Liana Corbino

Interior designer and decorator Liana Corbino at her workplace


“I feel that a house should represent the people living in it, so I try to use my expertise to create great interiors that reflect the home owners”. 

I am an interior designer, and currently my role is the Assistant Design Manager at the Gallerie in Port Melbourne.

I was always into the art subjects at high school, doing art and graphic design. At first, I didn’t know where my creativity was going to take me, but in year 12 it became a bit clearer. I loved working with colours, I loved fashion and design – everything to do with houses. While my friends were buying Girlfriend and Dolly magazines and watching Beverly Hills 90210, I was buying Home and Belle, and watching Better Homes and Gardens.

So I applied for an interior design and decoration course at RMIT for a 2 year diploma. I chose it over a degree because it seemed more hands-on, not as technical. I wanted to know more about soft furnishings, colours and styling a home, rather than where to put a wall.

I ended up doing the course over 4 years, because I got sick halfway through. I deferred a year, not being sure whether I’d go back to finish the course. In that time, I went overseas for two month, to Italy, Greece, the UK, the Netherlands and Japan. I saw how different these countries were in terms of decoration; here things tend to be more sharp, modern and clean, while in Europe there’s still a lot of appreciation for classic decoration.

Travelling inspired me to finish the course.

Getting a job afterwards was very hard. Nobody seemed to want a minor with no experience. I started applying for everything. Then an opportunity came up with a company in Port Melbourne, that was representing different architectural companies. They hired me as a representative. I would be responsible for 20-25 different architectural and design products, taking them out to the market and trying to sell them.

Interior designer and decorator Liana Corbino at her workplace with colour samples

We represented firms like James Hardie, various furniture and lighting companies. So I’d be going out to architectural and interior design firms, presenting all these products. I would gauge the jobs they had and take out the products I found suitable for a particular job.

I did that for a year and a half. It was through that job that I gained most of my knowledge, a lot of experience in talking to people, representing myself and different products. And it put me in the market as well, got my name out there with different architects and designers. But I was constantly on the road, and presenting didn’t feel creative enough to me. So I went back to the job search.

I ended up working for National Builders Group, doing colour consulting. I would help clients select colours for the interior and exterior of their homes, everything from bricks and roof tiles to benches and door handles. I also helped builders with display homes – their outline, design, colour scheme, furnishings. I loved doing that.

After 3 and a half years, I had to leave as that group went into liquidation. I started a similar job with a different builder. After six months they also went into liquidation!

Those were just the times when the building industry hit its bottom. Being made redundant twice in one year was very disheartening. There were small payouts, but not nearly enough to live off.

So I started freelancing. I emailed all the builders in the National Builders Group, saying I’ll be doing freelance work.

That’s how I got my first 5-6 jobs; a year and a half worth of work. I did colour selections with the builder’s clients and set up display homes. I loved working for myself. I felt free and learnt how to manage myself, prioritize my workload. My clients had a lot of trust in me, just letting me do my thing.

With all that work coming in at once, I got really busy and made no time to get more business and to continue selling myself. So when all the jobs I was doing came to an end, I found myself with almost no work, which took me by surprise. At one point, I went a full month with no work, which was a real shock to me and felt like my lowest point.

Interior designer and decorator Liana Corbino at her workplace with some merchendize displays

That’s when I was offered a job as a Marketing Manager at a project marketing company, where my cousin was one of the two directors. Marketing was something new for me, but I was ready for a new challenge.

I was in charge of coordinating the creation and distribution of marketing materials for the building projects we looked after.  It involved managing suppliers and designers, ensuring everything was ready on time, coming up with design ideas.

We outsourced a lot of our creative work overseas, and doing everything over email was hard at times. Another challenge was not having a technical background and not being able to get on the computer and fix something myself. But I took on this new role and rose up to the occasion.

I enjoyed it in the end, especially when I got to use my interior design skills, setting up display suites for the apartments. I realized that that was what I love and want to do.

I got back on Seek and started looking for interior design jobs. And then my current role came up.

I actually applied for it years ago. The boss held on to my resume and when the job came up, he called me. It was fantastic: I got a call in the midst of my job search. I went to an interview and got the job on the spot, having impressed the boss with my experience and portfolio.

I started off as a colour consultant. We service around 40-50 builders who don’t have their own display facilities. So we have to follow the builder’s product preferences and help their clients to choose everything on the inside and the outside.

I work from the clients’ floor-plans and elevation drawings, then enter their colour and material choices into a software and make it look pretty.

About seven months ago I got asked to be the Assistant Manager.

That meant more involvement; I have to manage the staff, 5 people under me and 2 more coming onboard soon. That’s a big jump in responsibility and I’ve never managed others before. There’s a lot of time management involved, making sure the staff are on top of their jobs and deadlines, but also satisfied with their jobs.

I don’t mind the management side of this job, but I’m still trying to be more on the creative side. I don’t love paperwork either, all the admin stuff, emails. I want to get out there and deal with more suppliers, get involved with the design aspect, experiment with styles.

My job requires a lot of product and industry training. Builders often ask for colour scheme boards that they can use themselves. To put them together, I need to research fashionable colour combinations. So I need to make sure I keep up with market trends.

I still do a lot of display homes for builders, and that’s what I’m best at – setting up the displays so they are beautifully decorated and sellable.

I start with asking the builders about their preferences, what bricks and colours they like, what is the home design inspired by. I try to establish a base colour scheme, like greys or warm tones, establish an overall direction from customers – are they the classic type people, or modern, funky, arty people.

I feel that a house should represent the people living in it, so it’s important that I don’t force my style on them, but use my expertise to create great interiors within their taste frames.

The best part of my job is when people send me photos of their finished house, saying how happy they are with the outcome.

Some clients are not as creative, or they underestimate the importance of the process. They just opt for dull uniformity. It’s not that they don’t understand my taste. It’s just a shame that with their choices, or lack of them rather, they are shooting themselves in the foot, getting a house that’s below its potential.

I’d like to stay in my current role for another year or so. But I’m also thinking of starting a family soon, and once I do, I’d like to start freelancing again, get  back into doing display homes full time. I’d like to deal with the builders and have their trust to do the interior decorations on my own.

With freelance work I can control my workload, so it would suit my family situation. I definitely want to keep working, at least part time, even when we have children, and then grow it as the kids grow.

I have thought about other avenues for decorating, like events. I looked into that a bit. But while my family is young, I’d like to focus properly on promoting myself, concentrating more on marketing.

Networking is very important; in my business it’s often not what you know, it’s who you know. You need to make yourself stand out and be memorable.

At one time I had an idea to work overseas, and it’s one of my regrets that I didn’t. It would’ve exposed me to a broader range of styles and design concepts. However, it feels a bit late for it now. My partner has a business here and can’t move. Besides, I’d rather start a family here in Melbourne, where we have our families around us.

Sometimes I think I should’ve gone into an interior design firm, getting more involved with the design aspect of interiors, working with architects and builders to create innovative, experimental designs, developing a unique style.

At the same time, I feel like I don’t want to work for someone again; it would be good to just run a freelance business and focus on building relationships with clients.

I don’t see my clients as just another appointment. It’s a big thing to build your own home, I want to make it enjoyable and memorable for them.

It’s important to me that every single of my clients feels excited and happy about their new home as they wait for it to be ready – I hope I help them do that through the positive feelings I try to create during the planning session. That’s how I think I stand out, too.

Being creative is what I love about my job. I like having clients who trust me to come up with a right design and colours for them, and to be a bit adventurous and creative. I also love working with people who get excited and involved in the process. The best feeling is knowing someone is happy with what you’ve done.