It’s always lovely crossing paths with Interior Designer Darren Palmer. Such a great natured, fun and talented man I was quietly delighted to be seated on the same table at a recent function. We were all talking general chit chat and I started asking Darren how he started his career and his story was just too good not to share. Interior Designer, Judge on Channel 9’s The Block and Reno Rumble, writer, stylist on many interior magazines, this man has a wonderful eye for style and a hugely successful career.
How many of us have started a career and then part way through thought “Hmmmm, I’m not sure this is for me” ? Darren divulged this at dinner. The interior guru previously had a career in graphic design and a successful one at that. A great story and one many of us (including myself) can relate to.
Claire: You have a pretty amazing profile and many of us have watched you weekly on screen. Who is Darren Palmer, away from the spotlight?
Darren: Family man, grateful, focused and precise. I’m not the funnest person in the world and am quite an introvert which some people might find strange considering my very public line of work but I am truly happiest when I’m with my family, feet in the sand by the ocean having fun doing not much. It’s a bit cold for that at the moment so instead we are spending our time enjoying our new home staying warm and cosy.
Claire: When we were seated together at the Men of Style event I loved hearing about your career path so I would love to ask you some more questions on this. Growing up, what did you think your chosen career would be ?
Darren: I knew from the moment I realised people had to work for a living that I wanted to make houses for people. I didn’t know exactly how, I had a vague idea that maybe that might mean being an architect but I figured I’d work out the right way. Honestly where I am from in Gladstone in central QLD there were not a lot of creative jobs that were viable options with most of my friends from school going into a trade of some sort, so I didn’t really think that becoming an architect was something I could achieve. I’d say that goes some way toward explaining why I didn’t work hard enough to get the grades I needed for architecture, that and I realised that it would mean 6 more years of study.
As luck would have it I was told by a friend’s dad’s friend that if I got the qualifications to be a graphic designer I could work for him when I finished. That was enough for me to enrol in Graphic Design studying at TAFE and getting a certificate of Visual Arts and Diploma of Graphic Design. By the time I’d finished I was offered a job in an advertising agency in Brisbane which moved me to the biggest city I’d seen straight out of college at the age of 19. My next job was running the retail division of DDB Brisbane (which was more good fortune than anything), an experience that allowed me to cut my teeth on some pretty basic art direction from time to time. I moved on to another firm and the moved to Sydney where I started my own graphic design company with a friend, and then by the time I was 27, with 3 mortgages shared with a couple of friends I realised I was doing the wrong thing.
I realised one day that the friends I had around me that were passionate about their work approached it completely differently to me. They lived and breathed every part of it and work was integrated into life and joy came from it. I realised I needed to change but I also needed to pay the bills so I started with designing my own apartment and worked with my friend who mentored me in the early days of my career then slowly transitioned from graphic design to interiors.
I was able to get some good press through being included in Belle magazine, I also had the good fortune of being cast in HomeMADE as a contestant in 2009 and the used that as a springboard to write for magazines such as GQ, Luxury Home Design, Renovate magazine, Grand Designs Australia Magazine and was lucky to be included a few more times in Belle. I’ve since been named as one of Men’s Style Men of Influence 2 years running which editor Michael Pickering tells me is a first which is something I’m very proud of. I’ve also been writing this year for the highest selling Australian interior magazine House & Garden and have had many opportunities to speak about design publicity as well as writing my book. I’m working on my next as we speak and there is an ever growing amount of challenges and opportunities in front of myself and my team which I try to take step by step so as to keep up and not get overwhelmed.
Claire: You started your career in a completely different field to that of interior design. How did you find the switch moving from one successful established career into a completely different field where you were starting from the beginning ?
Darren: Stressful. I was full of self doubt and had no idea if I could actually do what I thought I could do. My passion was clear but I had little experience and was basically unemployable so I had to carve my own path. I had to risk everything I had and all of the security I had built which did dig me deep into a hole of debt which took years to get out of. Thankfully there was a tipping point a few years back where everything started to run the way I had hoped but the first 5 years I’d say were pretty stressful. The upside always was that I was living my life doing the thing that I loved and I would recommend to anyone thinking of jumping into something that holds their heart’s desire that everything good in life sits just outside your comfort zone. With great risk can come great reward. It’s tenacity and persistence that allows success, often coming just after the hardest and darkest times. Resilience is very important for anyone choosing their own direction but the rewards of living day to day doing what makes you happy will pay you back 10 fold because as they say, when you do hat you love you will never work another day in your life.
Claire: How did you know interior design was your calling ? What was the pinnacle moment you can remember ?
Darren: There’s no one thing. I have this inbuilt ability to see things in my imagination in 3 dimensions. I can picture a space and then envisage it finished and improved in great detail which means when I buy my own homes I tend to buy the fixer upper and spend my whole time imagining every detail of what I would do to it when the time to reno comes. The funny thing is I have just moved into another house whilst I renovate the previous home I lived in for a few years and I noticed that every property I move into is a rough diamond and every house I move out of is a gem – but I never get to enjoy the fruits of my labour. I sell them when they’re freshly renovated which means I always live in a fixer upper. This one – I hope – will be the first I get to enjoy after I renovate but who knows what the future holds but to answer your question I realised when I was about 27 that I only read interiors magazines. When friends would give me gifts for birthdays I would always want interiors books, when I read anything it was interiors orientated and everything that lit me up was related to interiors. It was then I realised I need to do something about that passion and change careers.
Claire: What has been your career highlight thus far ?
Darren: There are plenty. Being a contestant and then being a judge a few years later was a proud moment that didn’t really sink in for years. Writing my own book and seeing it in people’s hands, in book stores and in random places sometimes as far flung as Lyon or Milan. It’s pretty neat. Reno Rumble was a brilliant experience too as it was an opportunity to use my kills to give something to good hardworking people.
Claire: If time and money were no object – what would be your ultimate luxury ?
Darren: Time and space are the ultimate luxuries. Space to move and time to enjoy the important things in life are worth working for the things I appreciate the most.
Claire: If you were any drink, what drink would best describe you ?
Darren: Water. I’m about as unfunny as someone can be and I’m fairly no frills. What you see is why you get with me.
Claire: Where is your ultimate holiday destination ?
Darren: Anywhere with a beach and sunshine. I love travel though so I’m happy just getting on a plane with my passport. There are so many places I want to see but I’ve most frequented South Africa where I got married and France where my family in-law lives. Both wonderful places full of good memories. Travel is absolutely necessary to broaden your horizons and expand yourself, view of others and the world. It helps you put your own life in perspective.
Claire: What are your favourite styling tips to instantly change the look of a room.
Darren: Paint, layers, colour, contrast and texture. These things are all necessary for a great room and things that most people do far too moderately. It’s the lack of those things that makes a room look bland and soulless but when you strike the right the right balance of them you end up with a beautiful, engaging, emotive and friendly space.
Claire: How would you describe your home ?
Darren: A fixer upper. It’s large, sunny and bright with a big deck and a leafy tropical outlook. It’s a 5 minutes walk from Bondi Beach and a really great, unfussy family home. I LOVE it.
Claire: In five years time where will you be ?
Darren: Who knows. We have plans for world domination but as long as I’m doing what I love with my family by my side I’ll be where I need to be. My studio will have grown inevitably in the next 5 years and my business will be far more diverse but I hope I will still be in our current home as it’s supposed to be our 10 year house. I have my fingers crossed that we can stick to that one but we tend to do the hermit crab thing of outgrowing our shells.
Originally published as: http://stylebyyellowbutton.com/darren-palmer-designer-writer-and-speaker-switching-gears/