Women to Love

“If you don’t know how something works, go find out”: Shaynna Blaze on making it in the design world

Shaynna talks sexism, success and working her a*se off.

By Lorna Gray
Shaynna blaze

Shaynna Blaze knows how to create stunning spaces. The interior design extraordinaire has made an illustrious career based on raw talent, meticulous attention to detail, and good old fashioned hard work.

Creating stunning interiors in residential homes and commercial spaces for over two decades, Shaynna has her own design company, blank canvas INTERIORS.

But despite her impressive design resume, you'll probably know her best as a firm favourite on Selling Houses Australia, The Block and now Buying Blind.

As she continues to shine on and off screen, lending her hand to projects that inspire her, we caught up with Shaynna to talk making it in the design industry, sexist microaggressions and the importance of being a good mentor to the next generation.

What are you most proud of during the course of your career?

I recently completed a project I'm really proud of – it's called 'New Direction Care' and it's an integrated aged care and early onset dementia village. I've been part of the process of designing the 17 interiors of the 17 houses, working with the landscaping, the colour schemes and creating the village. It's got hairdressers and barbers and everything – it's amazing. My mum, who suffered from Alzheimer's for 15 years, was in high care and I know the quality of life is not great.

It's also great for the people who come and visit, for the family. This project is all about family as a whole and quality of life and trying to be as independent as you can with dementia. And I've got to say I'm incredibly proud of that one. I've had many projects before that but this one was very personal for me.

*The Block* judges Neale Whitaker and Darren Palmer.
The Block judges Neale Whitaker and Darren Palmer.

Have there been any pivotal or lightbulb-esque moments that have defined your career?

I think there's been quite a few! There was going out on my own – I was working for a company when I first came out of college and starting to work for myself – that was really a lightbulb moment in that I felt how hard it is for one. And realising I had to build a team and I didn't know how to do my own books or what not.

That really got me to see the importance of being with people with strengths that you don't have. And it takes a long time to get that going but at a very sort of young age of working out my own business, I knew that was going to be really important to my success.

I think also taking the plunge when I stopped design for a while and went out and sung and I was in a band for quite a few years and that was really a lightbulb moment for the fact that it can actually be really fun. Everything I do I really try to enjoy it – it doesn't have to be really stressful. I think that's where I've really gone through having the joy and fun in my life. A career is fantastic and money is fantastic but if you're not enjoying yourself and it's not something that you want to wake up every day and do then you should look at changing.

And it's not even a case of do what you love and you'll never work a day – I don't believe that - I work my arse off and I still love what I do! [Laughs]

I think it's really important to know no matter how hard it is, if you wake up every day with the drive for what you do, it's going to get you through the hard times and that's really important.

What advice would you give to your 13-year-old self?

You know what? My advice to my 13-year-old self is that the teenage years are not as dramatic as you make them out to be. I think the old 'don't sweat the small stuff' is probably the biggest advice in the teenage years and don't let someone label you.

When you're growing up you're always trying to fit into the box, you're always trying to fit in somewhere and your ability to see your own self is what actually matters more than trying to be what everyone else thinks you should be.

And I was told I had to be 'this sort of person' or 'that sort person' and it never sat with me. Being your own individual is the most important thing. I mean, you still have to get along with people but I think making sure that if you don't fit the mould, there's nothing wrong with that.

Shaynna with *Selling Houses Australia*'s Andrew Winter and Charlie Albone.
Shaynna with Selling Houses Australia's Andrew Winter and Charlie Albone.

Have you any advice for young women getting into your industry?

The fight in the industry is much harder now. When I started interior design it wasn't a well-known job – it was just big architectural firms and big corporate firms and there was a lot of women out there working in the industry but nowhere near how many there is now.

I think you've got to work out why you're doing it and we get really caught up in the visual of Instagram and in the visual of magazine pages and that being what it's all about – but that's 10% of the job. 90% of the job is research, paperwork, hard work, planning, finding out why you're doing it, what someone else wants.

What I would say to people is look at history, look at research – that is what design is all about and you'll learn to love that. History is one of my favourite things in design because if you trace history through time, that's where all our buildings change, our economics change and design styles are all through the economy, all through history. You learn a different love and respect for interiors when you go down that road rather than just focussing on the end.

