Sydney’s Star Decorators Who Are Adapting to a New World

Shakila Shaflender

Growing up in Iran, Shakila Shaflender, 37, dreamt of a career in design but it took two decades and a relocation to the other side of the globe to see her vision come to life.

“In Iran it wasn’t easy because being creative was sort of looked down on. I grew up in a family where my mom and dad were professionals and their feeling was ‘Yes, you can do that in your free time, but you really have to have a proper job’. Design and creativity was appreciated but seen as a weekend thing in an environment where unemployment was high,” Ms Shaflender said.

“I studied politics and African studies back in Iran and then, sadly, I had to leave the country. I lived for a while in Malaysia before migrating to Australia but I couldn’t continue working in politics when I came here as an immigrant in 2010. I knew absolutely no-one and English wasn’t my first language. It was extremely difficult, so I just had to begin again. But I always had the attitude that I do want to learn and I will do whatever it takes.”

After Arriving in Sydney 12 years ago, Ms. Shaflender worked as a restaurant manager for several years before returning to study her first love—design. She graduated with a Diploma of Interior Design in 2021, and landed coveted internships with leading Sydney interior designers Claire Delmar and Megan Morton, before scoring a full time job with award-winning architecture and interior design firm Bureau SRH.

The diversity and inclusiveness of Sydney’s design scene is Ms. Shaflender’s ongoing inspiration.

“It’s wonderful because there’s space for everyone and a place for everyone’s own style. I grew up in the Middle East and it’s a very different type of architecture and interiors. When I moved to Malaysia I saw the amazing temples and buildings and thought they were beautiful. Then when I came to Australia it was all really different again. So as I develop as a designer I think I can bring bits and pieces from all these different quarters that I love.”

Since entering the industry, Ms. Shaflender has worked on the redesign of several high-end Sydney homes including a Queens Park apartment, a waterfront residence at Bondi Beach, and is currently working on a semi-detached house in Dover Heights Semi and a house in Bondi.

Focusing on residential design, Ms. Shaflender said she aimed to create spaces that not only looked appealing, but also promoted a sense of wellbeing.

“I am all about how it affects our health and mental health. I’ve worked a lot with building biologists to make sure the spaces we create are healthy, so we don’t create something that grows mold or has high electromagnetic impact on people who live there. That’s quite important for me to make sure spaces are created in healthy ways, both physically and emotionally.”