Lara & Matt Fells are a husband and wife duo and founders of Australian Women’s wear label St. Agni. Attracted to the idea of finding the inner, architectural potential in a place, the pair recently opened Apartamento, an effortlessly minimal Air BnB — distinct from everything else in Byron Bay. We visited the light-filled apartment to chat about the inspiration and creative process that went into bringing their vision to life.
Hi Lara & Matt! Can you tell us a little about yourselves and what you do?
We are a husband and wife duo and founders of Australian Women’s wear label St. Agni. We started the business in 2014 and have continued to work together within the business ever since, with myself (Lara) managing all creative aspects of the business and Matt managing all things logistics and operations. My husband Matt and I started the business in 2014 from humble beginnings. We didn’t have a business plan and experience or much money to invest, but we did see a gap in the market for simple leather goods – well-made pieces without the fuss! Since then our business has grown to two retail stores and over 100 stockists.
Known for your luxury lifestyle brand, St. Agni, what prompted you to design an apartment?
For a long time, I have had the vision of running my own bed and breakfast and the romanticism that is attached to providing people with a beautiful place to call home — even if only for a few nights. I used to imagine buying an old rundown hotel and renovating it into a little oasis that guests could escape to. I’ve always been attracted to the idea of finding the inner, architectural potential in a place and bringing it forth into reality. The last five years have been so busy within St. Agni, so that dream was placed on the back-burner for some time until l I found an old boat building space on Gumtree.
The building was built in the 70s and had remained quite bare and industrial since its early years. It was a huge space which couldn't have been more perfect as St Agni's headquarters, warehouse and boutique space. When we discovered that it had a two storey, 4 bedroom home attached to the front of the building we made the decision to split it in half and create an apartment on the top level and lease the downstairs to our favourite local coffee store because a sense of community is integral to us.
Can you share with us the inspiration behind Apartamento's minimal design?
When decorating the Air B&B we wanted to create a calm space that felt slow and relaxing and also distinct from everything else in Byron. It was essential that our value for minimalism transpired. The beauty of minimal spaces is that a feeling of calm is naturally ignited.
Tell us about the creative process, what went into conceptualising the space, and who did you work with to bring it to life?
I worked collaboratively with Lia-Belle from Worn Store to help source the furniture for the Apartment and create a space that reflected St. Agni with elegance and sense of calm. We sought pieces from all different areas and worked closely to ensure that everything we sourced served a significant place within the apartments overall aesthetic.
In what ways did you seek to weave the St. Agni aesthetic throughout the design?
We used the same approach with the interior design as we do with our apparel, footwear and accessories - we wanted it to be an extension of our overall design aesthetic, so it makes sense that there would be strong symmetry between the two. Our upcoming collection ‘UKIYO’ was also designed during the same period that we were working on Apartamento and I think you can see many similarities between the two, highlighting what was specifically inspiring to me at the time. This is evident with the muted colour palette, the boucle fabric that we upholstered the lounge with and bathroom mirror which replicates the organic shape of the buttons used on garments in the collection. It happened naturally and the interiors reflect everything that I was drawn to during this stage.
How did you go about curating the objects and furniture used in the space, were you drawn to any pieces or designers?
We were working on a tight budget for the renovation, so many of the pieces I would have loved to purchase were out of budget. A favourite piece is the sofa that I found on Gumtree, it was bright blue and we then had it reupholstered in boucle fabric locally.
Enveloped in muted tones and bathed in natural light the entire apartment feels fresh and luxurious. Can you tell us a little about the materials used to craft the space?
I found the warehouse characteristics really charming and I didn't want to lose that. There's something really tender in the brutality of concrete that complements the other raw materials within the apartment. I especially love the interplay between organic textures, whether it's the wooden furniture, the handmade pottery, or the natural linen bedding. Every detail within the space had to be carefully considered using all five senses. Apartamento had to be more than just a beautiful photo, it really needed to feel as good as it looks and including elements of natural fibres and materials played an important part in that.
Apartamento is nestled in the thriving creative hub of the Arts and Industrial Estate. What initially drew you to the area?We opened our first St. Agni space in 2016 just around the corner from where we are now. Initially, we liked the area because you were able to obtain more space for better value, however, after opening a boutique we realised that it was able to run successfully within the area. On a first visit, it would likely appear as an industrial area and just that, however, once you learn your way around the streets and immerse yourself, you become inundated with so many special independent businesses and beautiful places within the Arts and Industrial Community.
Only 3km inland from the main township, where do you recommend guests visit when staying with you?
- The Road House – a favourite for breakfast/Lunch/Dinner
- Kouzina – Great homestyle, authentic Greek Food (located just across the road from Apartamento)
- Top Shop – Amazing Burgers and Acai Bowels (I think we go every weekend)
- Saint Maries in Brunswick Heads – The best pizza
- La Casita in Brunswick Heads – Mexican in a beautiful atmosphere
- Daily Counter – Great Coffee (just downstairs from Apartamento)
- Bay Leaf Café
- Little Company
- Edwards & Co
In what ways can guests unwind and refresh at Apartamento?
We fill the fridge and cupboards with beautiful local teas and treats for guests to help themselves to. It’s a calming space, so simply sipping on tea whilst nestling into the sofa with a book is quite tranquil. It’s also nice to sit around the dining table in the late afternoon/ early evening, with a bottle of wine (visit boutique wine store Luna for the best varieties), play a game of card’s whilst listening to music. Also, the shower is amazing and that in itself is an experience and perfect way to unwind. On a sunny day, I would recommend grabbing the beach umbrella and towels and heading down to the beach - we love Wategos.