Hana Hakim, Director of The Stella Collective has earned a reputation for creating elegant spaces with a rebellious edge. Born in London with a Syrian background, Hana’s heritage influences the powerful narratives embedded in her work while strengthening her belief that beautiful spaces should be accessible to everyone.
At our Masterclass on Saturday 14th March, Hana will share an honest recap of her career trajectory including the highs, the lows and the lessons learned along the way. She will also reflect on the stories and inspirations that have formed her design ethos and added meaning to her spectacular interiors.
In the lead-up to this intimate and in-depth masterclass, Hana spoke to The Design Coach about her award-winning design studio, her pursuit of white tigers, and the narratives that define her work.
TDC: You have an innate ability to infuse spaces with light, elegance and serenity. At the same time, you grew up drawing heavy metal album covers and you love listening to heavy metal music. Can you tell us about the seeming juxtaposition between Hana, the creator of elegant spaces and Hana, the headbanger?
HH: Music and interior spaces both have the power to push your buttons as a human being. I want my work to create that powerful feeling and narrative that music evokes so I can touch someone’s core and make them feel amazing. That part of me that loves heavy metal music is quite personal and I think it gives The Stella Collective an edge in the way we push our commercial interiors.
While the client’s narrative is always at the centre of our work, that rebellious element is a strong add on. It’s what I call the ‘white tiger’ in the room because it’s majestic and courageous. We might design everything to be quite elegant, beautiful and serene but then we add the powerful white tiger. As much as that is something I believe in, it’s all about finding our client’s white tiger – the thing that sets them apart from everyone, something we can reveal through storytelling.
TDC: Despite your success, you have a complete lack of ego. As you explain, it’s all about delving deeply into the client’s narrative. How has that approach contributed to your success?
HH: I don’t know if it has (laughs). Actually, I think it has in the sense that all of our clients are repeat clients because when they work with us, they feel special. I think it’s more about my honesty when I work with a client – it’s me and them going, Ok, we’re going to jump off this cliff together. I know they are risking a lot and I want them to succeed. I guess it’s about understanding that your client doesn’t need a lot of superfluous stuff, they just need to know that you’re going to work really hard for them and you can handle what’s ahead.
TDC: Your clients are often putting millions of dollars on the line so I imagine that comes with a huge sense of responsibility. How do you manage that pressure and ensure you’re looking after your own wellbeing?
HH: It’s a big responsibility. You’re carrying someone’s budget as well as their dreams. It doesn’t matter if our hospitality clients are working on their first, sixth or eighth venue, there’s this bottleneck towards the end when everyone is trying to get things done on time and within budget. As a designer, you carry your client’s concerns and their stress and you make sure it doesn’t flatline.
I think the best approach to wellbeing is having someone to love, something to do and something to look forward to. At the end of all this creation, I get to go home to someone I love and be a normal person. Having a cuddle with my cats is the best! My something to look forward to often involves travel. I always make sure I travel to places where people are much less fortunate than us and that really gives me perspective in everything that I do. If I’m feeling anxious about something, I think to myself, There is so much more to life than this little drama that is going on right now.
TDC: A lot of interior designers start their own studio thinking it’s going to be a great exploration of their creativity. Then they find the practicalities of running a business quite overwhelming. How do you balance the business side of things while maintaining your focus creatively?
HH: You just do it. There’s no way around it. You have to be able to multitask six different things at any given moment because that’s the nature of what we do. When it’s your name and your legacy that you’re protecting, you suddenly become really passionate about the business side of things.
I also think you need to be really honest about your position and how much you’ve got to learn. I never pretend that I’ve got it all sorted because I don’t, nobody does. A great piece of advice that a friend shared with me recently is, “Chew slowly” – chew a little bit and then a little bit more and a little more and you’re on your way. It’s all about building confidence and constantly learning to do new things.
TDC: When you design, you say it’s about opening your heart to adventure, memories and powerful storytelling. Can you share an example of how that ethos has defined your work?
