Welcome to the Do.Upper Chronicles! It’s where we profile our incredible customers who love to use our products – like cabinet knobs, pulls or decorative wall hooks – to transform their DIY upcycling projects into works of art. However, for this edition, we’re switching things up a little. We know that inspiration can come from anywhere so we decided to bring you a conversation with a wonderful Melbourne-based architect for a change of pace.
Meet Laura of Unfold Architecture
Laura isn’t your typical architect. Her passions for psychology and wellbeing filter through every design and space she touches, which is something we admire and think about whenever we source new products at Do.Up.
Laura is the principal architect at Unfold Architecture, a firm she founded back in 2017. Driven by a desire to design spaces that boost people’s moods and match their lifestyles, Laura is overflowing with insights and tips we know you’ll love. So pop the kettle on, find a nice spot to get cosy and enjoy this in-depth chat with the delightful Laura Litcanu.
Tell us a little about yourself Laura…
How much time do you have? 😉
People usually define themselves through their profession, family and passions. If I were to answer from that perspective, I am an architect, wife, mum of 2 boys, proud whippet owner, Joey Scouts leader and networking enthusiast. I am also a pragmatic idealist who never sits still, on a mission of inspiring others to be and do better every day.
I was born and raised in Romania, in a beautiful part of the country named Bucovina, land of the beautifully painted monasteries and kind, welcoming people. That is where I learnt to appreciate craftsmanship and care for how other people feel.
I moved to Australia in November 2012 together with my husband and our first son who was then 11 months old. I had to rediscover myself in a totally new environment and had the opportunity to reset what I thought I knew about me. It is one of the hardest and rewarding experiences I chose to create in my life so far.
What 3 words would your friends use to describe you?
Dedicated, ambitious, sensitive.
What song would you sing at Karaoke and why?
“Hey Jude” by The Beatles comes to mind. My parents used to listen to it when I was little and I think it just stuck with me.
If you could live anywhere, where would it be?
I was born close to the mountains and feel very attached to the forest. I would love to have that view when I drink my coffee in the morning.
What’s your guilty pleasure?
I love to walk and quite often by myself. Just me and my thoughts, maybe some music or a podcast, for 40+ km. I would categorise it as ‘guilty’ just because I am so used to always being ‘on call’ for my children that taking a day just for me feels selfish at times.
What’s your proudest accomplishment to date?
The person I am today. There is a sense of pride in the way I built my current life: the choices I made, the lessons I learnt, the challenges I overcame, the mistakes I made to get here.
What got you into architecture?
I am an ‘accidental’ architect, in the sense that the path ended up choosing me more than I chose it. I wanted to become a psychologist up to the start of year 12, when my driving instructor – a psychologist himself – told me that I will not earn money in that profession in Romania, as people do not really understand it.
Slightly lost, I made an A-Z list of professions that resonated with me and I could consider and started a process of eliminating options. Architecture was one of the first and I set up an appointment with a university teacher to ‘test’ me to see if I could even consider it. I was never really good at hand drawing – imagine that with an architect! He saw something in me at that time and here I am!
For me, architecture is not about buildings though, it is about people. So see, I did not really give up on my dream, I just approached it differently.
Tell us a bit about Unfold Architecture and how it came about?
After working for 5 years in the same company, I decided I reached a plateau in my personal development. I felt that there was something else I needed to pursue.
I took a break for some time to reconsider: did I want to continue with architecture and open my own practice, unfold my own story, or did I want to move into something else, still people oriented, such as management and leadership? My husband asked the right question at the right time: “Imagine you are 80 and looking back on your life. If you didn’t open your practice, do you feel regret?”
The decision was made right then (in November 2017), but then further questions came: what do I want to create, why do I want to do this?
I felt that architecture was very much focused on the visual aspect, perceived as an expensive exercise and too focused on the physical outcome.
I wanted to explore what more it had to offer. I wanted to unfold that relationship between people and the built environment, discover how one influences the other and how we can more consciously make better choices to nurture a healthy relationship.
This may be a tricky question for you, but which room would you say is the most important one in the house, and why?
The room you spend most of your time in is the most important, as that has the biggest impact on your mood, habits, even relationships. It can be the kitchen and dining area, but not for everyone. Some families or individuals spend most of their time in the living room, especially if they also work from a study nook in there.
The question is actually a very good one and one that I recommend any person asks themselves when it comes to extending, building or renovating. Answering this question in a very personal way will help prioritise decisions and budgets.
Where do you seek inspiration from?
You’ll find me browsing on Instagram on a daily basis and saving images that inspire me. Ideas, concepts and principles inspire me more than the actual execution, therefore inspiration can come from nature, fashion, business or even a chat with someone.
I don’t search for inspiration when I have a new project. Usually the ideas come during my discussion with the clients. Something they say clicks and I immediately have an image in my mind that I further explore. It’s not the image of a project I have seen before, though that can happen as well, but rather an idea.
To give you an example, I was working with a client on the interiors for four units intended for young families. During the discussion around what improves our wellbeing and analysing the potential of the existing floor plans, I had this image of a portico come to mind. It was a representation of the idea of spaces of transition that we ended up focusing on as one of our core concepts.
