Slobodanka Graham


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Expert advice: how to design beautifully and travel sustainably

Expert advice: how to design beautifully and travel sustainably


Beautiful design and light travel

This week I interview Maria Filardo, Canberra Architect, Interior Designer and light traveller.

Listen at Planepack radio as we chat about architecture, design and style.

Expert advice from one of Canberra's architects

Slobodanka: Hello, Planepack listeners and readers. Welcome to another episode. I'm sitting here on quite a cool, Canberra summer's morning, in the lovely Orange Patisserie in Manuka and I'm joined by Maria Filardo. Welcome!

Maria Filardo, architect, demonstrates to Planepack how she'd build a smart and sustainable house.

Maria: Good morning. Thank you.

Slobodanka: So, you are an architect and an interior designer. Please tell us what that means, and can you describe for the listeners the difference in these disciplines.

Maria: Ah. Okay. So, being qualified in both architecture and an interior design, I think the simplest way to explain it would be ... Interiors do, obviously, just the internal parts of the building. So, if we're looking at this building here for example, I would do things like: shop fitouts, bathrooms, kitchens, look at things like the layout of things of space, lighting of course would be another consideration. All the things that you sort of feel, look and touch is what you would do for interiors in addition to the layout for it.

A Filardo house interior

A Filardo house interior

For architecture, you look at the shell of a building, how sits on site. Also, how it looks within a block, within a city. So, sometimes you can extend beyond and then go into event planning as well, of architecture. So, the architecture is like a mass of everything, whereas interior is more about the space internally. And, the two can blend together. And so, what it means for my work is that I can do a complete building. I don't need to have anyone else look at the internals for me. I can do that. Yes, part of the package, which is I think is a more holistic way of dealing with a project and delivering for a client. And, I think it makes it a lot easier for them, rather than having to engage in different professions along the way.

Slobodanka: Perfect. So, I read a recent article in Homes Canberra, which stated you provided services from start to finish. And, they listed them as: concept sketches, design, documentation, council approvals, and interior designs. Which for you, is the most challenging?

Maria: I think each stage has its own challenges, but dealing with councils, like, had to be the most challenging. Simply because you're trying to deliver for a client, a particular vision with their work and for the design, but then also you have a whole sets of rules that you need to comply with. And so, sometimes you need to break those rules, and it's a question of how you can try and massage your way, shall we say, through that to get a positive outcome for the client, but still then complies to a degree to council regulations. So, that can be a challenging component behind it. Yeah.

Slobodanka: That's your dependency on other people then as well, I guess.

Maria: Yes. Yes. Yeah, and tryna get that across the line.

Slobodanka: Now, your portfolio ranges from residential architecture through hospitality, and even into retail design. And, I was drawn to your hospitality designs particularly Rye Café and Western Basement. What was your brief for those?

Maria: Oh, okay. So with Rye that was ... The clients wants Scandinavian. So, they wanted to put a Scandinavian feel. And, that was the basic brief for it. So, we just kept it very clean, very pure. A lot of sort of - white timbers was the approach. And, just also it was nice that it was a completely different approach to a lot your cafés, which are going for the industrial look. Yeah, That was the premise for that café there, which is basic Scandinavian, which was unique to Canberra, which was lovely. So, that was a great project.

Slobodanka: Yeah.

Rye Café - Filardo design

Rye Café - Filardo design

Maria: And then, Western Basement the ... It was a while ago now. So, the brief for that ... that was ... Because it was a basement, they wanted it to feel sort of dark and dingy and it's a thing that you sort of really ... The entry points ... There's a structure. As you enter to that really compressing people that go down and enter the space. So, it's about really hardening that feeling. So, that was the main emphasis for that, and then just extending in terms of all the materials inside of that. A great deal of that was recycled. So, a lot of the furniture for example was recycled. The use of materials throughout were basically repurposed, which was really nice. It was very few that was just shiny and brand new in the space.

Western Basement - Filardo design

Western Basement - Filardo design

Slobodanka: Wonderful. Wonderful. And, I just love that you're doing retail design, revamping the corner grocery store and the butcher.

Maria: Yes.

Slobodanka: So, can you tell us a bit about CBD Butcher, Tom Superfruits and Fruitylicious, because they all look absolutely amazing, I have to tell you from the photos I saw.

Maria: Aw, thank you. So, with all three project, kinda always come to the same, "We want a point of difference," and, "How do you achieve that?" And, I think in retail there's a great shift in terms of the daggy feel. It just doesn't cut the mustard anymore. People think these days. Are a little fussier. So you really need to have an edge to things.

