Meet our Trainer: Despina Lykopandis

We are all given one life. One life to be born into and one life to learn who we are and what we want. But Despina Lykopandis it seems, has already lived many lives. And she is far from finished! People have different boredom thresholds. Bored is considered a dirty word and can be the bane of a curious and restless soul. When Despina found herself studying English literature and art history, she was indeed restless. She was fascinated with the subject, but she has always been a hands-on, tactile creative who likes to dig into the practical.

Image credit: Thaihot E19 Villa in Beijing, China. Project developed by trainer, Despina. 

A world of design

Eventually, Despina couldn’t ignore the creative itch that was niggling at her, so she enrolled in the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology (RMIT) interior design cert course, and she loved it. That led to an advanced Diploma and very quickly after that, Despina found herself in the branding department of a design company.  Although Despina was climbing the ranks in design, she still felt she was not doing enough creative work. Her next move was on to Bristol paints where she loved working with clients in old Victorian style homes. Working with colour and colour palettes was a great experience for her but again, she was still not deep enough into the creative process.  Growing up in Melbourne to a tailor father, she was taught to appreciate fabrics and to discern quality and she couldn’t escape her fascination with textiles and fabrics. She wanted to be part of the whole process and refused to get stuck in one place.

It was when a friend in China reached out that everything would change for Despina. She was offered the senior designer role in a new office in Hong Kong. The company was Hirsch Bedner Associates (HBA), who literally wrote the book on hospitality design standards. 

It was 2005.  

Despina decided to go for 3 months. It was 2010 when she returned to Melbourne.

This five-year whirlwind of design was where Despina truly cut her teeth. She was designing the most luxurious hotels in the world. She also dived into the business development aspect of the work and took a course in international law. When she returned to Melbourne in 2010, she was still working for HBA and had a team of 10. 

Despina was designing heritage hotels, racecourses, golf courses and spas. She was whizzing across the globe and had a portfolio of high-end repeat clients who trusted her. Despite the exciting world she was jet-setting around, she began to feel that familiar unsettled feeling. She loved what she was doing, but she was beginning to burn out. 

Image credit: Vibe Hotel in Sydney. Project developed by trainer, Despina. 

Not so fast

In 2016 Despina set up Des-signer and through her reputation in HBA, the clients followed. The power of relationships is not lost on Despina.  She took on mostly commercial work and enjoyed the collaborative aspect as well as being her own boss. 

But life did what life does and makes plans when you least expect it.  Despina’s mother fell ill. As she nursed her ailing mother she would learn another lesson, that mothers are always right. 

From a young age, her mother had always tried to encourage her to get into teaching. She had previously resisted her mother’s advice but when Despina found her pace of life had slowed down and she was now in a carer’s role, she was in fact happy to stay still for a while.

So, her next move was a teaching cert IV in Training & Assessing in Mercer and based on years of experience they invited her to teach hotel design. 

Covid and subsequent lockdowns arrived and again, life was taking a new turn. Never one to shy away from a challenge, Despina decided to upskill. That restless soul is always learning and truly understands the value of education. She learned Revit and Sketchup and then did what Despina does and took a masters in leadership. It was here that it became clear that everything she had done up to this moment was culminating in her current role.  All her skills were coming together to create a great leader. It is a hard-earned position and ‘with great power comes great responsibility’.

Image credit: Hilton Hotel in Shenzhen, China. Project developed by trainer, Despina. 

Fountain of knowledge

Having taught in Collarts (Australian college of the Arts) and been on their advisory board, Despina was deep into education and like everything she does, she was excelling. Her approach is to teach students to think like designers. To see design as problem solving as well as aesthetics, and not merely style. She encourages them to look around, photograph nature and observe light and how it behaves. She wants students to train their eye to see the beauty all around them and the colours that can be found, even in unexpected places. 

Despina is both a designer and an artist and loves to create designs by hand drawing with inks. 

She values the sketchbook, and her creative radar is always alert. With many miles of experience, she brings firsthand knowledge of multiple aspects of interior design to her students. She is a fountain of knowledge and students are lucky to even tap into the surface. Despina is a resource with a depth of expertise and the wisdom of experience. Students in the AAID would be mad not to try to mine that behemoth of a design brain of hers. 

Teaching is Despina’s passion and when she sets her mind to something, you may want to hitch your wagon. It’s going to be a wild ride.

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Written by: Fiona Byrne

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