Stunning paper installation for Clara Display Suite in Melbourne, 2009. Commission included Siena the Bookblock Tables, Mini Sienas, a Mini Bookscreen and hand stitched paper sculptures. Styling by Megan Morton. Photography by Tim James.


Ruby the Bookscreen, a flexible screen constructed from pre-loved, hardback books. Each screen is handmade, individual and is given a Christian name. Winner of Premiers Design Award 2008 and runner-up SMH Young Designer of the Year 2005. Photography by Peter Bennetts.


Sam in her Studio. Photo by Studio Sam.


Another day, another amazing talent, another inspiring interview… Oh yes, life is tough in the yellowtrace land.

I have admired Samantha Parsons’ work since first seeing her gorgeous ‘Ruby the Bookscreen’ (shown in images above), which was exhibited at the Powerhouse Museum for the SMH Young Designer of the Year in 2005. I’ve saved her site in my overflowing bookmarks folder, and I recently dug it out and instantly thought to myself – I absolutely must interview her and share her talent with you guys.

Samantha established her practice Studio Sam (formerly I am Samantha) in 2004, after twelve years of working as a landscape architect and interior designer at some of Australia’s leading design practices. Studio Sam is a multidisciplinary design studio and works across a number of disciplines. Sam’s practice questions the conventional boundaries of design and she is driven to create holistic environments “that coexist somewhere between interior/ exterior, space/ furniture and between the designed and the open ended.”

On another note, I’m really starting to get the feel for what the creative people I get to interview are like in real life by the way they conduct themselves via e-mail. It is the most amazing thing, as I don’t get to meet most of my interview subjects in person. Sam comes across as one of the most diligent, accountable and thorough people I have interviewed here on yellowtrace. By far. Thank you Sam for sizing all the images to exact size I needed them, and for also practically laying out the entire interview for me. I have no doubt that an even bigger and brighter successful future is ahead of you with your incredible work ethic and dedication. Hats off. And thank you for being a part of yellowtrace.

x dana


Interior for Taylor Cullity Lethlean Tenancy, Melbourne 2007. Such a beautiful and serene space. Extreme love. Photography by Peter Bennetts.


Residential fit out in West Footscray in Victoria, 2008. Photography by Peter Bennetts.


Hello Sam, welcome to yellowtrace and thank you for taking the time to e-chat. Could you please give us a quick introduction on yourselves?

I began my career in Melbourne as a landscape architect.  After developing a passion for building settings and the inside-outside relationship I returned to uni as a mature age student to study interior design.  My final year project, an interactive floor surface I called Floorscape, was the culmination of everything thus far and really fermented by goals.  Floorscape was really well received (both national and international), but most importantly it started a fire in me that couldn’t be put out and fuelled the beginning of Studio Sam in 2004.

Today Studio Sam works across many areas of design to create whole environments; inside, outside and the items that go within.  The studio works on a range of built environments (boutique corporate, retail, hospitality, event spaces and private homes) and a diverse array of products under the name ‘Family of Sam’.  These include Bookscreen and Siena the Bookblock Table.

Two years ago my husband and I moved to Brisbane (due to his work).  Studio Sam is now based in Brisbane but still works on a lot of projects in Melbourne.


First prototype (above) and design sketch (below) for Floorscape, 2002. Floorscape is an interactive rug that can be easily folded, configured and reconfigured into freestanding structures. It has an integrated structure and a series of fold lines for simple, on the spot assembly without any separate, fiddly pieces. Photo and drawing by Studio Sam.


When did you first decide to start your practice? Do you remember your first project?

I worked at some great design practices over the years, on a variety of projects, and was lucky enough to work with some really wonderful mentors.  I had dreamt of having my own practice for a while, but felt it was imperative to gain experience, knowledge and confidence before taking the plunge.  In 2004, Studio Sam (formerly I am Samantha) was born quiet unexpectedly.  It is a long story but basically Floorscape was demanding more of my time and I felt it was time to start my own design studio to bring my interests and skills in landscape, interior and product together.

Whilst Floorscape, and subsequent products, kept me busy I was also commissioned as a design consultant on several projects.  One of the first was a private house in Fitzroy. It was a lovely heritage building and the client’s brief was basically to strip out all previous modifications and start with a blank, red brick shell.  It involved interiors and landscape so was an ideal Studio Sam project.


One of Sam’s first project – Fitzroy house, after demolition works (above) and during built works (below), 2004. Photo by the client.


What you are seeking to portray in your work? What is fundamental to your practice – your philosophy and your process?