CBD Butchery - Filardo design

CBD Butchery - Filardo design

So with the butcher, we took the approach of: let's treat this like a little jewellery box. It's something precious. Really, like I mean, these animals have sacrificed their lives for us. Let's just honour that in a beautiful little fit out, which is really what that was. So, that's how that was our approach for that one there, for the butchery.

And then, for Fruitylicious, that was something that's a little bit more artistic and more fun. Have quite a colourful logo with that. Again, it was about displaying the fruit like they're works of art themselves, as well. Then hence, the displays and being suspended in mid-air.

Tom Superfruits - Filardo design

Tom Superfruits - Filardo design

And then, there was Tom Superfruits. And again, that was a fairly modest approach to it. Just revamping it without taking away the essence of this supermarket, because again it belongs in the market. So, they wanted it to be authentic and true about. So, it was just like polishing the edge of it, to make it shiny enough for people to enter to want to be in this space, but then not yet attract from what the body of that business was, and what clients know and love when they enter.

Slobodanka: I was struck by the lights in the one. I forget which one it was, but there was sort of they looked very 2001 space odd-ish. That was what I thought.

Maria: Ah. That was at Fruitylicious.

Fruitylicious - Filardo design

Fruitylicious - Filardo design

Slobodanka: Yes.

Maria: So, that's the one where the fruit was suspended that we're celebrating each piece of fruit.

Slobodanka: Yeah, it's just beautiful. It's really those lovely touches that make it worthwhile employing an architect, I would say. So our listeners might be wondering, "What does architecture and design have to do with travelling light?" Well, in my mind they're both about style and caring for the Earth. So, let's talk about the style aspect first. Where does your sense of style originate?

Maria: I think, honestly, it's a combination of things. It's developed over time. It stems from: my education, what I've been exposed to, different art movements, different exhibitions that I've seen. It's all developed from there. Things that have really resonated with me. Just things that I've seen that look very beautiful. Beautiful detail. Or, the colour of something.

I think for me when I was a young student, the movement that really captured me was De Stijl, which is a piece of art by Piet Mondrian, and the thing that really stuck out was the simplicity of the lines, but also the bold colours. So, and then you just look further into the work of how they actually come together and it was all these mathematical equations, which formed the artwork to begin with. So, it's completely fascinating and then it just sort of goes from there.

Slobodanka: So, why did you do interior design on top of your many years of study of architecture?

Maria: It just ... It made sense at the time to do that, actually. That, I thought the two complement each other. It's a skill that I know that I had. Comments were made by lecturers in terms of you know, "You have the skill. You have a talent for it. So, do it." So, I thought, "What's four more years? Why not?"

Slobodanka: Well, I'm very pleased that you did it.

Maria: Thank you.

Slobodanka: So, let's talk about caring for the Earth. As Canberrans, we appreciate our precious environment. What do you do in your practise to uphold sound ecological practises.

Maria: So, the first question when you're delivering a project ... Let's just take something simple like a domestic renovation or extension. You ask the question, "Why? And, how much?" If you have a client for example that ... I think of one client in particular that was a couple and they have a couple of animals. And, they had a three bedroom house, and the question was, "Do you need to have a three bedroom house? While you live here, do you have lots of guests? If there are no plans of having little people running around, why do you need so much space?" Basically, because the more space you need, the greater the footprint on the Earth.

Then we have these horrible houses in these new suburbs that have no backyard, but it's essential to actually have a backyard and some beautiful greenery. And, not to just completely pillage the Earth with a built form. So, you ask with the question, "Why? How much? And, how big does the space need to be?" And, just question your clients to push them. But, they'll give you a brief, but also to go, "Well, how can we bring this in and how you have spaces that are clever than that, than the norm? Do you need to have two dinning rooms? Can we have one? You know, let's be clever with our storage." Maybe ask your client to consider culling some of their stuff that they haven't used for years. That sort of thing. So something with a very basic approach of, "Do you really need so much? Let's just re-evaluate. How about the quality of your life. Are you home so often that you really need this 500 metre square house?" The answer is, "No."

Slobodanka: And, you need to clean it as well.

Maria: Yeah. Exactly.

Slobodanka: Well, having looked at your houses. I think your houses are glamorous, and sophisticated. And I quote one of your clients, "We never dreamed we would get a result to rival the glossy lifestyle magazines we have been reading. The final results blew us away." How do you achieve this level of style while using sustainable materials? And, what are sustainable materials?

