Interview with YSG Studio Director Yasmine Ghoniem

  • We catch up with Sydney-based designer Yasmine Ghoniem of YSG to learn how a career in music and her nomadic childhood has shaped her courageous and quirky approach to design.

    Known for her unconventional approach to interiors, it’s no surprise YSG Studio founder and director Yasmine Ghoniem describes design as something that ‘chose her’. After a career in music left her wanting more, Yasmine and her sister Katy Svalbe joined forces under the name Amber Road where they worked as partners for seven years; Yasmine leading the interior design and Katy leading the landscaping.

    Fast forward and Yasmine is coming to the end of a hugely successful year. Not only did she launch her own solo studio YSG, but she cleaned up at the TDF X Laminate Awards, AIDA Awards and Dulux Colour Awards for her show-stopping Budge Over Dover project.

    As we saw in YSG’s Crane in the Sky in Sydney, Yasmine is a master at layering colour and pattern, bringing a sense of personalised curation to each of her projects through bespoke furniture, artwork and rugs. Speaking to Yasmine, we explore how growing up in the Middle East has influenced her eccentric interiors, the vision behind YSG and how this year is only the beginning for her and her team. 

    Although having studied interior design, you initially came to Sydney as an aspiring musician. What made you choose design over music, and how has music come to inform your work as a designer?

    Yasmine Ghoniem: It wasn’t a choice, design chose me. I migrated from design to pursue a career in music. I only started freelancing to pay the bills whilst gigging. I quit design so I could play more music, but I got so busy working for myself that I stopped playing music so I could design. It’s funny how the world works.

    Congratulations on your 2020 AIDA Award for Budge Over Dover. What was most rewarding (or enjoyable) about this project as the first under your own name? 

    Yasmine Ghoniem: Although we have completed a lot of smaller residential projects successfully, Budge was the first endeavour which really offered the studio some space to explore and illustrate what we can achieve on a larger scale. Playing with proportions is what I enjoy most, so this was truly a wonderful launchpad into hopefully larger properties in the future. It’s so nice to see the house’s success unravel. Her wins have certainly been very unexpected.

    Could you please talk to growing up in the Middle East and how this has influenced/come to shape your approach to interior design?

    Yasmine Ghoniem: My dad was an engineer on oil rigs, so his profession certainly shaped my nomadic childhood and limited our stays to the Middle East. I’m grateful for the frog jumps now, I don’t know if I was at the time. I met a lot of very interesting, powerful, charismatic characters along the way, all like me, half this and half something else. All spread out across the globe and all doing amazing things.

    I often reverted to daydreaming in my younger years (Kuwait was a vast desert with little to do) which I think spurs so much of this dream-like state I am desperate to cultivate in my interiors. I dreamt of the ‘melting pot’ – America. I can still remember my chuckling as I heard the waitress rattle off the order in a thick southern accent during my first dinner in Savannah GA where I went to university. I had finally made it. I was in the US of A. I’m lucky enough to have felt this surprise on multiple occasions; the many joys of moving around.

    Inside the YSG Studio in Darlinghurst, Sydney

    “The desert was an unforgiving landscape and I think it has really shaped my love for anything that is truly opposing to its vastness.”


    – Yasmine Ghoniem

    Inside the YSG Studio in Darlinghurst, Sydney

    You launched your solo studio YSG Studio early this year. What was the journey like to starting a new studio; what have your learned along the way?

    Yasmine Ghoniem: 2020 wasn’t really the year to launch a business was it? But I gotta say, we’ve had some great successes regardless of natural disasters and pandemics.  The brand story was really important to get right. I wanted it to have longevity and depth, to speak of my heritage and really command the unconventional untapped design space.  I wanted the brand to grow alongside the studio and not be left behind. CD and Co nailed the brief. Things I’ve learnt?  Hard work pays off.  Dream bigger. Build it and they will come.

    You’ve crafted your own distinct style through layering patterns and textures. Could you please talk to your use of bold colours and forms into your projects?

    Yasmine Ghoniem: The lack of colour, texture and pattern found in my younger landscapes, more than likely inspires my over-zealous application of them all. The desert was an unforgiving landscape and I think it has really shaped my love for anything that is truly opposing to its vastness.

    Who or what has had the largest influence on your work?

    Yasmine Ghoniem: The desert and Eileen Gray. She was mega, I want to be just like her when I grow up.

    What do we have to look forward to from YSG Studio in 2021? 

    Yasmine Ghoniem: A beautiful big heritage house in Rozelle we’ve been working on for three years will be complete in January 2021 as well as a wonderful penthouse; a love in the making for three years with repeat clients with very special and unique details found in both. We commence on concepts for a dwelling in Melbourne, and multiple local residences dotted across Eastern Sydney and start construction on an unconventional office fit-out in the city for the same client as Budge! She’s a beaut.

    But 2021 is a first for many things, as we continue to develop our bespoke furniture range, (watch this space) and design our first overseas project with a high school friend of mine in Kuwait. Perhaps our most exciting news, YSG’s first architectural offering will be complete in December 2021. We’re designing a home from the ground up which has been a dream of mine since starting my design journey.

    Design Insider’s Guide:

    Favourite local designers and studios?

    Yasmine Ghoniem: Flack Studio – I feel like they’re our brother company! All the crew I met on my DIA Dulux tour, Fiona, Pascale, Jen and Chris – amazing designers and damn great people. Offshore love for Studio Shamshiri, Dimore Studio, Formafantasma, India Mahdavi and Axel Vervoordt to name a few.

    Favourite design stores?

    Yasmine Ghoniem: My Redfern strip… The DEA Store, Rudi Rocket and Chee Soon & Fitzgerald all have revolving delicious feasts for the senses.

    Favourite galleries or spaces?

    Yasmine Ghoniem: MCA, White Rabbit and NGV when I’m down in Melbourne. At least once a month, Chippendale becomes one of my favourite haunts in Sydney; there are some wonderfully spirited buildings around that way. I also love Michael Reid and love the look of Michelle Connolly’s workshop in Marrickville. I must get over there.

    Where do you go to look at great design?

    Yasmine Ghoniem: Nature. My dreams. Old books.

    Yasmine Ghoniem

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