Sam and Sarah Haberle, S. Group

By Claire van Ryn

This Launceston-based creative pair has built a business from the ground up, so that today it is an awarded studio covering architecture, creative design and marketing. Named on last year’s Financial Review Fast 100 List, S. Group has a reputation for radical innovation, community-mindedness and fun. Behind it all, Sam and Sarah juggle the demands of being business-owners and entrepreneur-creative-types with being parents to three youngsters. Lume pinned them down for a quick chat ...

Who owns the S in S. Group?
Sam- Haha this is a funny story. Whilst away in NZ when we were considering starting a business we were throwing around names. I came up with Milk & Honey, which is bloody awful and we’re glad we didn’t run with it. At the time (blushing) we loved watching Gossip Girl. I had a secret crush on Serena (Blake Lively) and in the show she is referred to as S, and that is where it all began!

Sarah- I remember thinking that people would start referring to themselves as their first letter, or at least sign off emails like that. So why not use the S for Sam as the company name. A little while later someone pointed out that the "S" is for Sarah too!

Tell us how it works, working alongside the person you also share practically everything else in life with?
Sam- This is definitely a rewarding yet challenging dynamic. Working alongside your partner who is typically the person you are most comfortable with means you aren’t scared to share creative ideas and push to the next level. The challenge is being so comfortable with each other often means there are no boundaries to shooting each other down.

Sarah- We have really worked out how to work to our strengths ... with designing houses, Sam does the outside and the overall vision and I design the detail, interior and "feel". We are both strong people and leaders in our own right so I think the key to owning a business together is to each appreciate and know our own areas and how we complement each other.

And you have young kids! How do you juggle the practical stuff with the creative?
Sam- Sarah does an amazing job with the three kids, including me! My brain runs a million miles an hour, 30 hours a day and I’m learning to give focus where needed to ensure a balanced family life.

Sarah- We love getting the kids involved. Drawing our dream house together is a dinner table activity in our house. We always take the kids onto our building sites and show them what we are doing and why. Even S. Group is set up in a kid-friendly way; we have a fake grass halfpipe to play on! Children thrive off creativity as their brains are moving and growing much quicker than ours. I am so blessed though because of the nature of my job (interior design), I can work from home a lot and take the kids along to tile shops, carpet shops and the joiners – they all have toy baskets for the kids.

What’s your business edge?
Sam- For us it’s all about giving back. We typically don’t and never have given a toss about money, rather, it’s about having an impact. Impacting the people we work for and with and consequently our communities around us and around the globe. We feel this somewhat unselfish ethos brings an edge and attracts people to the business – both staff and clients.

Sarah- I think we are very clever in the way we have diversified the business into many creative areas, not just architecture but also graphic design, marketing, videography, etc. All these areas work well together and can collaborate very well. When we hire staff one of my favourite questions is asking what they are passionate about in design just in case we can branch into that area.

What projects are you most proud of?
Sam- We are pretty proud of our current project #meetAVA that has seen a crazy result on such a tiny site and within an almost impossible timeframe. Also, both the Launceston Substation and St Luke’s Church Conversion are dear to our hearts, seeing unloved, beautiful almost relics of buildings turned into something (well we think anyway) pretty freaking special!

Sarah- I second those projects for sure! Ava has been my baby and a lot of hard work but it is amazing to see so many people watching and loving it. We’ve had up to 25k people watching it. I am also proud of the fact that our mission is to give back and that everything we are working for doesn't just help support our staff and their families but we are supporting hundreds of families all over the world with our projects in India, Indonesia, Vanuatu and plenty more to come.

What have Charles and Ray Eames taught you about design?
Sam- We love timeless design and also pitch this to our clients that design has to look good and work now, but also in 100 years. Charles and Ray have done this to a tee. Oh and we love our Eames chair (P.S. it’s only a replica).

Sarah- I love their use of timber – timeless and beautiful in its natural state. They have taught me that often simple is best in design and not to get too carried away with a million different ideas but just pick a couple and do them really well. I also love how they worked as a couple and lived in a beautiful, timeless home.