Amber Road Design Interview | Yellowtrace


Today we chat to the sassy and clever ladies from Amber Road – Sydney based Interior Design & Landscape Architecture practice who seek to merge Architecture, Art + Design in their work, resulting in interesting projects layered with personality and meaning.

Since forming their practice in 2013, Katy Svalbe (landscape architect), and her sister Yasmine Ghoniem (interior architect) have applied their sophisticated, eclectic aesthetic and a collaborative approach to a wide range of commercial, public, residential and hospitality projects. At all scales and budgets, their goal is always the same – to use good design to enhance people’s lives, allowing them to be the very best they can be, at work, home or play.

Katy and Yasmine are two incredibly passionate and driven young ladies, and I’m sure you’ll love what they had to say about how they formed their practice, their design philosophy, their motivations, tips and tricks, and their goals for what will undoubtably be a very bright future.


Amber Road Profile. Photo by Cole Bennetts | Yellowtrace
Yasmine Ghoniem and Katy Svalbe of Amber Road. Photography by Cole Bennetts.

Amber Road Design Studio Profile | Yellowtrace
Action station at Amber Road Design Studio. Photography by Cole Bennetts.


+ Hello Yasmine & Katy, welcome to Yellowtrace and thank you for taking the time to e-chat. Could you please give us a quick introduction on yourselves? When did you first decide you wanted to become designers? And when did you decide it was time to start your business?

Our studio combines Interior and Landscape Architecture. Katy directs the landscape side of things and Yasmine [aka Yas] spearheads the interiors. Landscape Architecture, as a profession was an unbeknown to Katy until she picked up the university handbook and it leapt right out at her. Combining all things she is passionate about: art, science and all things ‘green’; it was love at first sight!

The decision to become an interior designer was not as clean cut for Yas. After dabbling in Graphic Design, she yearned for a degree which merged a few different design avenues. Offering her the perfect concoction of spatial, furniture, textile and product design; a career in interior design was written in her stars.

In regards to starting a business, Amber Road is the realisation of a dream we spoke of over a decade ago when standing together on top of a historical fort in Savannah, Georgia, USA. Yas was studying there at the time whilst Katy was travelling, reuniting with family [including Yas] and absorbing the world. In 2013, finally both back on home turf in Sydney, Australia, we got to transform our dreams into reality and we laid the foundations of the Amber Road!


Deco House by Amber Road. Photo by Lisa Cohen | Yellowtrace

Deco House by Amber Road. Photo by Lisa Cohen | Yellowtrace

Deco House by Amber Road. Photo by Lisa Cohen | Yellowtrace
Deco House. Architects: Folk Architecture. Photography by Lisa Cohen.


+ What is your main priority when starting projects? Is there something that is fundamental to your practice – your philosophy and your process?

Understanding and getting to know our clients and their values is a key starting point of each and every project. Spaces are ultimately an extension of what’s inside of us, so irrespective of size or type, our aim is to make them the very best they can be.

We’re passionate about creating spaces which enhance the everyday whilst gracefully introducing an artist’s hand; via thoughtful detailing and, whenever possible, via collaborating with a kindred, creative soul/ artisan. Who can we bring on to a project is almost always the first thing we discuss once the bones of a project are in place. Their contributions are tailored to articulate key design concepts and, as no two projects are the same, whilst we do have a handful of repeat collaborators, we typically seek out particular artists to fulfil specific briefs. Having a look at the ‘custom elements’ section of our website illustrates a good range of such collaborations.

Most importantly, we’d like to think our designs artfully respond to our basic needs and desires as humans; familiarity to us is synonymous with being comfortable and sustainable.


Beach Side Apartment by Amber Road. Photo by Jeremiah Wolf | Yellowtrace

Beach Side Apartment by Amber Road. Photo by Jeremiah Wolf | Yellowtrace
Beach Side Apartment. Photography by Jeremiah Wolf.


+ How is your studio structured? i.e. How many of you work in the studio, what types of skills do you have in-house, is there anything you are outsourcing, and how many projects do you handle at any one time?

We are currently four. Yasmine [Director of Interior Architecture + Design] and Katy [Director of Landscape Architecture]; supported by two very talented and motivated younger designers. Each project is managed by one director according to the project type, interior architecture or landscape architecture. However, the design will always emerge from collaboration between both directors and our team.

In the majority of instances, we manage the foundations of every project, so the design, modelling, production of renderings, as well as the preparation of design + construction documentation are all in house, but, as mentioned above, we often collaborate with specialist craftsmen for particular/ special details.

Tendering for large scale projects, such as the Lindfield Village Green often requires a team and range of skill beyond what we manage in house. In such instances we will pull together a multi-disciplinary team that best addresses the aspirations and technical requirements of the project.

We can be juggling up to 20 projects of varying scales and typologies at any given moment. It definitely keeps things interesting!


