“A little bit of decoration is a positive thing,” says Fiona Lyda, who as the creative force behind the Spence & Lyda furniture and homewares showroom, lives by this ethos. Given her background as a former production designer, art director and, for 20 years, costume designer for film and TV before opening her Sydney shop, Fiona’s lifetime experience is boldly apparent in her family’s sumptuous inner-west apartment.
The home is swathed in rich textures – upholstered walls, dramatic artwork, sheer fabrics, glossy parquetry and textured Asian rugs. “You want something to bring a smile to your face,” she says. “I get a real sense of pleasure every time I open the door.” Before purchasing the 14th-floor residence last August, Fiona had never contemplated a modern high-rise. She’d been living happily in a renovated school and headmaster’s cottage in Balmain with her husband and business partner, Morris, and 14-year-old daughter, Marlo, for seven years. The family had also bought a 400-hectare property near Bathurst and was considering downsizing the inner-city residence at some point in the future.
The idea was accelerated, however, when Fiona was invited to design the interiors for a display apartment in the imposing Trio complex built by Frasers Property. One look and she was instantly enamoured. “When I walked in, I realised what was on offer. The sub-penthouse had just become available, so we put our hand up straightaway.” Located on the site of a former children’s hospital, the towers are part of the City Quarter precinct in Camperdown. Architect Karl Fender, of Fender Katsalidis, designed 397 apartments, each with a loggia, of sorts – a balcony with retractable sliding screens or louvres to make the best of the indoor/outdoor feel – as well as an infinity-edge pool and gym for the complex.
Despite the impressive set-up, Fiona couldn’t resist stamping her own unique aesthetic onto the apartment. “It was designed for a different lifestyle to our own,” says Fiona. She reconfigured three bedrooms into two, leaving enough space to add a home office and a larger, repositioned kitchen.“It opened up the whole space immeasurably.” This allowed Fiona to incorporate the second bedroom into a self-contained studio for Marlo.“It is an ideal future situation for us, as our daughter will have a place of her own within the ‘compound’ while still being able to feel independent,” says Fiona.
The dining area was also relocated – bringing it closer to the well-used loggia.“You are effectively eating outside,” Fiona says.“I’m always startled at how spectacular the view is from up here, so it’s wonderful sitting around the table with friends and family.” Fiona and Morris, a production manager for huge music events, never shy away from entertaining in their home. But even her most precious pieces – such as art by Richard Dunlop and vessels from LA’s Rose Bowl Flea Market – are kept in perspective. “I have some significant investments in the apartment, but the reality is that you don’t want to be hysterical when guests prowl around with a glass of red wine in their hands and lose it all over the carpet,” says Fiona.“It’s just not worth it – life is for living.”
Her relaxed attitude belies the complexities of renovating the apartment. Designing, drawing up ideas and project managing were time-consuming tasks, but she did score some free advice from a qualified architect – her brother, Mark Spence, of Spence Pearson Architects, who became her sounding-board. The main issues were confirming that any demolition didn’t affect load-bearing walls and accessing the drainage of the new kitchen.“In apartments, you can’t move things like kitchens very easily because you need to have access to the pipes in the floor and ceiling,” explains Fiona. She was lucky that the original bedroom backed onto the ensuite of the master bedroom.“We could go straight through the wall to access the drainage.”
Apart from the structural issues, it’s the decorative flourishes that best illustrate Fiona’s style; carefully chosen accessories and graphic fabrics bring warmth to the light-filled apartment. But it’s after dusk when the sub-penthouse comes into its own. “At night, there’s the city on fire out the window.You put your candles on, and it’s a whole glorious story.”