A Filardo house design

A Filardo house design

Maria: So, when it comes to sustainable materials, my philosophy is this: if you were to specify material that might be "green" in inverted commas, but your client hates it, and in two years time they're going to replace that, how sustainable is that? So, you're better off getting a product that the client loves and you know that will sit there for a long time. That for me, is sustainable, because sustainability also goes beyond the environment. It's also about mental sustainability. Someone has to be happy in this space. They have to love being there. So, it's about putting things together to consider that. If you're talking about sustainability, timber can be quite sustainable because it's really the only renewable source that we have. But, you need to consider what application do you have on top. So, will it be glued to the floor? Will it be nailed? What finish will you have on top? If you have polyurethane, that's not sustainable at all. The best is to go for oil finish, because that's more natural. So, they're the sort of things you need to question then, with your client.

A Filardo house interior

A Filardo house interior

When it comes to joinery. You can have boards that have EO emissions. So, you would make sure you specify that. Again, the finishes that you apply to that. Polyurethanes tend to be very high in terms of their emissions. There are better alternatives available. Not everything is to a client's taste. So, there're always some compromises to be made. But, again it's also about making sure that it's something that the client will love for a very long time, wanna have in their house, and be durable. And, that for me, is a part of sustainability. Knowing that there's longevity there for that as well. Yeah.

Slobodanka: Good one. Well, lets move onto something more personal to Planepack. Are you a light traveller?

Maria: I am. Yes. Yes. Yes.

Slobodanka: Tell us about it.

Maria: So, the very first time I travelled, I wasn't a light traveller. I think like most people really. And, I just thought, "This is ridiculous. You have to lug around all this luggage from room to room. It's a hassle. There's gotta be a better way." And, the advice given to me as a student, the first time I travelled ... I was advised by one of the lecturers. They said to me, "Pack your bag, and take everything out, and then put half back in. And, I promise you that's all that you will need and you can make due." So, I did that and it worked, which was fine. But then, my approach, things have been even more refined as I travel. So, I'll always have a little make-up bag with me, which has the basics: toothbrush, toothpaste, basic make-up, sunscreen.

Maria Filardo, architect and interior designer

Maria Filardo, architect and interior designer

And clothes, I'll always coordinate. So, I will ... "I'm gonna go for five days. What can I re-wear? It's not gonna kill me. I'm not gonna be filthy. Know what the weather conditions are gonna be like. How can you layer? How can you make something smarter? I don't need to take 20 pairs of shoes. If I can do it in two or three, let me do that instead." So, I think coordinating the clothes makes a big difference, because you don't have to have 20 things to accompany in it, more than anything. Accessories change the look of something. Be clever and do it that way.

Slobodanka: This is the architectural approach to light Planepacking.

Maria: Co-ordination is key.

Slobodanka: That's right. It is. It is. So, what is the important object, product or device when you travel for business?

Planepack spotted @Airpocket's Trish Smith and Maria Filardo at a recent @canberrawisewomen event

Planepack spotted @Airpocket's Trish Smith and Maria Filardo at a recent @canberrawisewomen event

Maria: My phone.

Slobodanka: Your phone?

Maria: Yeah. Simply because banking details are on there. All of my emails are on there, obviously then. So, in terms of being able to communicate with people. I've got maps, of course, to get around. So, that for me is the most essential item.

Slobodanka: You can run your whole business from your phone?

Maria: Well, vir-

Slobodanka: Virtually.

Maria: Virtually.

Slobodanka: Virtually? So, just getting back to architecture, what advice do you have for women who are considering architecture as a career.

Maria: Follow your heart. Really. Like, if it's a passionately thing, you've gotta do it. So, don't let anyone put you off. I recall when I was a student, someone made a comment saying, "Ah, you'll never get through. My brother failed it. It's a really hard course." And, hearing that made me even more resolute to get through this course. So, yes it was hard, but it's worth it in the end. Because, when I wake up every morning, I wanna go to work. I love what I do. Life's just too short to end up miserable in a job that you hate because else sugggested that you should do that. Listen to yourself. Drown out those sounds, and go for it.

Slobodanka: Absolutely, right. Thank you so much. It's been wonderful talking to you.

Maria: Pleasure.

Slobodanka: I really learnt a lot, and I'm sure the Planepack readers will enjoy listening to what you have to say.

Maria: Thank you.

Slobodanka: Thank you. Thank you

Find out more about Maria Filardo, Architect and Interior Designer

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About the author

I'm Slobodanka Graham, digital publisher, content entrepreneur and one time partner of an architect - so this post has special significance for me: I owe much of my own sense of style to Richard Hepner, my early inspiration. 

Richard and Slobodanka, Mount Nelson Hotel, Cape Town, 1980

Richard and Slobodanka, Mount Nelson Hotel, Cape Town, 1980

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