HH: A lot of our work has a strong narrative to it. We’ll try to either get that from the client or something they respond to really beautifully. A great example is Zoobibi, a concept store in Hawthorn that we worked on. The owner is from the Middle East and he wanted to create a marketplace where he could have all his wares on display. We decided that the narrative should be about a city in Syria that is under destruction. We chose my Dad’s hometown of Aleppo and designed the space around one of the houses that my Dad used to live in. The approach enabled us to show, in a light and positive way, the beauty of Syria.
Through the power of interior design we were able to show people a different perspective while paying tribute to where the wares come from. People can’t go to Syria anymore, even if they wanted to. So to be able to tell that story – to highlight Syria’s beauty and have people experience it – was just incredible. I remember closing off that project and saying to the client, “This has never been so true to me, the feeling that I can never go home again.”
TDC: While we’re on the subject of Syria, you are an avid supporter of the White Helmets, a group of humanitarian volunteers who risk their lives to help people affected by the conflict in Syria. Can you tell us a bit about why the charity is so important to you?
HH: The White Helmets aren’t affiliated with any one religion and they save people on all sides of the conflict. Instead of fleeing and seeking asylum, they have given up their entire lives to help others. When there’s a crisis, like an air strike, they move in to help protect people. A lot of them are doctors or engineers who could have moved elsewhere but chose not to. I can’t get over how amazing they are. There’s not a lot of ways to give to Syria because people get worried about their money going to the wrong mission. But the White Helmets are brave, selfless and a real source of inspiration.
TDC: You’ve done some pro bono work in Palestine and Asia. Instead of viewing this as charity work you describe it as a “meaningful opportunity to contribute to the world of design”. Can you share a little more about that ethos?
HH: One of my main core values is that everybody deserves beauty, no matter who you are or where you are. It’s not always about the big budget or the most glamorous place, you can find the most discerning, beautiful environments amidst chaos.
You can cultivate a beautiful environment from really simple things. Some of my biggest inspirations are created in cultures and countries that are much less fortunate – beautiful mud villages in Africa, intricate tiles in the Middle East, amazing bamboo constructions in South East Asia. I’ve always felt driven to help communities that need it and I don’t see it as a pro bono offering. I want to work with people from those countries because I gain so much from the experience.
TDC: What are you focussing on for 2020? Any specific goals for yourself personally and The Stella Collective?
HH: At The Stella Collective we have a few hotel projects coming up but there is one in particular that represents a bit of a full circle experience for me. The hotel is in the tropics and it was owned by my husband’s grandfather over three decades ago. I’m so excited that the project has come into our world and we can restore some of the 80s glamour that it once held.
As far as a personal goals go, I recently turned 40 and one of the things I really want to do this year is go to Brazil. It’s been my lifelong dream to go somewhere that is so architecturally beautiful and uses all these natural, amazing materials in their designs. You can definitely expect to see some tropical modernism coming out of our studio in 2020!
Another important goal for me is that Kiriah and Natalie who work at The Stella Collective get to achieve amazing milestones within the business. It’s not just about Stella achieving goals, it’s about the individuals achieving their milestones and feeling connected and a part of the studio.
TDC: What can participants expect from your Masterclass on 14th March?
HH: A whole lot of honesty! I’ll talk about running a business, the limits that I’ve been pushed to, and the journey that I’ve taken to get here. I really want to explain what it takes and help participants develop an understanding of how we create the environments that we’re in.
As if we weren’t excited enough about Hana’s masterclass! After speaking to her, we are counting down the days. If you want to feel inspired to make 2020 a year of personal and business growth, don’t miss the opportunity to step into Hana’s world. Spots are limited so book today.
Limited tickets for the Masterclass: Hana Hakim are available here.
Time & Location
Date: Saturday 14 March 2020
Time: 10.30am – 12.30pm with lunch to follow
Location: The Stella Collective Studio, Studio 01/A, 249 Chapel St, Prahran VIC 3181
Cost: $350 (includes e-book and light lunch)
Book your tickets here
30% of profits go to The White Helmets