And that, in turn, gives you a stronger respect for your craft?

Yes, and one other thing for people getting into the industry is that everyone is going to do it differently and the great thing is to find people that do similar things to you and learn but then don't be afraid to speak out to do something different. Don't get knocked down.

You know, you're in the creative world and not everyone's going to like what you do and you're going to have to be challenged every day. Every day in the creative world is a challenge. Embrace it! Because that's how you get great results.

Have you ever faced sexism at work?

Actually to tell you the truth, no, I haven't. I've been incredibly lucky. When I first started in my job in design I was straight away on building sites and I had male bosses and they actually had me on the same level as them. And I was only 20 so it was pretty incredible. I had a very mature leading into the building industry.

And I think because my dad was DIY, and I actually did a lot with my hands so I was drilling things and sawing things and making things so I sort of felt like I was pretty much on that same level with them even though I was on the creative side.

I mean you do get that little bit of sexism in the fact you're the girl on site and 'what would you know, you don't build it' and some of that was quite right in the fact I was just doing designs but didn't know how it was being built so I was always of the understanding 'if I don't know then I'm going to make sure I do'. Then when they turn around and ask me 'what would you know?', I can say 'Well, actually I do.'

That way, I felt like I had a bit of control without realising it was sexism. I always made sure I took on roles with responsibility so that I could be in charge of my own destiny and you know, it doesn't always work out but I've got to say, I was pretty lucky. I think the sexism in personal roles is a whole different thing but I just think in the industry and for my job, I always think I was on a pretty even keel as long as I kept my knowledge up.

And that's empowerment. Oprah used to always say 'knowledge is power' and if you don't know how something works, then go find out. Don't wait for someone to serve it to you. Don't expect anything on a platter. It actually feels better when you've researched it yourself and you have found out. Then people tend to listen to you in a different way.

Have you made any mistakes along the way?

Oh god, I've made lots of them. And I think it's one of those things when you make mistakes you think, 'oh god, I won't do that again.' Mistakes are fantastic if you learn from them. Mistakes are not great if you keep repeating them.

It's so import to fail because if you never fail at something, it becomes an easy ride and then later in life, if you haven't come across all these challenges and mistakes throughout your life, when you hit that first big one, it's actually more devastating because you don't have the personal or emotional tools to work through that.

Would you do anything differently?

I would not be the person I am now if I did do it any differently so as much as there are a lot of painful things I have been through, where I am now is totally worth it.

Who’s your biggest champion?

I think my biggest champions are my kids. I was a single mum for a short time, about six years, and it was us sticking together. And they've seen me grow and seen me push boundaries in what I'm doing and they're always there saying 'go mum, we think you're amazing' and really not saying 'you've been a bad mum because you're not there' – they've been the opposite.

And I think you feel when your kids have got your back, it's pretty amazing because it's meant to be the other way round. [laughs]

So yeah, I feel very blessed. And you know, they're adults themselves now and I think it's something that as a mum, you turn around and your kids have got your back and it's an amazing feeling. You feel very settled as a human being.

Do you think it’s equally as important to mentor the next generation?

I do. Especially the way the world is going. It is a revolution of women standing up for each other again and we haven't seen that for a long time and it's really important and if somebody looks up at me for that change then I take a big responsibility for that. It's so important for you to have people to look up to in life and for them to give you advice is good. I've had a lot of little kids look up to me and I've found it amazing. I've had some kids at 8 or 10 who admire me and I think 'wow, they admire me for what I do' rather than because I looked pretty in a picture or something like that.

And I think that's great and if we can teach other girls – and boys, boys need that guidance too – if they can see that a strong successful woman can be happy, that's really important for people to see. That you can be strong and forceful and you can still be very soft and human at the same time.

What inspires you?

I think what inspires me and drives me is the fear of doing nothing. And it's not even idleness, it's just making a difference to your day or making a difference to somebody or making a difference to what you leave behind. And what inspires me is challenge – I love challenging myself, I love challenging the next generation, I love challenging problems.

If you give me a challenge, I just want to take it on. And am I scared? Absolutely. I'm scared shitless half the time but it just means it creates a fire in your belly. And anything that's going to create the fire in the belly, that's what inspires me.