Monday, 18 April 2016


While Michael Liira has a strong appreciation for Swedish design, which has informed his working life for the past 16 years, his connection to that country is a personal one too. His mother’s family fled Estonia just before WWII and moved to the southern city of Helsingborg. His grandfather worked for the Swedish Merchant Navy while his grandmother made tennis shoes for the Swedish shoe brand Tretorn. “My grandparents always spoke very fondly about their time in Sweden, and this is where my love for Scandinavia began,” Michael says. While he was born in Australia, after studying science at university, with a major in marketing, he started Scandinavium with business partner Joel Schuberg in 2000 with a focus on importing Scandinavian design products.

In 2007 he began a new chapter in his relationship to Scandinavia, starting the furniture and homewares distribution business Fred International. It is a venture with his wife Melissa Walker who he met during the process of establishing the brand. She has extensive experience in advertising, after graduating with a degree in communications at the University of Canberra in 1994. Since launching they have established strong relationships with interior designers and architects while maintaining a retail presence too.

The latest incarnation for the brand is a new 200 square metre showroom in Sydney’s Rosebery. “With the new space we feel we are starting to give people a glimpse into what’s been in our heads for so long,” Melissa says. “We’ve known for years we wanted to build something with integrity and longevity. It takes time to form partnerships and relationships with the companies you represent and clients you sell to.”

Next up, they hope to open a showroom in Melbourne. 

Which five words best describe you?
Michael: Passionate, thankful, funny, relaxed, dad.

Melissa: Passionate, collaborative, organised, Paleo (in theory).

How did you get your career start and what path have you taken since?
Michael: In early 2000, myself and a business partner, Joel Schuberg, began importing clothing from Sweden and Denmark. We were the first to introduce brands such Acne and cult denim brand Psycho Cowboy to the Australian and New Zealand markets. Being in Scandinavia regularly we gained a further appreciation for Scandinavian design. In the mid 2000s we moved away from the clothing industry to focus on furniture from Scandinavia. In 2007 I started Fred International. It has been a long process and we are now seeing the rewards for our hard work. There are excited times ahead for Fred International.

Melissa: Working in advertising, which taught me organisation, how to multitask and deal - or not - with people. I was always good at balancing the books and getting things done so although I’ve gone down that path I’ve managed to get myself as close to the creative process as I can. I love working with talented creatives and seeing the possibilities and the outcomes.

What’s the best lesson you’ve learnt along the way?
Michael: It has been said before, trust your instincts.

Melissa: You need to go with your gut instincts. You need to make strategic decisions, stick to them and keep moving forward. That you never give up. You just have to work through the hard times.

What’s your proudest career achievement?
Michael: As we have just recently opened our new showroom in Sydney, so opening the new showroom. We have created a space that makes you feel like you are in a Scandinavian apartment.

Melissa: Running two successful businesses and being a mum I’ve - somehow - finally managed the achieve a work/life balance with a bit of travel thrown in for good measure. 

What’s been your best decision?
Michael: To align Fred International with the best manufacturers and designers in Scandinavia.

Melissa: Having Ella.

Who inspires you?
Michael: My wife Melissa Walker. She is an amazing business women. She always has views on business strategy different to mine. She is always right.

Melissa: Getting to work with immensely talented people who inspire you everyday. From the Scandinavian designers we represent to the Australian architects, interior designers and stylist who are literally incredible at what they do. 

What are you passionate about?
Michael: Obviously Scandinavian design, my wine cellar and our beautiful daughter Ella.
Melissa: To be able to surround myself with beautiful design. I truly believe your life is uplifted when you are surrounded by beautiful things whether it’s furniture, art, fashion, food or people and places. 

Which person, living or dead, would you most like to meet?
Michael: American modernist architect Pierre Koenig. I made contact with Pierre via email in 2002 and started conversations about drawing up plans for a home in Sydney. He was very excited because he did not have a house that he had designed and built in Australia. Pierre died in 2004 and regrettably the project never went ahead.

Melissa: How do you chose? I’d probably go for a strong creative woman like Coco Chanel.

What dream do you still want to fulfill?
Michael: To begin construction of our new home in Manly with interiors designed by Dana Tomic Hughes from Studio Yellowtrace. The brief was to “design something that has not been seen before”. From what we have shown so far, Dana has fulfilled the brief.

Melissa: Working with our favourite Australian interior designer, and friend, Dana Tomic Hughes to renovating our Manly home, which we’ve been planning for nearly five years now. We should be done by 2020.

What are you reading?
Michael: Mr Men books to our daughter Ella.

Melissa: For me - The life-changing magic of tidying up by Marie Kondo and for Ella - anything with princesses and fairies.

images courtesy of fred international; photography felix forest

Monday, 11 April 2016


Elena Martorella has always had an interest in interiors, art and design. But it was when she began to teach herself how to create macramé wall hangings that she started a bigger journey. “I would describe myself as a crafter, however, I don’t like to limit myself to one title,” she says. At the moment creating these wall hangings is something that she enjoys and has found a fast audience for her business Three Queens Interiors, which is based on the Mornington Peninsula in Victoria. “I love that there is no limit with what you can do with it,” Elena says. But she finds that the act of creation becomes a learning tool too - for her next creation and her big-picture business. “I was always incredibly cautious showing people my art for fear that they may not like it,” she says. However, the overwhelming positive feedback has given her impetus to start plans for upcoming ranges, which includes wall art and hand-painted linens.

Which five words best describe you? Fun, loving, creative, carefree and kind.