Cronulla Residence by Amber Road. Photo by Prue Ruscoe | Yellowtrace

Cronulla Residence by Amber Road. Photo by Prue Ruscoe | Yellowtrace

Cronulla Residence by Amber Road. Photo by Prue Ruscoe | Yellowtrace
Cronulla Residence. Photography by Prue Ruscoe.


+ How do you organise and manage the competing demands of modern business and life? Do you have any tip or tricks you could share with us that help you in your day to day (i.e. software, online tools, shortcuts, task management, cheat sheets, advisors, anything!)

Maintaining a healthy work life balance is really hard. Keeping active is key. We had a great routine of yoga on Tuesday mornings on our studio’s roof terrace during the warmer months. This was a delightful way to start the day and nurture office culture. Food is another way our office bonds. We share our studio with Studio Elke and Common Knowledge and once a month, one team prepares a feast fit for kings. We deck out the tables like it’s a mini banquette! Our studio affords a beautiful mish-mash of nationalities, so the food often becomes a reflection of our studio’s diverse ethnicity.

We can’t stress enough how important communication is! It sounds easy, but so often, things are overlooked or ideas squashed because no one asked the right question. This extends to open and honest communication with both staff and clients. In this way we hope to foster a working culture in which realistic project timeframes can be negotiated to ensure the best possible project outcomes.

Collaboration; in the sense of job-sharing is also a great tool in some instances; especially when juggling several jobs simultaneously. This is even more relevant when ‘wildlings’ aka rug rats make it into the picture.


16 Eveleigh Street, Redfern by Amber Road. Photo by Tom Ferguson | Yellowtrace
16 Eveleigh Street, Redfern. Photography by Tom Ferguson.

Chinta Ria Dining Room by Amber Road. Photo by Cole Bennetts | Yellowtrace

Chinta Ria Dining Room by Amber Road. Photo by Cole Bennetts | Yellowtrace
Chinta Ria Dining Room. Photography by Cole Bennetts.


+ What do you feel is the most challenging part of being a designer today? And if you could change one thing about the industry, what would it be?

One of our biggest challenges is getting the general public and clients to appreciate the value of design and the value in engaging an experienced designer. Design professionals, of all denominations, need to make more effort to bridge the gap between the industry and the consumer i.e. Let’s stop preaching to the choir (other designers) and make more effort to get out and engage with the public.

Yasmine and I are both on the Editorial Advisory Board for Mezzanine magazine; a great publication that is trying to demystify the design process and make it more accessible to the public.

We also, whenever possible, like to meaningfully engage our clients in the design process. In doing so, we hope to educate them as to the level of thought and consideration that goes into each and every design decision. That’s why repeat clients are so rewarding. You’ve struck a chord and they can see the value in what we do.


Ham Cronulla by Amber Road. Photo by Cole Bennetts | Yellowtrace

Ham Cronulla by Amber Road. Photo by Cole Bennetts | Yellowtrace
HAM, Cronulla. Photography by Cole Bennetts.


+ What are some of your methods to staying motivated, focused and expressive? And your top 3 main sources of inspiration and references you are drawn to regularly – i.e. books, magazines, websites/ blogs etc?

The key driver is to stay curious: keep traveling, bushwalking, bike riding, exploring [even if it be in close to home]; it is the world around us that provides us with an endless source of inspiration and insight.

It is meditation and bike riding that keeps Katy focused and grounded and making music for Yasmine.

Passionate about small footprints and shared living, Assemble Papers has become a weekly office read. Apartamento offers a refreshingly honest insight to the many ways people live. It’s incredibly voyeuristic. The Planthunter provides and endless source of quirky green insights. The usual overseas suspects like AD Spain, Elle Decor Italia and Elle Decoration UK provide infinite feasts for the eyes, whilst Mezzanine, Belle, VL, Landscape Australia and Habitus magazines are a source of local goodness.


EAT Burger by Amber Road. Photo by Cole Bennetts | Yellowtrace

EAT Burger by Amber Road. Photo by Cole Bennetts | Yellowtrace
EAT Burger. Photography by Cole Bennetts.


+ Who or what are some of your influences? What other designers, peers and creatives in general do you admire?

So many…but a taste of a few:

Progressive pioneers: Breathe Architecture, Michael Reynolds, Hundertwasser, Rural Studio.

Attention to Detail: Flores y Prats, Chahan Minassian, Le Corbusier, Kengo Kuma, Kevin Mark Low.

Timeless inspiration: Mies van de Rohe, Carlo Scarpa, Louis Barragan, Louis Khan, Studio Mumbai, Kathryn Gustafson, Frank Lloyd Wright.

All rounders: Doshi Levien, India Mahdavi, Eileen Grey, Zaha Hadid.