Studio Sam aims to create design solutions that are functional, have personality, can transcend transient fashion, are adaptable and challenge society’s “throw away mentality”.

With our products we strive to create items that respond to a need and therefore have a real purpose.  It is also important to that our products offer something different and will be enjoy and treasure by the eventual owners / users for years to come.

With the design consultancy arm of the studio, we offer an inside – outside service with the intention of creating seamless spaces that contribute to the quality and enjoyment of life.


Left – very early mockup for Ruby the Bookscreen. Each screen (of varying sizes) is an exploration into colour composition and builds on the qualities of the original books. Right – Dust Jacket Gift Card, 2008. Hand-made blank gift cards utilising original dust jackets (from the books used to make Bookscreens). Photo by Sam Parsons.


Betty Blue range, Limited Edition 2008. Betty gives orphaned plates a new family. Although each plates is an original composition they are now related to one another through the application of blue and white circular motifs. A later edition called the Blue Print range is available from Lightly. Extreme love! Photo by Sam Parsons.


How do you deal with the pressure of running your own business, meeting project deadlines and personal life? Do you have any tricks you can share with us?

It certainly can get overwhelming at times (as any small business owner would say).  I find walking the dog (clears the head), going to the movies (to totally switch-off), sleeping (the day after always seems better!) and talking things over with my husband (an architect) really helps.  On a day to day basis I find lists and more lists my savoir.  I would be lost without them.


What a lovely photo – Sam with her beloved dog Henna. Photo by Peter Bennetts.


Mini ‘Siena’ used as a table ornament for a Christening, Sydney 2010. Photo by the client.


What are some of your methods to staying motivated, focused, and expressive?

I would have to say travelling provides me with a lot of inspiration and motivation.  In the past I have visited many wonderful countries; wonderful for their heritage, culture, landscapes, architecture, food, colour, and I could go on.  I have also found inspiration from holidaying closer to home or from visiting galleries and museums.  I am also mad on books (this is perhaps my biggest weakness) and find that a variety of projects keeps me motivated.


Traveling is one of Sam’s main sources of inspiration and motivation. Left – The vibrant colours of the Cambodian Monks, 2001. Right – A building in Chandigarh, India, 2005. Photos by Sam Parsons.


What are some of your main sources of inspiration and some of your influences? Are there any specific references you are drawing to regularly – books, websites/ blogs, other designers and creatives etc?

Funny enough one of the sources I refer to the most is a book on the development of pattern and shape.  It was one of my mum’s books when she was at teachers college.  I find I am constantly going back to it.  I am also very fascinated by anything folding (which you can probably see reflected in my work).


Sam has a fascination for anything folding, which informs a lot of her work. From top – Folding Floorscape, 2003. Middle left – The back of ‘Paul the Bookscreen’, folded pages. Middle right – An early model / experimentation for Floorscape, 2002. Bottom image – A recent ‘Siena the Bookblock Table’ constructed from the pages of a book. Top image by Trevor Main, all other images by Sam Parsons.


What are you most proud of so far – your favourite project, a turning point in your career, recognition?

I would have to say Floorscape is probably the project I am most proud of so far as it was the first that ever received recognition (so it was really special).  Floorscape was a turning point for me, not only did it push me to start Studio Sam, it also gave me the opportunity to exhibit all over the place (both overseas and in Australia).  This further exposed me to the world of design.  I learnt a great deal along the way that helped me enormously with future projects.


Leather Floorscape (prototype) exhibited at Milan Furniture Fair 2004. Photography by Earl Carter.


What advice do you have for young designers wanting to start their own business? What was one of your biggest lessons learned since setting up your practice?

I would highly recommend working for other design firms before starting your own; at least 2 different firms so you can see different ways of doing things.  I found that my office templates (eg forms, master schedules, master fee proposals, conditions of engagement, timesheets, invoicing and similar that I used to take for granted at my previous jobs) were one of the things that took the longest to set up in my own practice.  It is worth the effort though as once set up they make life a lot easier.  When setting these systems I found it really helpful being able to draw from previous experience (after all you don’t know what you don’t know). Someone once told me ‘you have to know the rules before you can break the rules’.  This has proven to be a good guiding principle.


Is there something professionally you would like to try that you haven’t done yet?

I love to research and to write.  Perhaps one day write a book of some description!!!


Installation titled ‘Tomorrow’ held at Corporate Culture, Brisbane 2009. Photo by Pride and Joy Photography.


