talks : with Helena Nikola.

I feel like a conversation with Helena is one that is always of shared value. She offers so much in the form of emotional intelligence but is an avid listener too!

I realised very early on that the landscape of design in Perth was forging its own very strong and unique path in part due to the contribution of people like Helena who, have as much a genuine passion for the relationship with their client as they do with the completion of project.

I get really excited by the execution behind Helena’s work. The orchestration and attention to detail is really second to none - when engaging anyone to step into your world to reimagine ‘how you live’, I close my eyes and think - she’s the magic you’d want.

I decided to sit her down and just ask……

Controversially your service is actually that of Interior Architecture. Why not just Interior Designer? Wouldn't it be easier and slightly less "did she just say that"? (**note : the use of the word architect is somewhat contentious and typically only reserved for those who hold architectural creditation).

Haha starting with the big one. For me it is a way to explain more clearly what I do. There is nothing in Australia that protects the term interior design, so anyone can call themselves an interior designer. I work like an architect on a project, usually taking on large renovation and extension projects or luxury builds. I do everything from creating a strong concept to preparing the necessary drawings, making all the selections – finishes, taps, appliances, window treatments etc.; tendering and negotiation with builders; attending site during the construction; and furnishing and styling the home once construction is finished. There is so much that goes on behind the scenes that most people wouldn’t really know about until they go through the process themselves. I could probably go on about this for a while…

Newtown Residence :  Helena Nikola Interior Studio  | Photography : Dion Robeson | Dining : Living Edge

Newtown Residence : Helena Nikola Interior Studio | Photography : Dion Robeson | Dining : Living Edge

It's a hugely fierce market out there, particularly with the rise of instagram and the feeling among so many #designlovers that they can either a) DIY or b) do it for less. How do you combat the push back from client enquiry without getting concerned that they will just go and look for someone else?

This used to scare me a lot, but to be honest I really don’t get worried about people pushing back anymore. I work with people that value design, trust my abilities and understand that they have to pay for a service - The DIY and do it for less people aren’t my clients. I am 100% comfortable having conversations about money and my fees. I stand behind the prices I put on my work because I know the value that this work can bring to my clients homes. So many times I hear of designers cutting fees to please a client because the client can’t afford their fees, but my question to them is can you afford that client? It is always the people who want something for less that expect you to work 100 times harder. 

The NEWTOWN RESIDENCE – Located in Laura Street in Newtown NSW. Alterations and Addition project. Budget $500K. Designed towards the end of 2016. Construction started in April 2017 and took 5 months Interior Design: HNIS . Architecture: KIARO Architecture & Design.

“Our clients came to us wanting a contemporary extension to meet the needs their modern family. We sought to transform their two-bedroom Newtown cottage into a four bedroom, two-bathroom family home; with a strong emphasis on increased access to natural light and functional storage.” - Helena.

I feel like you have this effortless calm about how you approach the project brief, and even how you articulate what those projects entail to those around you. Is this just the intuitive side of your training coming out or has been something you have learned as you've gone on?

To be honest it is a combination. Everyone who knows me knows that I like to tell a good story and this is one way I get to tell the best stories.

For me having a strong driving idea behind the design is everything. I cannot and will not design without one. People think that a designer is just producing drawings but how can those drawings come to life without an idea? A spark? Something that excites you about the project? Projects can take years to come to life so this ‘design story’ is what my clients have to inspire them, to tell friends and family while they wait for their home to come to life. One of my clients told me recently that their design story has become part of the legacy of the project; he tells everyone that comes to the house and it still makes him smile every time he descends into the Aphotic level of the home. Haha!

Tough one coming. If you had to choose between Australia made or European furniture pieces which would you choose and why? Do you ever feel the need to be seen to be supporting local and what's the deciding factor?

I usually have a mix of Australian and imported pieces in every project. I love supporting Australian businesses and do so where I can. I can’t limit myself to only Australian for every project as each project is so different and most times require trips to the USA or Europe to find the right pieces. In saying that, we are lucky because most of the furniture companies in Australia that supply imported pieces are owned and operated by Australian families.

Newtown Residence : Helena Nikola Interior Studio | Photography : Dion Robeson | Dining : Living Edge

Newtown Residence : Helena Nikola Interior Studio | Photography : Dion Robeson | Dining : Living Edge

When we first met, you were this solopreneur striving ahead with an 18 month old child and taking on some of the most prestigious and king size projects I'd been introduced to. Even though you can't share with us what those projects were (confidentiality folks - that old chestnut) what was the driving purpose pushing you head first all the way through to completion other than, you know, income?

 Oh I just wish I could put those projects out there, but sadly I have signed a confidentiality agreements on my first two projects… yes two, no marketing from those babies! 

Seriously though, I just love what I do. I have had jobs that I hated over the years (as previous employers would attest to) and worked on projects that were uninspiring, but it is these jobs and projects that allowed me to find my place and know where I am going. I have put a huge amount of work into the nuts and bolts side of my business to get clarity on why I do what I do and where this is all going. I listen to inspiring podcasts (mainly about science and mathematics, I probably should’ve been a mathematician), I do yoga and meditation, and I have a rock solid morning ritual that I do EVERY day. 

Here it is… I get up at 5am, even on a Sunday. I make a coffee (coffee before anything). I then do a 45 minute yoga and a 5-15 minute meditation depending on how I feel. Next I set myself up for the day – I review my task list; look at my financials; and check my diary for what I have set for that day (as in a paper diary, I like to write things down, it sinks in better for me). After that I write out my super yacht dreams both personal and business – you know that unattainable project or dream that would change everything; and finally I give myself a morning task to smash out before my daughter wakes up at 7am.

Well that puts my morning routine to absolute shame! It’s hard to imagine starting my day with yoga with my 3 boys running around. Perhaps if we had Helena’s input into the design of our house, I’d have my own dedicated yoga room anyway or at least somewhere more zen to play umpire to the lads.


Thanks so much to Helena for giving me free reign to ask what ever I liked. You can visit Helena in our Neighbourhood, or jump straight across to the HNIS site and go snooping.

Special mentions to Dion Robeson for the photography and Living Edge for their furniture in situ at Newtown.

Author : Deb Whincop started Spreading Roomers over 3 years ago with a vision to bring local design a different voice. She started by adapting her past corporate development and construction experience into a new style of niche business coaching. Now, having gained the trust of the industry she loves, she shares the stories she finds most intriguing that you will likely not read elsewhere. Deb also has 3 boys at home, lives in a ‘bounce house’ (the one that shoulda been flipped but didn’t), owns 2 cats - one questionably thinks himself a dog, and considers interpretive dance a definite ‘skill set’.