Local talent: Way too many to mention!!!…We both feel overwhelmingly proud and privileged to be participating in and contributing to the incredibly rich and forever diversifying Australian design scene.


Zetland Terrace by Amber Road. Photo by Elise Hassey | Yellowtrace

Zetland Terrace by Amber Road. Photo by Elise Hassey | Yellowtrace
Zetland Terrace. Photography by Elise Hassey.


+ What advice would you give to emerging designers who want to follow your path? What was one of your biggest lessons learned since starting your practices?

It certainly helps to be passionate about design; hungry even. If you have a bigger picture vision, a knack for multi-tasking or the thirst for the unknown, then starting your own studio is for you.

Get a good accountant. This is critical, as they can guide you through what can be a mine field of unknowns when you are setting out.

Talk, talk and talk some more: reach out and engage with the person sitting next to you; on the bus or next in line buying a coffee. You never know where your clients are going to come from!

Draw on bad experiences maintained in previous job positions and make them the foundations of what not to do in your own practice.


Deco House by Amber Road. Photo Lisa Cohen | Yellowtrace

Deco House by Amber Road. Photo Lisa Cohen | Yellowtrace

Deco House by Amber Road. Photo Lisa Cohen | Yellowtrace
Deco House. Architects: Folk Architecture. Photography by Lisa Cohen.


+ What would be your dream creative project or collaboration?

Building on a vision we have both been passionate about for over a decade; in fact a dream that forms one of the key foundations upon which we built Amber Road, we are making headway towards the realisation of a co-investment housing/ working model that aims to offer flexibility, diversity and affordability for people that seek shared living options beyond that available in today’s stifling real estate market.

Keen to live this dream and learn from the trials and triumphs such a way of life is bound to give rise to; we’ve been holding weekly meetings with family and partners to discuss how we see our living futures. We’ve established that it’s communal, but how do we make that work? What areas of a dwelling or plot of land we are all willing to share and what we want kept separate? Where is this setting, an urban hub or on a city fringe? How much privacy is enough privacy?

So… in essence, a dream project that combines all of our skills and life aspirations and involves boundless collaboration.



Killara Residence by Amber Road. Photo by Tom Ferguson | Yellowtrace

Killara Residence by Amber Road. Photo by Tom Ferguson | Yellowtrace
Killara Residence. Photography by Tom Ferguson.


+ What’s next – can you share with us your vision, some of your goals (and some of your current projects)?

Further to above, as we do so much custom work for our clients, we’re naturally progressing towards product design. We’re finding that there are things we can’t source, so we’re making our own as well as rethinking some fundamental design classics.

Current projects include:

• A Japanese burger joint called Ume in Barangaroo.
• A beautifully detailed 18sqm fit out for our coffee pals at Edition at 200 George St.
• A sales suite for a Mirvac Residential Development in Zetland.
• A New York inspired office space for an 80’s fashion house in Alexandria.
• On the drawing board: an array of residential projects dotted all around Sydney; multi-res, mixed use, single res, alts and adds.
• Katy continues to tutor in design/ landscape architecture at UTS + UNSW.


Edition Roasters by Amber Road | Yellowtrace
Edition Roasters.

Reece Bathrooms Competition Rendering by Amber Road | Yellowtrace
Reece Bathrooms Competition Rendering.

Ume Burger Rendering by Amber Road | Yellowtrace
Ume Burger Rendering.


Let’s Get Real:

+ What’s the best mistake you have ever made?

KS – Getting my heart broken by a Spanish man… led to my return to Oz and the beginnings of Amber Road.
YG – Writing song lyrics at work and getting sacked for it. It was at that moment I decided, having a boss wasn’t for me.

+ What rules do you live by?

KS – Aspiring to zero waste.
YS – Everything happens for a reason.

+ Your most treasured belonging?

KS – My bicycle.
YS – My voice (I make music and love to sing).

+ What’s one thing other people may not know about you?

We’re sisters – 1/2 anyway – our mother had an exotic taste in men!

+ It’s not very cool, but we really like…

The Notebook (film).
Or maybe it is cool….
Who knows anymore!


Amber Rroad Team Profile. Photo by Cole Bennetts | Yellowtrace
Team Amber Rroad. Photo by Cole Bennetts.

[Images courtesy of Amber Road. Photography credits noted.]


About The Author

Dana Tomić Hughes
Founder & Editor

Dana is an award-winning interior designer living in Sydney, Australia. With an unhealthy passion for design, Dana commits to an abnormal amount of daily design research. Regular travel and attendance at premier design events, enables Dana to stay at the forefront of the design world globally. While she is super serious about design, Dana never takes herself - nor design - too seriously. Together with her life and business partner, Dana is Boss Lady at Studio Yellowtrace, specialising in Design Strategy, Creative Direction and Special Projects. The studio takes a highly conceptual and holistic approach to translating brands & ideas into places & experiences.

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