Travel informs the work of up-and-coming design duo Yasmine Ghoniem and Katy Svalbe as much as it does their life. They are sisters - half-sisters, in fact - who formed the firm Amber Road Design in April 2013, bringing with them skills and experience in the areas of interior design and landscape architecture, respectively. Their story is an interesting one, and begins with their parents. They have the same mother, but different fathers. Yasmine was born in Kuwait, and has lived there and in Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Australia and Dubai, as well as America, where she attended university and worked in the interior design industry. On her return to Australia, she reconnected with Katy, who had been living and working in Madrid for six years. Just before heading to Europe for a month, they shared the rest of their story:
YASMINE GHONIEM, INTERIOR DESIGNER
Which five words best describe you? Animated, passionate, honest, driven, a dreamer.
How did you get your career start and what path have you taken since? After graduating from the Savannah College of Art and Design in the States I drove across the country in my very run down red station wagon and landed in Portland, Oregon. I worked with several architectural practices as an illustrator (despite having a BFA in Interior Design) for three years until I got itchy feet and decided I'd go travelling for a year. I did six months of volunteer work in Kenya and Vietnam and loved it, but ran out of money so was forced to make a decision as to where I wanted to plant my seeds. I was at a crossroads when I returned to Sydney in 2007. I had been globetrotting, uprooting and relocating for most of my life, so coming home was like visiting a new country in a way. I worked with a small design studio for 18 months initially and quickly realised I wanted to open my own practice. In 2008, I started working solo until my sister Katy moved back from Madrid in 2011. We worked together on an exciting brief for a project in Shanghai, which reignited our desire to collaborate. In April 2013 we launched Amber Road, finally combining both our disciplines; interior design and landscape architecture; a dream that had been in the making since we were kids.
What’s the best lesson you’ve learnt along the way? Perseverance. Stick it out and the goods will come.
What’s your proudest career achievement? Keeping a small business afloat for two years. It's been one hell of a ride so far. It's hard work, but I wouldn't change it for the world.
What’s been your best decision? Taking the plunge into the unknown and working for myself, with Katy.
Who inspires you? Tim Jenison, a Texas-based inventor is my most recent source of inspiration. I just saw that movie Tim's Vermeer, and I gotta say he's one dedicated and focused man.
What are you passionate about? Music, community and more music.
Which person, living or dead, would you most like to meet? Frida Kahlo, for sure. Or David Bowie, for the living.
What dream do you still want to fulfil? If I told you, I'd have to kill you. Let's just say it has something to do with changing the way we live.
What are you reading? Tracks, Steve Jobs and Grace Coddington - I love bios, and about to start my mate’s book Here come the dogs by Omar Musa.
KATY SVALBE, LANDSCAPE ARCHITECT
Which five words best describe you? Curious, passionate, grateful, thought-full, on-a-mission.
How did you get your career start and what path have you taken since? Post completing a Bachelor of Landscape Architecture at the University of Western Australia, my career commenced working at a large interdisciplinary firm Hassell, Sydney, devising long-term visions for the hectares of parklands surrounding the Sydney Olympic Village at Homebush. Post Hassell, I became one of the founding team of Sydney's most respected landscape firms Aspect Studios, and helped build that once small company from the ground up.
Six years into professional life, itchy feet got the better of me and I spent a year globetrotting; visiting my family, which at that time was spread between Egypt, Europe and the States, absorbing landscape projects I had always wanted to visit, and working in London. It was during this trip that I went to visit my sister, who at the time was finishing off her studies in Savannah, Georgia. Whilst walking around the site, that was to become the focus of her final project, the seed of working together was planted - although it took another 10 years to take root!
Post my year of globetrotting, I returned to Sydney, and picked up where I left off at Aspect Studios, before getting a craving for some more significant life/work experience overseas, which took me to Madrid, Spain. Here I had the opportunity to do both some freelance work as well as work for one of Madrid's largest landscape practices. Projects ranged from designing public spaces and street furniture for a new city that was emerging on the outskirts of the city, just near Madrid airport, the design of the garden rooms associated with the Spanish Ambassdor's quarters in Canberra Australia - who would have dreamt! - to the design and construction of a garden installation in Bilbao, northern Spain.
Six years later, hungry to reunite with family and put my diverse life and professional experience to the test, I came back home to Sydney. At this moment the Amber Road journey commenced.
What’s the best lesson you’ve learnt along the way? Trust your instincts, generally your first idea is the right one.
What’s your proudest career achievement? Starting a business with my sister.
What’s been your best decision? Returning home, putting down roots and embracing all this glorious city and country has to offer.
Who inspires you? Michael Reynolds - father of the Earthship movement.
What are you passionate about? Art, design, music, permaculture, all things landscape.
Which person, living or dead, would you most like to meet? Dead - Hundertwasser. Alive - Mike Patton.
What dream do you still want to fulfil? Self sufficiency - amongst community.
What are you reading? Getting ready for 10 days in Berlin - Anna Funder's Stasiland.