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Learning from the past to create the Australian design movement of the future

Dianne Bortoletto -

Thirty-year-old Leah Paige Bennet is a proud Wujari Noongar woman with family ties to Ravensthorpe, ties she only discovered when she was 12 years old.

The founder of Leah Paige Designs, an interior and furniture design company, said she is learning more about her heritage with every project she works on.

"My primary focus is to bring Aboriginal culture into design, so often it's just an afterthought – 'oh we'll get a painting for that wall'," Bennet said.

"I saw an opportunity and a huge gap in the market from a services perspective – it's actually quite difficult to specify Noongar products into projects.

"Then, what actually gets specified is not connected to country, not connected to story, and often it's purely there to tick a box and lacks meaning, I want to change that."

One example of how she brings Aboriginal culture into design is with her Sevens sofa, an asymmetrical boomerang-shaped modular sofa. It's a holistically Indigenous piece from the shape, the designer, the fabric and the artist.

Interior designer Leah Bennett founded Leah Paige Designs in 2021. (Image: Carlia Knowles)

Another example is a current project involving consultation with an advisory group and Elders to gain site specific stories. Those stories will be translated into interiors through material selection, design, planning and architectural components.

Bennet connects with Aboriginal Elders and communities during design consultations.

"It's a privilege to sit in a room and listen to their stories," she said.

Hearing stories from her own ancestors is something Bennet was not able to do. She only learned of her Aboriginal heritage shortly before her grandfather died.

"I think there was a lot my grandfather couldn't talk about and I also think he was also trying to protect my mum and my aunty," she said.

"I've been able to connect with some family and I'm learning more about my heritage – there is so much learn."

Bennet has always been creative. She is a graduate of the Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts with a Bachelor of Arts in contemporary performance and theatre studies.

She soon realised that to 'make it' as an actor or dancer, she would have to move away from Perth.

Sevens boomerang sofa by Leah Paige Designs

Sevens sofa by Leah Paige Designs.

"I'm Perth born and bred and I didn't want to go and live overseas," she said.

She went back to study a second degree, a Bachelor in Design.

"With design, I feel I'm able to control my future whereas with acting, I was reliant on someone giving me a chance."

Bennet has since found her place, creating contemporary spaces centred around Aboriginal culture showcased in an aesthetic and versatile way.

"Aboriginal architecture is the oldest architecture in the world, yet we didn't learn about when I studied and I think by incorporating Aboriginal culture into design it gets the conversation going," Bennett said.

"It's time to turn our eyes to the past to create the Australian design movement of the future."

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