22 Oct Behind the brand: Marylou Sobel’s story
Marylou Sobel wanted to be an interior designer since she was eight years old. She didn’t know what an interior designer was back then, but she knew that when she walked into a beautiful home, she felt so happy she could burst.
When she was eight, Marylou visited the Johannesburg home of one of her mother’s friends. It was a beautiful house filled with art and colours, and it had a kitchen with modern appliances. The house had layers and textures and joinery from floor to ceiling. Eight-year-old Marylou didn’t know what joinery was, but she knew that just by looking at it, she felt good. Most impressively, the wallpaper matched the curtains – the style of the time – and she knew then and there that she wanted to learn how to make homes beautiful.
When she returned to her home, Marylou surveyed her bedroom and announced to her mother that she wanted to re-do it. She wanted to paint the walls green and get new curtains swirling with leaf-prints – like the ones she saw in the beautiful house. Her mother went along with it, but she didn’t allow young Marylou to paint the whole room – just the wall next to her bed. Curtains were procured with some apprehension.
“I think my mother was panicked,” says Marylou. “My idea for the curtains was overwhelming, but she found something similar. Today I wouldn’t have such busy curtains – I’ve evolved,” she laughs.
Marylou at 10 years old, in Johannesburg’s northern suburbs
Three bedroom changes later (never four walls painted) she began her studies in interior design. There was a brief moment when psychology was considered (“I’ve always had an innate ability to read people very well”) but the moment passed. Marylou ended up studying interior design at a now-defunct technikon (a higher education institution in South Africa that focuses on vocational education). It was located on the fringe of the Johannesburg CBD, and in the early eighties a degree in interior design didn’t exist yet, so she completed a three-year diploma. Marylou cut her interior-design teeth at Head Interiors (very much not defunct) for a few years, before moving to Australia with her husband.
She was only 23 when she emigrated, and three daughters later – when her youngest was four – she started her own interior design company in Sydney. It was tough; she didn’t know anyone in the trade and it was difficult to get recognition. All she had was her diploma from the tip of Africa and severe homesickness.
“When I first came to Australia I missed South Africa terribly,” says Marylou.
“I thought it would be pretty similar to South Africa – it’s an English-speaking country and the weather is the same, but those things made no difference because culturally it’s not the same. I had to learn a whole new set of rules for life. It took me 10 years to feel like Australia was where I belonged – for many years I inhabited no man’s land.”
A 1993 photo of Marylou’s three daughters, who were all born in Sydney. From the left Stephanie (4), Cassie (8) and Samantha (18 months)
Byron Bay: “During my childhood I went to Plett every year with my family; it’s in my blood,” says Marylou. “But I’ve replaced it with Byron Bay.”
Along with a diploma and homesickness, Marylou had a strong work ethic. For a start, she worked from home for 22 years but she never wore a tracksuit or PJs to start her workday (“I always got dressed for work, even if I never saw anyone”). She slowly built a name for herself – Marylou Sobel Interior Design. She also showed her three girls that mothers can and do work – her second daughter, Stephanie Nadel, studied interior architecture (she’s one of the senior designers at Marylou Sobel Interior Design).
Marylou with her daughter, Stephanie Nadel, who is now one of the senior designers at Marylou Sobel Interior Design
A COVID-19 world has resulted in many tragedies (including workdays started in PJs); it’s also resulted in things like interior design being seen as unnecessary luxuries.
However, Marylou maintains that interior design is important in times like these. Many people are working from home(some, like in Melbourne, are locked in), so their home environments have a huge impact on their sense of well-being. And you can’t put a price on well-being when the world is falling apart.
“You just keep going with what you have because you don’t have time or money,” says Marylou.
“Now you find yourself at home and the things that have gone wrong around you start weighing on you… interior design can help the way you relate to yourself and how you relate to others.”
“I know it’s a luxury but I also think that people who access interior designers benefit enormously,” she adds.
One of Marylou’s favourite spaces in her Boronia Road, Bellevue Hill home – the kitchen. Photography: Maree Homer
A bespoke, multipurpose diamond-buttoned ottoman that Marylou made for her family room (it serves as a foot rest and a ‘coffee table’). Photography: Maree Homer
“It brings them pleasure and they’ll feel better in their environment – that’s a mission statement at Marylou Sobel Interior Design: by changing the way people feel about their environment, ultimately it can change the way they feel about themselves.”
Looking for an interior designer in Sydney to change the way you feel about yourself? We’re award-winning and highly respected: contact us to see why.