What’s next – can you share with us your vision and some of your goals?

I am currently designing a new range of outdoor furniture after receiving a Creative Sparks Grant  (jointly from the Brisbane City Council and the Queensland Government through Arts Queensland). The range is being designed specifically for micro scale outdoor spaces such as balconies. I initiated the project to address real needs, in particular the challenges of urban growth.  As we are faced with increased population growth we will see more small scale outdoor spaces.  This will see a demand for space efficient furniture that: enhance our living conditions, encourage urban dwellers to grow more food and contribute to the greening of our cities.  A key component of the range is sustainability.  It is being designed with ‘life- cycle’ in mind to minimise environmental impacts across the entire life cycle of the product (from the design stage, through to material selection, production, distribution and end-of-life).  This is something I am very passionate about and would like to apply to future projects.

I am having a soft launch of the range in October at the Brisbane Unlimited Design Triennial.


I love this image – Third prototype of Floorscape, 2003. Photo by Trevor Main.


Let’s Get Personal:

What are the qualities you most like about yourself?

I believe I am a very honest person.  I like to think I am funny (but I am not sure others always do).  I also pride myself on being very thorough, and passionate about what I do.


What are the qualities you most like in others?

Integrity, a sense of humour and a good work ethic.


Apart from your work, what other interests or hobbies do you have?

Our dog Henna, a 4 year old chocolate Labrador.  I walk her every day and she makes me constantly laugh, which is great for the mind.  I also love collecting and collating all sort of things (I am a big hoarder) to display at home and to provide inspiration.  They range from vintage bathing caps, to coloured glassware, to items that I simply find interesting for their form, colour and function.  I have been drawn to collecting ever since I was a kid when I was a keen stamp collector.  It was something special I used to do with my nana


Left – Old picture frames as inspiration for drink display. Artisan bakery, 2006. Right – One of Sam’s glass vases on display in the bathroom. Left image by Peter Bennetts, right image by Simon Wood.


What are some of your favorite local galleries and shops {music, fashion, books, accessories, furniture vintage, other bits and pieces}?

I am a new resident in Brisbane so I am still getting to know the local shops, galleries, restaurants and regular places I used to take for granted in Melbourne.  I do love going to GOMA (the Gallery of Modern Art which has a great bookshop and yes I am addicted to bookshops).  I also enjoy going to antique / bric-a-brac shops to see if I can find any treasures.  Recently I found a massive letter ‘S’ that is about 2m tall.  It came off a high-rise building up here in Brisbane.

I would have to say that there is nothing like discovering a shop or place that you haven’t been to before. They are probably my favorite.


Literarte Installation (in collaboration with Russell Bryant), State of Design Festival, Melbourne 2006. Brooke the Bookscreen and Paul the Bookscreen on display. Photo by Peter Bennetts.


Your favourite cafes/ restaurants/ bars?

I think a great setting, excellent food and a new type of experience make for a great restaurant / bar.  These days however, I have to say I am content going to a restaurant that caters for difficult people like me who have food intolerances.   I am Fructose intolerant which makes eating out very very difficult (ie no onion, garlic, wheat to name a few!!!).


Artisian Bakery – Beaumaris, Victoria, 2006. Photography by Peter Bennetts.


Restaurant concept, Society development, Melbourne 2007. Simulation by Evolv3Design.


What is your most treasured belonging?

Somehow I ended up as the custodian of many of my families (from both sides) photos, papers, etc dating back several generations.  I have become a bit obsessed with trying to compile all the information.  If we had a fire, these photos would certainly be the first thing I grabbed (after Henna and my hubby of course).  I am trying to digitalise the photos but it is a timely process.


Amazing photo of Sam’s great grandparents. Wow.


It’s not very cool, but I really like…

Working on my family tree!  I am also truly fascinated by history (of anything!).

Your favourite joke?

I can NEVER remember jokes,  I always get them mixed up.  I do love a good laugh though.

How would you like to be remembered?

This is quite a difficult question.  I do think about it a lot, especially since I am obsessed with my family tree.  There are lots of simple things I would like to know about my ancestors but will never know.  I guess I would want people to remember the happy times (with a smile of their face) and to think of me as someone who enjoyed life and took nothing for granted.  It would be great if I could have also inspired a few people along the way with my work.

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.

5 Responses

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    Sam is a truly inspiring individual. So many incredible ideas and such integrity in every application. I have known Sam for almost all our lives, and yet I discovered many new facets to this shining gem.
    Thanks Dana for such a beautiful interview.


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