- Article by Liv Croagh
When it comes to Perth studio State of Kin, it’s a family affair. Alessandra and Ara Salomone are business partners and sisters-in-law. The pair have joined Australian Design Review’s 30UNDER30 on the panel of esteemed judges to give back to an industry that is literally in the family.
Ara and Alessandra talk to 30UNDER30 about how mentorship is a career-long relationship, and what this program will bring to the next generation.
30UNDER30: It wouldn’t have been that long ago that you were part of the under 30 cohort; do you think there’s much that’s changed in that time?
Ara: I don’t want to say the word support, but it was always support that we struggled to get. We had to reach out to everyone and really clutch at straws just to be able to have people come on board for the vision we had. We had pushback. The avenue that 30UNDER30 is providing for that support is huge. It can’t be downplayed.
Was there anything similar when you were coming up?
Alessandra: Not really. We are obviously so involved now with the industry, we love giving back and we are and can be mentors for the younger generation. We also like to think of ourselves as approachable, and I don’t know if it was always that way when we were coming through in our 20s.
Ara: Even when we were registering, we didn’t have support groups for our registration. There were all of these really confusing systems in place, and we had no idea what we were doing. It was hard.
A lot of this industry tends to be focused on the eastern seaboard – being a studio from Perth, can you feel siloed? Will the networking be valuable for the West Australian cohort?
Alessandra: Oh, yes, 100 percent. With Perth, now where we are at in the last 10 years, the design community has come together, finally. Sydney and Melbourne have been doing this for longer than we have. They’ve always had that camaraderie and now we get to have a share of that too.
Ara: We work together on projects commercially now. These projects require so many different architecture and design firms to work together. And that’s because we made a network where we can fall back on each other. We’ve created this intermediate community and that’s because the networking part of this industry is so important.
Do you think there are a lot of West Australians who leave and then come back?
Ara: I think nearly everyone does that! Western Australia is a hard barrier to break. Not with work, but with your design principles and ethos, and you shouldn’t have to compromise that, but so much of this market is driven by shop fits and commercial builds. It can be harder to get your designs across the line than it is in other states, but we want to encourage our locals that it can happen for them here – if it means you have to smash through every roadblock, you can. We did, and we continue to do so.
What do you think is exciting about the next generation?
Ara: There’s so much growth happening at the moment, particularly in Perth. This generation is a big part of this growth. They have such a fresh angle. They’re inspired. They’re not jaded.
Alessandra: It’ll be great to have some people from WA being looked at. There are some exciting things happening here, and 30UNDER30 is allowing that next generation to be seen.
Regarding what State of Kin is looking for, do you think you’ll bring something unique to judging?
Ara: I think the way we structure our business has a different angle, as we’re architecture and interior. We work end-to-end, so our design quality and the standard is so high. But it’s not just aesthetic, it’s about function. Making something look beautiful isn’t architecture and interior design; it’s about space. It’s about the brief, budget, the people and the client, who you’re working with and for. We’re supportive critics, but we’re tough critics.
Are the under 30s facing issues that the older generation doesn’t focus on?
Alessandra: Oh, where to start!? Sustainability, diversity, financial crisis, the pandemic. It’s just so different. Ara and I were born into this industry – both of our parents came from design and construction. Our parents had housing affordability issues, but it was still attainable. Our clients have changed so much, what they can afford, what they want, and what their needs are.
Ara: What’s expected from them has grown so dramatically. The older generation isn’t always attuned to how much work is required now. My father could do one drawing for a client, now it’s hundreds of pages of sketches. What we are expected to learn and understand from planning to site constraints – we have had to go way outside of our roles to understand the industry. It is full on.
It sounds like you two will enjoy the mentorship side of 30UNDER30 as much as the cohort will.
Ara: We learn so much from them.
Alessandra: We’re a family business and my father is still part of the team, so we still have our mentors here, and with this next cohort we have so much to learn from them. We couldn’t have gotten to where we are without ours, and we want to give that back to this under 30 cohort. They are career-long relationships we’re going to be making.
If you could give someone who’s nervous to enter some advice, what would it be?
Ara: The more you put in, the more you get out. And these nerves will settle with more knowledge.
Alessandra: Oh, my main advice is never to be afraid to ask! We are still asking questions every day – curiosity, as well as knowledge, is power.
Looking for mentorship or your next career challenge? Find out more about 30UNDER30.