Neale Whitaker’s design tips for transforming your home into a home
At the risk of crushing Carrie Bradshaw, are we sacrificing our personal tastes in favor of an imaginary real estate checklist? If you are planning to sell your home next year, then maybe those bright yellow craft tiles you just fell in love with are not recommended. But if this is your forever home, I say damn it, go ahead. Life is too short not to.
âHomes should tell stories about the life they’ve livedâ is a quote I’d like to remember, not that I’m planning to go anywhere just yet.
A few years ago, I remember interviewing the owner of a house in eastern Sydney. It was a great house in a super sought after suburb, just steps from the beach.
From the perspective of a magazine editor (ie mine), he ticked all the necessary boxes: top-level interior designer; trendy color palette; directional decor style (art deco meets Hollywood Regency, since you ask) – and potential cover for sure.
I asked the owner several questions about the furniture and in particular the art, which was quite beautiful. The owner looked at me blankly and offered to call the interior designer for details. In other words, the house was an exquisite shell, designed by a talented designer, but with little to no connection to the person who inhabited it. No personal effects, only staged accessories that are added to a pre-established budget. It was no more a house than a movie set but, my god, it photographed well.
Not that this scenario is an isolated incident, or particularly unusual. Chances are, if you have the budget to hire a professional in the first place, you’ll pay to let them choose.
I understand all of that, of course. But the notion of home has always meant so much more to me and never as much as it does today, as we are in the grip of a pandemic that has made our homes not only our castles, but our offices, schools, restaurants, cinemas. , playgrounds and gymnasiums. Let’s face it, home is pretty much everything these days.
If you are planning to sell your home next year, then maybe those bright yellow craft tiles you just fell in love with are not recommended. But if this is your forever home, I say damn it, go ahead.
Over the years, I have seen hundreds of amazing homes, but very few homes. Real homes tell stories and age gracefully. They’re less likely to have the latest chair style (curved, organic), less likely to flaunt the latest on-trend colors (fifty shades of latte) or micro-trends that come and go with the seasons. But what they will have is the patina of life and a sense of continuity that comes from the furniture and objects chosen for longevity, functionality and pleasure.
The home I share with my partner David and our dogs (four and over) in this beautiful link between the South Coast of New South Wales and the Southern Highlands, is the very definition of ‘work in progress’. It is a single storey cottage with a large veranda and an interior style that the ex-editor in me would call “modern country”. There are Scandi bits and country bits; Moroccan pieces and Indian bits; contemporary end caps and vintage end caps. Somewhere in the mix there’s even a little bit of Hamptons.
Original works by artist and good friend Robert Doble are presented in a gallery style, alongside boutique treasures, fashion photography and Aboriginal paintings. In my office, which overlooks rolling paddocks, a colonial-era nude stands alongside a vintage Bowie poster and an oversized photo of St Kilda’s waterfront on a rainy winter Sunday – my personal ode to a favorite city, Melbourne . There is a glorious disconnect that somehow works visually and maybe only makes sense to David and me. And that’s exactly how it should be. This is our story.
âHomes should tell stories about the life they’ve livedâ is a quote I’d like to remember, not that I’m planning to go anywhere just yet. I have bathrooms to finish. This arrangement of words is mine, but the sentiment behind it is shared by a growing number of interior designers, stylists, writers, photographers, artists and gallery owners – even retailers – who seek respite from the modern curse of homogeneity. I am proud that every element of our house evokes a memory. Every book on our shelves, every lamp, every pillow.
Not that this advice is of great help to The block competitors. They still have to find that sweet spot that satisfies the judges, satisfies their buyer, is neither generic nor polarizing and – above all – avoids another mess.
This article appears in Sunday life magazine within the Sun-Herald and the Sunday age on sale September 19. To learn more about Sunday Life, visit The Sydney Morning Herald and Age.
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