Together, Penny and Elena are are the newly formed London arm of Siren Design Group, who describe themselves as a ‘band of creatives with an entrepreneurial mindset and a passion for interiors’. Sounds good to us.
It’s just 24 hours since the conclusion to the Ashes, therefore it seems somewhat appropriate that we’re meeting with a couple of London-based Australian designers for this latest edition of The Sundowner. We’ve known Elena Panagiotidis for a good number of years now, having tapped into her expertise for various industry discussions, round tables and editorial contributions. Although we haven’t know Penny Sloane for that long – she has only been in the UK for 12 months – we’re certain that, once our two Aussie friends have a glass of something chilled in front of them, the conversation will flow nicely.
Together, Penny and Elena are the newly formed London arm of Siren Design Group, who describe themselves as ‘a band of creatives with an entrepreneurial mindset and a passion for interiors’. Sounds good to us.
We begin by commandeering a table in the sunshine and asking our guests to tell us about the origins of this exciting new initiative.
Penny: London Is a city that both my husband and I always wanted to move to. We felt as though it was the city that we missed when we were young – that right of passage.
There was an opportunity to come over here – so we thought, why not take that opportunity with both hands and
go for it? We don’t have any family here and we didn’t have any friends here, but we’ve got a bit of an entrepreneurial spirit and a ‘why not’ attitude. My husband’s firm has Its head office here and there was also the opportunity to set up Siren in London – to go back to that start-up hustle again after Covid. It’s really exciting.
We ask Penny to tell us a little more about Siren.
Penny: The business was set up in Sydney in 2005. I had already been working with Mia (Feasey), who ls Siren’s Founder, in Sydney before that.
To start with we were five girls all doing different things. I don’t think people really expected that – and I think that’s part of the reason why we got onto projects and grew really quickly. We Just wanted to go out and ‘get shit done’ – and have fun doing it. We still say this in our board meetings! That’s the Siren call! In 2011 the opportunity came for us to move to Singapore. Again, we had never been there before, didn’t have any family there, didn’t have any friends – so a very similar story. Again, we decided to give it a go. Change Is always a good thing. You learn new things and you adapt and you grow. This felt like a very similar path. I learned a lot about working in an international market – often learning things the hard way – but also had a lot of fun, met a lot of great people and learned how to be open and receptive to different cultures and how things are done in different markets.
So, I arrived In London a year ago. I reached out to my people to help me with Introductions, referrals etc. I asked everyone I spoke with to give me three names of people I should meet with. I was looking for my Elena!
Then I was referred to Elena by SJ (Kujawinski), who I first met in Singapore. I had already met with a few people – who were all lovely – but then I met Elena in a coffee shop in Marylebone, I knew within seconds.
“I’ve never been afraid to change things up, to change the model a little bit, to do things differently this week from how we did them last week.”
Elena: I wasn’t looking to change at all. I started at Pringle Brandon (as it was) in 2006, had a little career break when I had my daughter, and then went back in 2010. I was with them for 16 years in total – which ls a long time. They were very good to me and extremely supportive of me and what I wanted to do. Obviously, things did change when it became Perkins & Will – a big corporate – and the last few years have been a bit different. Even though I was still a project leader, I became more of a manager, someone who was constantly delegating. I never went to university to be a manager! I always felt that I was strong at meeting clients, winning work, leading the team, making things work and making it feel as though it were our own. I felt like I wasn’t doing enough of that anymore.
I thought that I needed to go and have a conversation with Penny because a good friend of mine heads up the Melbourne studio and I always knew of Siren but hadn’t really engaged with them. I felt I really should meet her – more than anything, it would be rude if I didn’t. Again, I knew within the first five seconds of that conversation.
We were completely unknown to one another but I Immediately felt as though here was someone I could work with, someone who I could trust. I was going to make a big change here – but Penny was also trusting in me…so let’s give it a go. When this opportunity came up there was no wa,y I was going to say no. I really liked the fact that this was a company that was established – but hadn’t grown into that big corporate yet. I would have kicked myself if someone else had got this position.
Penny: It felt like there were so many paths that we were crossing. When Nicole, who runs our Melbourne studio, also said that she knew someone who might be a really good fit, and it was Elena, it really felt like worlds were colliding here.
Elena: I Immediately felt that Penny was a really good person – and that’s obviously Important when it comes to working with someone. She was very chatty and she clearly has amazing business acumen. You don’t get this far by sitting in the background. I like that spirit. I think I can learn a lot from her – and hopefully I can also bring a lot to the table. There are definitely things that Penny has done with her career that I can’t even touch. You’re constantly learning and you have to keep evolving – and this immediately felt like the next evolution for me.
Penny: When we met, Elena got excited and that made me really excited. There’s that saying – change is scary, but so is staying the same. That has always been one thing that has kept me going. I’ve never been afraid to change things up – to change the model a little bit, to do things differently this week from how we did them last week; how we did things before Covid ls definitely not how we should be doing them now. You have to constantly evolve and re–evaluate. We want to bring something a bit different, a bit unexpected, with the great reputations that both Siren and Elena have. We do have an amazing portfolio behind us.
Elena: The work that Siren has already done Is a great tool for us to use. There’s no reason why we can’t deliver fantastic projects both here In London and also throughout Europe. Even through the small Interactions I’ve had so far with guys In Sydney, It feels as though this Is a global family you can rely upon and reach out to. The team ls constantly looking at how we can help one another. It Just feels like a really good company to work for. At the end of the dey, they want the business to make money, but they want everyone to feel as though they are part of something and they want to create lovely projects. Everyone looks like they’re having fun. That’s definitely something I want to build upon here.
“The work that Siren has already done Is a great tool for us to use. There’s no reason why we can’t deliver fantastic projects both here In London and also throughout Europe”
I want people to come together and not worry about the hierarchy or who their direct line manager Is. If you do a good job, everyone will see It. Speak up and be a part of the team. Stop worrying about what your review might say. You’re here doing something you love. That’s important. The moment you start doing something you don’t like, you’ll stop producing good design. You need to love It, and you need to bring your clients along for the ride.
I always loved my clients – when they were great. When they weren’t so great, they did my head in! When they agree with me, they are the best. But even when they disagree, It’s my job to make them take my Idea and give it back to me as their own. Luckily for me, I’ve had a lot of clients who have become friends. We’re way- past simply having a transactional relationship.
That still exists a lot out there, unfortunately. There are too many people out there who are simply selling a myth – and that’s not how you should engage with design. You’re trying to make a space better for someone rather than trying to make a ton of money off the back end. That’s unethical. Sadly, there are too many who still buy Into that model.
Penny: I don’t think we could ever work like that. We are really passionate about what we do. We wear our hearts on our sleeves. Our people really do work so hard – but I like to think they’re having a really good time doing It. When people move on – and of course people do move on, for all kinds of reasons – they still stay in touch. We still meet up and we’re still friends. It’s all about people. Once a Siren, always a Siren.
This article originally appeared in Works Magazine