The Wizard of Australia
Down Under, a designer’s two homes showcase her up-and-coming style
Lorena Gaxiola wants to change people’s perception of design and conventional objects. The international designer, whose clients range from San Diego to Australia and anywhere in between, is a forward thinker.
Her vibrant interior creations, furniture lines and homewares express the way she thinks: off the beaten track. She flouts design rules. For her family’s two residences in Sydney, Australia, she didn’t bother using a color scheme, particular style, specific trend or even a budget. Her free-and-easy approach may stem, in part, from a varied cultural background.
“I was born and raised in Tijuana,” Lorena says. “Mexico’s nature is to be innovative while respecting ancestral work and maintaining the country’s cultural essence. We are raised to break the rules of design. We don’t always get it right but when we do, it is badass.”
She left Mexico to study at the Design Institute of San Diego, graduated and made San Diego her home where she lived and practiced design.
In the mid 2000s, she met her husband, Lewis, who was developing Australian-style residential projects.
“In the middle of that relationship, I started designing for Chinese developers, which required heavy commuting to China,” she says. “China has access to everything imaginable. They are very advanced and open to new ideas.”
With the time difference between China and Australia being only two hours as opposed to about 17 hours from San Diego, Lorena decided to maintain headquarters in California while establishing a satellite office in Sydney.
“Australia blew my mind,” she says. “It is like working and designing in the future. The country is young, the culture is extremely diverse, and that diversity has attracted talent from all over the world so we are able to be super creative.
You don’t see cookie-cutter trends like we experience in the U.S. You can tell one developer from another, but neighborhoods don’t look anything alike. Australia is very progressive when it comes to efficient design, from the environmental side as well as the health and wellness aspect of the end user.
This is really one of the main reasons I was attracted to practice design in Australia. I feel like I have gained a master’s in design solely by working among my Aussie peers.”
So, although she still manages her U.S.-based jobs with her local San Diego team, it’s no surprise that three years ago she moved to the land down under permanently. But why two homes in the same city? To get the best of Sydney’s city and beach vibes.
The family’s two-bedroom-plus-den downtown condo with city-skyline views sends a fast-pace, ready-for-business message while her bigger home in the eastern suburbs near the beaches says lay back, relax with friends and enjoy the family (Lewis and Lorena have a 6-year-old-daughter, Demi, “who experienced her first 15-hour flight at just 40-days old” and a 13-year-old poodle named Fabulous whom Lorena refers to as her son and who is “the heart of the home”).
“Really, it is a battle of the sexes,” Lorena says, laughing. “My husband loves big family homes while I tend to be more of a city girl and thrive in small spaces. I prefer to live in condos on a high level because, for some reason, it makes me feel safer. A traditional home makes me feel very exposed and once I go upstairs I don’t come down for even a glass of water. My husband, on the other hand, feels like he needs more space to move around.”
Both residences do have some things in common, however. One is lively artwork.
“I love collecting artful objects and I make sure to buy art wherever I travel,” Lorena says. “As far as style goes, I like to keep it real. I don’t like to live in museums where things are too precious. Rather, I like modern, relaxed and functional spaces and to be surrounded with things that mean something to me.”
Color also plays a major role at both homes—“I love being around color even though I mostly wear black,”—as do the homewares she designs—“I drew inspiration for them from my heritage, my spirituality and my experience as a tastemaker, so having them in my home is essential.”
In her suburban home, she loves the open floorplan, the neutral color scheme that allows whimsy and the mix-and-match of her collectibles—like the foyer’s bullfighter pieces by German artist Tom Hoffmann or the artwork by Mexican artist and friend Jorge Tellaeche with a phrase that reads, “I wait for love that doesn’t exist, I wait for a life that is not available, I make the best out of what I have.”
It’s the first thing guests see when they walk in the door and, although they are impressed by the overall decor, after having walked around a bit and experienced the wow of the sheer number of collectibles, Lorena says they all exclaim, “Yikes, there is a place for everything!”
“My home is an organized chaos,” Lorena says with a smile. “Nothing really belongs together but because it is carefully curated, it just works. The key is to play with colors, the proportion of the objects and merchandise with a lot of negative space.”
In her downtown condo, the views—the city’s skyline and the iconic Sydney Harbour Bridge—take center stage.
“I kept the walls pretty plain. The vibe is relaxed but I added a lot of symmetry. Since the layout doesn’t allow me to anchor the furniture onto the walls, I floated everything to create circulation throughout.”
Besides the sky-blue featured in a wool-and-silk rug designed by Lorena and handmade in Nepal by JD Staron, colors don’t come out to play in the living areas where gray, white and black predominate.
Instead, it’s the bedrooms where colors have all the fun.
“The city tends to feel cold and concrete like, so color was a necessity in our sleeping quarters,” Lorena says. “Demi’s room reflects her love of the ocean, mermaids and rainbows. My bedroom in this home is my haven. I love to lay on my dream-catcher bed that I designed, with my blue crystal bedding from my collection, surrounded by my favorite art pieces and looking out the window off the 25th level overlooking the gorgeous Sydney skyline.”
Crystals, dream catchers and water motifs are soulful elements that emerge within Lorena’s design at both her homes.
“I am a highly spiritual person, and I don’t mean in a religious way although I am a woman of faith,” she explains. “I strongly believe in the power of energy and how we are affected by energy every single day. To stay spiritually strong, I like to live life in a holistic way connecting the mind, body and spirit. All of those elements definitely are represented in my personal spaces, not only in my home but in my work as well.”