Inside the Minimalist Byron Bay Haven of St. Agni Co-Founder Lara Fells
Welcome to The Makers. Each week, we’re celebrating innovators, artisans, and crafters of all types, taking you on a private tour of their creative spaces. For this installment, St. Agni Creative Director and Co-Founder Lara Fells, takes us inside her boutique Airbnb accommodation, Apartamento Byron Bay.
We’ve all spent hours online trawling for the perfect outfit staple, only to end up empty-carted at the end of the day. But when Lara Fells noticed the gap in the market, instead of logging off in frustration, she decided to launch her own label. The result is one of Australia’s most iconic boutique lifestyle brands St. Agni, based in Byron Bay.
Since 2014, Lara and her husband Matt have been designing simple, chic and refined women’s clothing and footwear, with a focus on functionality and quality. This same aesthetic and design ethos is reflected in their boutique accommodation, Apartamento Byron Bay.
Nestled within the creative hub of Sōko Space in the Arts and Industrial Estate, this minimally-styled Airbnb space embraces St. Agni’s ‘less is more’ approach, with earthy muted tones and natural wood furnishings throughout. The design is a reflection of the couple’s Japanese-inspired clothing collection ‘UKIYO’, which they were working on at the same time they were renovating the space.
“You can see lots of similarities between the two and what was specifically inspiring me at this time,” she tells Bed Threads Journal. “This is evident with the muted color palette, the boucle fabric that we upholstered the lounge with and the bathroom mirror, which replicates the organic shape of the buttons used on garments in the collection. It really happened naturally, and the interiors reflect everything I was drawn to at that moment.”
Soaked in natural light, the strict neutral palette used throughout the space is the perfect marriage of simplicity and elegance. In the bedroom, crisp Bed Threads sheets in Oatmeal and Pinstripe keep things feeling light and fresh — perfectly matching the apartment’s coastal surroundings. The bathroom, Lara’s favorite room, is tiled floor to ceiling in sand-hued KitKat tiles, while the open kitchen and living space is made spacious with open-shelving styled, carefully curated ceramics, gentle timber accents and a single pendant light that hangs above a statement white dining table. It’s understated luxury at its finest.
Relaxed, modern and effortlessly cool, this home is as comfy as a St. Agni pantsuit.
Hi Lara! This series is called The Makers. What is it that you make?
I’m the Creative Director & Co-Founder of a label called St. Agni.
How does the act of “making” relate to your personality and who you are?
I’ve always been quite creative and attracted to art, architecture and interiors.
I can’t say that I'm personally much of a maker but it’s my task to develop the concept and then work alongside the amazingly talented people who help to bring the concepts to life.
What was the impetus behind launching your label, St. Agni? What gave you the motivation to start?
When I was young, I would always try to encourage my family members to start businesses. I would suggest to my Grandma that she should convert her sunroom into a florist and that my Father should exhibit his metalwork in a gallery. I found the idea of business exciting and loved the idea of creating and sharing with the community.
When starting St. Agni, we didn’t overthink it; it was just something we wanted to do. It never felt scary or like work, just a natural progression into something that I feel was somewhat inherent.
Talk us through your creative process. How do you keep things fresh in the ever-evolving world of fashion?
I’m constantly seeking inspiration and keeping myself engaged, and this extends from my personal life to our business. I’m forever saving pictures of designs, architecture, colors and textures. When it comes to creating a new collection, it normally progresses organically from what inspirational elements are surrounding my world in that moment and we build from there, creating our own direction and story.
What’s been the single most crucial tool or strategy you’ve used to grow your creative business?
Social media has played a huge part in the growth of St. Agni. It’s such a powerful tool and something that connects you on a much more personal level with your community.
What’s been the most challenging lesson learned since you started your business?
Since starting St. Agni, we have faced many different challenges. Just some of these include balancing work and life, overcoming one of our best-selling designs being copied by some of the biggest fast fashion businesses in Australia and working out how Covid will impact our business.
I think the biggest lesson is to just trust your instinct, don’t stress out about the small stuff or things that haven’t happened, and put your energy into being optimistic and finding solutions.
Staying positive is so important for your own mental health but also for the mindset of your team and the culture within your business.
What’s been the best thing that’s happened to you since you started your business?
A few years ago we bought an old boat-building shed that was constructed in the 1970s and we renovated it to include St. Agni’s Flagship Boutique, HQ, an Airbnb, café, florist and gallery - our Soko Space. It was such an amazing project to work on and it was creatively fulfilling.
Another really big highlight for me was showing our Resort collection at Afterpay Australia Fashion Week. Showing a collection was never really on my radar, to be honest – I’m quite shy and the idea of having such a big focus on our work was quite daunting to me but the feeling when the show had finished was extremely rewarding and emotional.
Do you have a single piece of advice you’d give to your younger self/ someone looking to start their own business?
The best advice that I could share is to just trust that it's all going to work out. Don’t take your eye off your goal, take the risk, work really hard and it will happen.
Now, the home stuff. How long has your boutique accommodation been open?
We finished renovating the apartment at the end of January 2020 and opened it to guests a short time after that.
Did you do any renovations or make any big changes to it?
We pulled the apartment back to its raw bones. Then, we polished the concrete floors, painted the walls, installed a new kitchen and bathroom, and changed all the windows to Crittall style windows.
What was the thought process behind the way you’ve styled the interior?
We used the same approach to the interior design as we do with our apparel - we wanted it to be an extension of our overall design aesthetic, so it makes sense that there would be symmetry between the two.
We were working on Apartamento at the same time as we were developing a Japanese-inspired collection ‘UKIYO’, and I think you can see lots of similarities between the two and what was specifically inspiring me at this time. This is evident with the muted color palette, the boucle fabric that we upholstered the lounge with and the bathroom mirror, which replicates the organic shape of the buttons used on garments in the collection. It really happened naturally, and the interiors reflect everything I was drawn to at that moment.
What are your favorite pieces in the Airbnb?
I love the sofa! We actually found it on Gumtree and reupholstered it locally. It's even more beautiful to me knowing that we have given it a second life.
The entire experience was a learning curve for me, and I came to realize that unusual combinations can come together in unexpectedly harmonious ways.
Shop Lara's look with Oatmeal and Pinstripe in our Build Your Own Bundle.
Do you have any special décor pieces you’re looking to add?
I really want to find some beautiful artwork to put on the walls — I’m so fussy with art. If it’s not perfect, I feel like the walls are better plain.
Which is your favorite room in the Airbnb?
I love the bathroom and especially love the tiles in this space. I was so nervous to tile the floor and walls with the same tile but I’m so delighted with how it turned out.
Can you tell us about the bedroom?
The bedroom is such a calm space and we intentionally kept each very simple. I think in doing so it utilises the size of the rooms more effectively and we wanted the bed and bed linen to be the hero of the space, juxtaposed with smaller, carefully curated pieces.
What are your top tips for a well-styled bedroom, and home generally?
I like to keep things very simple. My philosophy has always been "less is more". I invest in a few quality pieces and then let them shine. I don’t like over-styling.
Shop Lara's look with Oatmeal and Pinstripe in our Build Your Own Bundle.
Do you have any projects coming up you want to talk about?
We're just about to have another baby, so my priority for the next few months is to really slow down and be present with my family at home. We're fortunate to have an amazing team at work who have everything under control.