How did you get your career start and what path have you taken since? Being a stay-at-home mum for six years allowed a lot of time for brainstorming, creating and planning. I also teamed up with a friend and we sold some of our handmade homewares at local markets. The feedback from people was great and gave me the drive to set up a website for online sales. I have a big sketch book of ideas. I am still figuring it all out as I go along. I am having fun with it and seeing what happens.    

What’s the best lesson you’ve learnt along the way? Believe in yourself! I wish I started this earlier and didn’t let fear hold me back for so long. A quote I live by is from the amazing Diane Von Furstenberg - “When you doubt your power, you give power to your doubts.”

What’s your proudest career achievement? My proudest achievement was my first sale. It gave me the confidence and drive to keep going. I am also proud to see my work displayed in shop fronts and stocked in shops. 

What’s been your best decision? To approach stylists and people in the field, asking them for advice, drilling them with questions and gifting them my art work. The somewhat “gamble” has paid off. I have found there are some amazingly nice people out there who generally want to help out. Approaching people has opened doors I didn’t think would open for me.  

Who inspires you? So many people inspire me - mostly all are women who are strong, creative, independent and successful. Such people include Samantha Wills - I love how she made a jewellery-making hobby selling pieces at markets into the huge success it is today. Actually, just recently, one of her pieces that my dear husband bought me was used as my inspiration for a custom piece. 

What are you passionate about? Making and having quality time for family and friends. Making the most out of our time on this earth. 

Which person, living or dead, would you most like to meet? Too many to choose. Dead: Michelangelo - seeing his paintings in Rome at the Sistine Chapel took my breath away. Alive: Diane Von Furstenberg. Creator of the iconic wrap dress. The comeback she made to her label. I think she is amazing. 

What dream do you still want to fulfil? To travel see and experience the world with my girls.

What are you reading? I’m more of a magazine person. I love them for their images. I have loads of unread home magazines that I need to catch up on.

images courtesy of three queens interiors

Monday, 4 April 2016


“As soon as I started making art, I never questioned it,” Antonia Mrljak says. “I didn’t take it for granted either; I understood it as a gift that had to be committed to.” But it took a while for the Sydney-based artist to make the transition from her former career as a fashion stylist. While she started showing her work in 2008, it wasn’t until 2010 that she started a Diploma in Fine Arts; currently she is in her third year of a Bachelor of Visual Arts at Sydney College of the Arts. However, Antonia was brought up in a culture of making, growing and building, she says. “Creating has always been present in my life.”

“My turning point came when my frustration was overshadowed by my ideas, life at home resulted in a major realisation: I am, at my core, an artist, I had rejected this idea long ago,” Antonia says. “I didn’t realise that by dismissing the art as a career option, I had dismissed my own identity.”

Since focussing on her art practice, Antonia has been approached by Sarah O'Neil [read her interview here] of Small Spaces to represent her art. And most recently she has created a selection of works to exhibit in a show with friend and fellow creative, photographer Maree Homer [interview here]. The joint exhibition, Dwell, focuses on what it means to be in a space. The duo met when they were teenagers, working for retailer David Jones. Antonia was an assistant fashion stylist while Maree was a darkroom assistant in the advertising department. Dwell is showing at Sheffer Gallery in Sydney’s Darlington until April 9.

Which five words best describe you? Open, resilient, optimistic, zealous and ready.

How did you get your career start and what path have you taken since? My dear friend Carol came to my home one day after years of being unable to ground myself proposing painting as a mechanism of change. Painting has been integral in my life catapulting a journey of discovery, mentoring, teaching and creating and I am forever grateful for this.

What’s the best lesson you’ve learnt along the way? That through the processes of art and motions of life, the people and experiences that you gather are insurmountable.

What’s your proudest career achievement? One that stands out was when I created an educational program - Exhibition practice - for the Juniperina Juvenile Justice Centre, a centre for high-risk girls 18 years and under. I was allocated a group of girls and we created drawings, paintings and made ceramics with two other artists Jodie and Peter who volunteered. The collaboration and outcome was wonderful. An exhibition space only for the girls was created, leaving them with a sense of accomplishment and to exhibit the art works on that day. It was an emotional experience especially when I think about the girls and their circumstances.

What’s been your best decision? To go to university. There is so much to learn about in this world, and university gave me the tools to educate myself. I worked hard because my parents worked hard and I sincerely value that lesson from them. I am getting an education because I want to broaden my prospects and become an empowered and positive role model for my children.

Who inspires you? Garry Foye has been my mentor over the years and has never said never, the man can hardly walk, but he still paints and creates whenever he can. Another person would be Nanyce Emerson, a senior stylist at David Jones. She is such an elegant woman and was someone who was insightful and motivating as I entered into fashion at a young age. Anyone that tries, in any field, to make a difference to other people’s lives can be influential.

What are you passionate about? Paul, my husband, all of our family and friends, making and makers, community and culture, sharing and giving back, traditions and food, our habitat, education, human rights, mentoring youth, fulfilling goals, beautiful things; this list isn’t exhaustive but my passions stretch far and wide and support my undying passion for art. 

Which person, living or dead, would you most like to meet? I would love to talk to family members who have passed on. I don’t think our conversations were ever long enough, and David Byrne - he is such a cool human.

What dream do you still want to fulfil? I am always dreaming of making and creating and traveling to the fullest potential, I yearn to always make and exhibit and give back.

What are you reading? I speed read - I find a good book and with four kids to take care of my head hits the pillow before I get a chance to slow down and read. Most recently I’ve read Gaston Bachelard’s Poetics of Space, and I need a copy of Stravinsky’s Lunch - I really want to read it, but it’s hard to get a hold of.

images courtesy of antonia mrljak; photography maree homer


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