the second person to have said that the last one was a previous

 

Bryn Edwards 

guest just recently. Yeah. Who’s a comedian? Yeah. She said the same thing as soon as she got half good. Everyone said when you go to Melbourne and Sydney, she stayed here. Yeah, she’s awesome.

 

Leah Bennet 

Yeah, because I don’t know. I think Perth is underrated in a lot of ways. I love the bar scene in Perth. From when I was 1819. Every time there was a new bar popping up, my friend and I would be let’s go check it out. And there’s so many different styles of bars in the city. That’s ever there’s so many that have a unique little field where you walk in, you feel like you’re going into a completely different space like an Alice in Wonderland theme, one one that’s bash, which is like a 1920s. Late one, which is not one of my favourites. But there, there is the potential here. I mean, perfectly has been. I don’t know how long back this was. But I remember reading in an article that it was in the top. Okay, don’t quote me on this because this is a well, yeah. But in the top 15 cities to visit for food and beverage in terms of the restaurants and bars scene in Perth, which, when I first went into design, I wanted to do bars. I wanted to do restaurants, I still would love to do restaurants with a decent budget and timeline. But yeah, I think that there’s a huge opportunity here in Perth to really make some big design changes. And we are some impactful designs. I should say. There’s Yeah, there’s a lot of potential and opportunity here. It’s just having, I guess, the funds to support it. But

 

Bryn Edwards 

yeah, and the drive. Yeah. And the correctement collective commitment. Yeah. I mean, I’ve seen a couple of the older, older pictures, and this used to be Art Deco Central. Yeah,

 

Leah Bennet 

I was just gonna say one of the things that happened with COVID is a few projects that I was working on, which it’s very frustrating because even projects here in Perth, then get outsourced to places in Melbourne and Sydney, on companies in Melbourne and Sydney. But because of COVID they weren’t able to come and do site visits and site measures and that sort of things. And they were then engaging with Perth designers just to do that phase of the project with them. But I think that when that all happened, it kind of made a lot of the a lot of your clientele think, ah, there’s this whole industry here that’s capable of doing what I’m outsourcing to Melbourne and Sydney and I, I think that we just need to stop sending work over there and invest in the design industry here. Which if COVID has taught us anything it’s need to invest in your own backyard.

 

Bryn Edwards 

Yes. Yeah. I really like that. Yeah, investing in something other than monetizing molecules. Yeah. Which we seem to be very good at. They’re digging stuff up and sending it overseas. Yes. Yep. And

 

Leah Bennet 

One of the things that kind of stuck with me as well, early in my career was, went to a design, product launch. And it was with a German designer. And they were asking him questions like this. And he was sitting and looking at the table, and there was a arrangement of native flowers. And he was just looking at this flower. And then halfway through, he’s like, this is amazing. And I think it was a PTA or whatever there. Yeah, yeah. He’s like, I would I’ve never seen a flower like this. How is this a flower? And he was just amazed by this flower and thinking about all of these design things that he could do from this flower that is nowhere in Germany. But we see it so often that we probably don’t realise, but we’ve gotten our own in here and wi

 

Bryn Edwards 

Yeah, yeah. Got has been one of the benefits of COVID staying. Yeah. Yeah. Not having people coming in and people going out. Hmm. The last question I asked all my guests, she’s a hypothetical one by always enjoy listening to different people’s answers, is, if I could just chill everyone out, like everyone on the planet for 10 minutes. And then Leah could pop a question into the collective consciousness. So everybody just sat down quietly and thought about it. What would that be?

 

Leah Bennet 

Quite a broad question. But just how can we do things differently? Because then I think if everyone kind of asked that question, no matter what industry they were in, how can we do things differently? For better?

 

Bryn Edwards 

Not just for the sake of,

 

Leah Bennet 

for the sake of it for better? Yeah. Because I think if everyone stopped and asked, asked themselves that, things could be a lot different.

 

Bryn Edwards 

Mm hmm. I could see how that would come up for you. Because you really are dealing with some of the deeper frames of reference that people yeah, hold, and sell them go down to investigate and check in with to see if they’re serving them.

 

Leah Bennet 

Yeah, yeah. And it is kind of breaking down that existing process to push in the way that I want to do things. I feel things should be done strong.

 

Bryn Edwards 

strikes me that the designing is that easy part of your job.

 

Leah Bennet 

That just comes to the writing of everyone’s runs, like soon as I go into, I’m going to make my own business, because I’m really good at this. And I’m really passionate about it. And then you realise that that’s 20% of your job. And then you become the accountant, you become the business developer, all of this extra stuff that you need to do all the time. It’s, it’s been a huge, huge learning curve, and a lot of personal growth has come out of running your own business as well. Because as much as you’re constantly reflecting on Okay, what’s working, not working in the business? It’s okay, what’s working and not working for me?

 

 

Yes. With how I work? Yes. Yeah.

 

Bryn Edwards 

What’s stressing you out? Yeah, you’re anxious? Yeah,

 

Leah Bennet 

that’s definitely the design side of it is the more easy. It’s all of the things to get to the big, big goals. That’s the hard side of it, which, which is well, just changing the mindset of how Aboriginal culture is included in contemporary design.

 

Bryn Edwards 

I’ve really enjoyed talking to you today. Thank you. I’ve really enjoyed this as well. It’s been good. I didn’t realise that I could talk so much. I suspected it was. And if people want to reach out and connect with you, how do they do that?

 

Leah Bennet 

So I’m on LinkedIn, which is my name Leah, Bennett’s li li h b. Dublin at one T. Yep. uncommon spelling. I’m also on Instagram, which is Leah page designs.

 

Bryn Edwards 

And page being your middle name.

 

Leah Bennet 

Yes. Page being my middle name. And then Facebook is the same way a page designs and I’ve got my website as well, which is www page. designs.com.

 

Bryn Edwards 

Awesome. I look forward to doing another conversation with you in years to come. Yeah, that will be. That will be good. Yeah. Let’s set a date. Yeah. 24 months from now I want to hear. I want to say more and hear more. Yeah. Hopefully I’ll be able to say See, that’d be project over there. Yeah, that’s me. Excellent. Thanks so much for time. Thanks. It’s nice to meet you.

Leave a Comment