“Pretty much everything in our store, Helaina already owns and loves,” says Shah, 40. “We test everything out on her and if she approves then it’s in.”
Selling typographic prints created by graphic designer Darko, dolls made in France in soft greys and taupes and creative, educational books, the pair’s shop opened in September from their base in Forde, where Shah lives with her partner Mitch and baby Helaina.
“Helaina is my god-daughter, and since she was born I’ve wanted to find the coolest things for her,” says Darko, 26. “I’d scour the internet for things that were unique and quirky, well made and affordable.
“I decided to make a her print called ‘Helaina in Wonderland’, and from there I started to make posters for her that were cool, would appeal to kids but that parents would like to have around, too. Shah would give me feedback and we realised we shared the same aesthetic – sophisticated and fun. We call it ‘sophistifun’. So we decided to work together and created Lil Spaces.”
At the time, Shah was designing Helaina’s bedroom.
“At first I didn’t think she needed a nursery because she wouldn’t know the difference,” she says. “But once she was here I wanted to create the most perfect little space for her.”The room has featured on interior design websites and Shah says she would like to design kids’ rooms as part of the business in the future.
Other things in the pipeline are graphic design services, a kids’ recipe book, baby packages and sentimental, customisable toys made by Shah out of kids’ old clothes.
“We bounce ideas off each other and while we do clash sometimes we always end up with a better product in the end,” says Darko.
“For me, design is collaborating with other creative people. I’m always looking for a solution that gives a great experience to the consumer; I want them to love the product and experience the magic.”
Shah and Darko plan to keep Lil Spaces as an online store, but they have previously done a pop-up shop in conjunction with other Canberra designers.
“To me, drawing, creating and designing is a form of self-expression,” says Shah. “I like making things, getting my hands dirty and the satisfaction that comes from seeing the results of your project. It’s tangible. With most jobs you know you’ve done a good job if you don’t get any complaints, but with this I can see the results straight away.
“And with Helaina as our muse, the ideas keep coming.”