As a child growing up in the Middle East, interior designer Yasmine Saleh Ghoniem recalls that the extreme desert heat necessitated a very indoor life, marking the beginning of her fascination with interiors. With the launch of her solo practice YSG Studio earlier this year, she reflects on how her love of performance and the combination of her Egyptian and Australian background have informed her work.
As a designer, Yasmine Saleh Ghoniem is known for creating highly charismatic, intriguing and richly layered spaces, filled with unexpected, daring palettes, organic forms and highly considered detail. It is perhaps no surprise that she credits growing up in a very interior world with initially sparking her love of design. “I grew up in a desert,” she explains. “I spent most of my life in the Middle East and it could reach around 50 degrees sometimes, sizzling hot, so interiors really became my world because I spent so much time indoors.” However, “it was never a lightning bolt moment ‘I wanna be an interior designer when I grow up’ feeling though,” she says, recalling that she initially pursued a career in entertainment. “I had been dancing since I was four and had been in various bands over the years. But my very traditional Arabic father thought I needed stability and was super set on me going to university. So off I went begrudgingly and studied interior design (I’m glad he made me now).”
After seven years running design practice Amber Road, which she co-founded with Katy Svalbe, Yasmine launched YSG Studio in early 2020. Since establishing the solo practice, “I’ve really had to think about what my niche is in the design arena,” she says. “At its very core, my outlook is nourished by the layers of my culture. My mother is Australian and my father is Egyptian, so my formative years were spent mostly in the Middle East before escaping to America to attend university. My nomadic childhood provided me with a super-speedy adaptability mechanism.”
Her vision is informed by staging and storytelling – “no doubt due to my love for performance.” Spaces designed by YSG are sculptural and inter-connected, every element informed by its interaction with the interior as a whole. Above all, the studio’s work is driven by the imperative to create “atmospheric potency (sometimes a whisper like my Edition Coffee Roasters café in Haymarket or louder presence like Polychrome House with its graphic palette),” she says. “If I don’t supersede a client’s expectations, then I haven’t done my job to the best of my capabilities.”
“At its very core, my outlook is nourished by the layers of my culture. My mother is Australian and my father is Egyptian, so my formative years were spent mostly in the Middle East before escaping to America to attend university. My nomadic childhood provided me with a super-speedy adaptability mechanism.”
YSG’s work is grounded in a passion for materiality and a commitment to custom designing pieces for every project. It is rare that the studio concentrates on loose furnishings first, each project’s priorities are instead set by the material palette, which informs the space as a whole.
Summing up the studio’s approach to materiality, Yasmine describes how “palettes really are like wine, they get better with age. Our palettes might start out with 20 different finishes, but they’ll condense to a hearty 10 with each one packing a punch.” Materiality is everything, she explains. “Texture is everything. Colour is everything. A varied palette describes my heritage, my makeup. ‘The magnetism is in the mix’ (mix of materiality) as my new branding suggests!”
Timber and stone are two of the most significant materials the studio relies on. “In stained timber, I love seeing a magnificent grain come through a delightfully unexpected colour,” says Yasmine. “And I love textural indoor-outdoor stones for their inherent grainy feels, texture and pitted nature, [as well as] punchy colourful natural stones – it’s crazy what nature can provide. My husband is a geologist, so he’s always so surprised the earth can provide such versatility.”
When it comes to sourcing stone, “Artedomus does texture really well!” she says. A go-to product for YSG is the Artedomus range of quartzites. “For a beautiful heritage residence we just completed, we specified several of Artedomus’s super hardwearing quartzites. One in particular called Cortona paralleled the existing sandstone features so seamlessly. Our island bench also featured a great brushed Black Fantasy – it looks almost leathered. Their Magnesia, which has a slightly fiercer movement than the Black Fantasy, is rather delightful to touch.” Meanwhile, “I am waiting for a brave client to specify the Gardano marble” she continues. “The colour and pattern mash-up is right up our alley!”
Artedomus is also a key supplier for YSG Studio when it comes to tiles. “INAX Gladden wall tiles from Artedomus are a fave. The Japanese just have a recognisable and endearing quality in everything they produce,” Yasmine says. Explaining that YSG rarely specifies timber flooring, she says that “there is an Artedomus limestone flooring called Isernia we’ve been using a lot recently. We installed it with a fatter grout which gave it a nice European flavour.” And, highlighting the versatility of the Inersia product, she says. “We have also used the same flooring throughout a really modern penthouse inside and out, and it fits that too.”
With such a strong focus on creating spaces that are rich in character and which revel in the unexpected, designing custom furniture is key to the studio’s approach. “Our furniture packages are usually quite condensed as the studio really offers bespoke furniture solutions,” Yasmine says. “In 1906 Apt, [for example] we only ordered a bed, sofa and coffee table, the remaining pieces were all YSG designed and fabricated. We’d love to take it one step further and select cutlery, china – right down to the perfect pair of house slippers and robe!”
This almost obsessively customised approach extends not only to furniture but to the commissioning of artwork, which plays an important role in many projects. “We always incorporate a hand-painted mural on a ceiling – who doesn’t love looking up and seeing something other than white – it’s the first and last thing you see before you hit the sack or awake of a morning,” she explains.
Though YSG as a studio is still brand-new, as a designer, Yasmine has already had an outsized impact on Australian design in the past ten years. Her work is at once effortlessly cool and bursting with joie de vivre, creating interiors that feel like something between an intricate set piece and unique little worlds – microcosms of colour, texture and form that wait to be discovered.