Do you have a signature style? If not, why do you think that is?
Our first meeting with clients usually looks more like a psychological session than what you’d expect from a meeting to discuss a project brief! That is our signature style.
Jokes aside, I don’t think we have a certain style. I don’t believe in adopting the same details for all our work just because it will be easy to be recognised and become our signature because ultimately, it’s not about us.
Having said that, I don’t believe in trying to replicate styles that belong to the past either, unless they are in a contemporary interpretation.
Our choices come from the existing research around the elements that impact our wellbeing. You will find some similarities between our projects for that reason, such as:
- views towards natural elements
- an element of surprise
- lots of natural light
- the use of timber to lower the heart rate where we want that effect
- clean lines and functional layouts, plus
- the use of textures and details where we want people to interact more with the space and create more dynamism and joy.
How those ideas take shape can differ from project to project.
In your opinion, what makes a great space/home? There may be many factors, but which stand out to you as the most significant?
Having the right solar orientation for the rooms in your home is probably the most important one. Natural light, solar heat and natural ventilation come at no cost, though they have the biggest impact on how we feel inside our homes.
Renovating or building a new home can certainly be daunting, what are your top tips for anyone ready to start this process?
- Define what you want to do and why (focus on a description, qualitative rather than quantitative).
- Hand in hand, define how much you can and are willing to invest in the process.
- Find out what you can do (regulations) and see a specialist, like an architect or town planner, if you’re unsure of how to go about this.
- Define what is important for you in the relationship with the team you are going to choose for your project and choose based on that list.
- Understand the steps that are required to achieve your dreams. Map them out. Define how they are related to your cash flow, understand where your decisions are required and which ones are the most important ones (make sure you allocate more time for those).
- Don’t ask everyone around you for their opinion. We are all different. It will only confuse you. Decide early on who your trusted team is, do your due diligence before engaging anyone, and trust your instinct.
What trend do you hope makes a comeback?
I would like to see framed photography being used more often in interiors and people feeling confident displaying their memories where they work. I believe that will bring more joy in their day to day life.
Besides aesthetical elements, like colour and style, what are the most common questions you ask a new client around design?
I don’t ask new clients about colour and style 🙂 I ask them to describe their favourite childhood memories, the places they love spending time in, and I try to find out more about their personality, their risk appetite, their hidden fears, their personal aspirations, their ideal weekend, their plans for growing or not growing a family or owning a pet.
For the at home DIYer, we call them Do.Uppers, what’s one DO and DON’T you would recommend?
- Do invest time in something you can easily change if it does not turn out the way you wanted, especially if you try something for the first time. Research, research, research first.
- Don’t believe everything you see on tv, it will only build you up for failure. Try to be selective with your sources of information.
What would be your go-to product to create designer touches that are budget friendly for our DIYers?
I love a buffet or a side table. I have not tried it myself yet, but have seen some absolutely gorgeous pieces that bring personality to the spaces they are used in. These pieces have the right size to become a feature in the room without overpowering it, allowing you more flexibility in the way you express your creativity.
Tell us about your favourite/most memorable project to date?
It is not one project, but snippets from different projects. For example, we have a special memory about each person that was an important part of our lives and I have a certain space that I keep with me from my favourite projects.
In one project, it is the stairs and its impact on the feeling of spaciousness and light.
In another, it is the incredible visual connection we created with the garden through the full height windows.
In yet another, applying the principle of prospect and refuge in the kitchen, creating an area where the client can feel calm and in control, while being able to have visual contact with the other areas of the house was the hero. Pushing a client out of their comfort zone to adopt a different colour scheme for their kitchen than they would normally do can lead to an infusion of energy and joy that was the highlight of one of our other projects.
They say ‘your home is your sanctuary’ – now more than ever, it’s important that our homes are just that for us! With everyone spending almost all their time in their four walls (thank you COVID), what are some design tips you could give to make your home a joyful and inspiring one?
- Make sure you allow natural light in and open the window/doors to also allow fresh air in every morning. They are two of the most important neglected elements of your space.
- Declutter. I cannot emphasise this enough. Our brains deal with so much right now that the last thing they need is to have to process too much information in relation to the spaces we live in.
- Don’t be afraid of exploring colour! If you are redecorating, stick with a consistent theme.
- Don’t make each room totally different from the previous one. That would only make you feel extremely tired.
- Make sure you have objects (pieces of furniture, pots, plants, plates, pieces of artwork) around you that bring you real joy. Don’t keep something just because it was very expensive or a gift.
Where can we find out more about you/ see more of your work?
Inspiration is everywhere – find yours at Do.Up
Just like Laura, we’re always thinking about the spaces we inhabit and how they can be improved to not only make our lives easier, but also help us to feel good. Explore our online shop for a wide variety of wall hooks, cabinet knobs and handles, and more, for your next upcycling project. Then, make sure you tag us in on Instagram at @do.upper for your chance to be featured in this ongoing series, the Do.Upper Chronicles.