Breaking the Bias – Sally Caroline

Words by Tiffany Jade
Photography by Anwyn Howarth, Sharyn Cairns, Lillie Thompson & Timothy Kaye
Interior Design by Sally Caroline
Styling by Marsha Golemac

International Women’s Day 2022 is dedicated to ‘breaking the bias’. Throughout the design community, a delicate balance exists between the culture of a design studio and the spatial outcomes they create, with gender playing an integral role in both. For Melbourne-based interior designer Sally Caroline, empathy is the keystone to being a woman and business leader today.

Sally has shaped her namesake studio by applying a lens of realism to the design industry and the complexities of running a business within it. At a time when the world is making significant steps towards gender equality, emphasising positive visibility of women and deliberately challenging gender stereotypes, discriminations and biases, there remains a veneer that rests upon the surface of being an entrepreneurial woman today – a dissonance where progress is championed while the messy fallout is swept under the metaphorical rug

Sally has shaped her namesake studio by applying a lens of realism to the design industry and the complexities of running a business within it.

“When I got started, there was a culture around females of “you can do it”, which is trying to be encouraging, but I think the reality is that business isn’t easy,” Sally reflects. This sentiment is much larger than the interior design industry but particularly poignant within it when the gender skew – with a workforce made up of 76% women – is so evident. It acknowledges the complexities of stepping into leadership roles, balancing career and families, and accepting the responsibilities and level of accountability that are of equal importance to the design process.

As a highly specialised interior design atelier orchestrating luxury residences, Sally Caroline is a brand that owes its success to an empathetic approach to business. “One of the most important things in my business is culture,” acknowledges Sally. “Empathy is definitely one of my strengths. It’s linked into what I am doing in residential design and is at the forefront of everything I do.”

As society increasingly calls for better work-life balance, for homes to be sanctuaries and workplaces to include ‘break out’ spaces to aid innovation, juggling these considerations takes perception, speculation, strategy, resilience and, above all, empathy. Finding a place for empathy within the framework of running a business demonstrates the significant contribution of women in design and business, not only in terms of gender equality but also in understanding that an affinity for those we surround ourselves with seeps into positive workplace culture and from there into the wider milieu. In this context, the studio’s philosophy – “we listen, intently. We get to know our client, truly. We pursue brilliance to create phenomenal, one-of-a-kind homes that embody every dream” – resonates.

Shifting between professional – entrepreneur, business leader and designer – and personal – daughter, mother, friend and wife – through her signature empathetic approach, Sally embodies the balancing act that women in design perform daily. While undoubtedly challenging, the success of her studio and strength of the culture she has fostered exemplify the rewards that such a well-rounded approach can bring.