Appointed as the woman who would ultimately redirected Michael Jackson's aesthetic, Fiona Spence of Sydney-based interior showroom Spence & Lyda has already lived an artistically-rich life most can only dream of...
With years of art direction in the film industry, Fiona has seen some of the world's most interesting places, laden with stories and memories. And it is these same well-travelled eyes that now lend themselves to one of her greatest passions — interiors.
With ample visual experience, deep intuition and mounds of accolades, it does beg the question: how does the woman who sets the tone and direction for so many interior-enthusiasts, go about curating her own home?
We visit Fiona at her Sydney-based apartment and pawed over her interesting found-objects, discussed whether you could improve a wooden match with her daughter Marlo, and got the local's tips on where to find the city's best dumplings...
— In your own words, how would you describe what you do everyday?
Work bloody hard. It’s amusing because coming from the film industry I was fairly sure I understood the nature of hard work. What one never understands until you do it is that retail, and whole distribution in my case, is relentless. There is not much ‘down time’. Thank god I have a spectacular team of people around me whose company I actively enjoy and that I have the chance to work with the most beautiful product imaginable. Every day there is a new angle or new light on said pieces so my visual cup is replenished regularly. There’s the travel too, that certainly helps.
My role at Spence & Lyda is to set the direction in product acquisition and display, and brand communication, be it digital or physical. The buck stops here for most other things too but my specific area is that. I travel extensively but also keep my ear to the ground through printed and social media, world news and events to understand what is happening in the world generally, to then interpret that into living and interiors trends, and choose product more specifically. Sounds esoteric but that is the way of it. I find new brands and sometimes watch them for several years before I approach them; it all depends on how I feel about where I want the showroom to go, and personally what I would like to say. Spence & Lyda is unlike most other showrooms, we are not just looking for product to sell, and if I were, I would carry a vastly different range of product. It’s possible that it means I will never make a million dollars, but I would probably have chosen a whole different path had that been my motivation.
— You strike me as someone who, above experience and knowledge, follows their intuition. What has been the best-learnt lesson throughout your career?
I guess it depends on what your definition of intuition is. For me it is the concept that we are all tapped in to the greater experience, so if we listen, the information is there. Learning to trust that is one of the hardest and best lessons to learn. There is no substitute for being prepared, however, only then are you able to be nimble and respond to 'chance' with the knowledge that you can fall back on the strength of your preparation.
— Can you tell us about your home, and some of your favourite features?
The apartment was always envisaged as a relatively short-term home but we have stayed for 6 years. We lived in a house in Balmain with a garden and a pool while our daughter Marlo was little but all of that slowly became redundant as she moved in to high school. I was dressing the apartment several floors below this one for the developer and noticed the fabulous aspect so asked if there were any left. The one at the top had just become available so we were in luck. I have always loved views from height, I love watching weather happening, and this view goes literally all of the way from north Sydney and the Parramatta River over the city and harbour bridge and down to Botany Bay. It never disappoints. We increased the size of the kitchen and changed its position by eliminating one of the three bedrooms. This gave us an increased living area and a study space resulting in a layout that better suited our lifestyle. It’s a relatively small space but it functions seamlessly for us, which is very important in our very busy life. The dark hall was one of the bigger design challenges but upholstering it with Missoni Home Leeka bought such beautiful light into the hall way as well as setting a luxurious tone. Plus, it takes me 7 minutes to get to work.
An element of balance needs to revisit our lives so we are setting our sights on the northern beaches again very soon.
— I am intrigued by your collection of artwork, especially the coloured painting in the living room with the checkerboard tiles. What is the story behind this painting?
I love art and think it is an extremely important part of any interior. The pieces should resonate with you and not just be acquisitions. That piece is by Peter Godwin. I was originally attracted to his practice because it reminded me of the early works of Matisse and in particular ‘The Piano Lesson’. I love that reality is clearly present but represented in its more minimal form.
— As someone who is well traveled, what would be your fondest travel memory? Do you have anything on display from this location?
I collect something from almost every place I visit. These objects are memory keepers. They are immensely valuable to me for that reason even if they weren’t expensive at the time. That being said I laude fine craftsmanship and seek out great artisans so its safe to say the pieces are not souvenirs.
My fondest memory is of a time we were in Alaska when I can across a box that had beautiful calligraphic markings — the work of a marine invertebrate called the Toredo worm. The box was constructed from Yellow cedar, salvaged by an Inuit. It’s very simple and incredibly beautiful to me. How it came in to my possession is another story involving the wonderful man I married.