It’s hot, noisy and there’s a press of people around him, but Darren Palmer remains an oasis of cool.
After eight seasons with the renovation reality show The Block, the celebrity interior designer is not fazed by the crush of fans at the opening of the latest transformation of a Port Melbourne soap factory under storm-heavy skies.
“I think this Block is definitely in the top three, along with Sky High [season 7, 2013] and Glasshouse [season 9, 2014],” Darren says of the heritage-listed art deco industrial building.
“The contestants have been the most competitive that we have seen as a group and the result is obviously better for it. They have had a decade of exposure to other Blocks, other contestants and all the tips and tricks so the calibre of work is just so much higher.”
As the Nine Network series has gone from strength to strength so, too, has the judge’s profile, with two books (Easy Luxury and HomeSpace) to his credit, his own Carpet Court flooring collection Provincial Lane, and more Darren Palmer lines across a range of interiors products in the pipeline for 2017.
DARREN’S TIPS FOR A PAIN-FREE RENOVATION
Don’t touch a thing before you define your brief and create a frame of reference.
COVER ALL ANGLES
Think about how much you want to spend, what you want to achieve, what is currently wrong with the space, what you want to retain, who will use the space, the mood you want to create etc.
WORK STRICTLY WITHIN YOUR PARAMETERS
A budget will be a very big part of that and will mean you don’t look at things that are ultra expensive.
DO NOT THINK OF CONSTRAINTS AS A BAD THING
They are what give you some clarity. This means you can filter out the things that are not right and focus on the things that are.
RESEARCH THE MARKET
If you are renovating with the express purpose of selling, you need to understand you are not following your own brief but the market’s
His work spans creating interiors for celebrity duo Jennifer Hawkins and Jake Walls’ Sydney beachside home to styling display suites for whole developments, such as MoPo in Melbourne’s west.
It’s a long way from the provincial Queensland port city of Gladstone, where Darren grew up.
“It was not design central. One of my aunts had carpet in her bathroom. That might have been what set me off, the carpet in the bathroom,” the 39-year-old says with a laugh.
“As a kid I thought my house was just like everybody else’s and in the ’80s it probably was. But travelling to different friends and family members’ houses, I came to realise that people had different types of houses, different types of architecture. I was always interested in houses.”
His interest in English, art and technical drawing at school led to studying fine arts at university and eventually going into graphic design for want of a clearer goal. It was only after he renovated his first apartment, and Belle magazine saw fit to publish photographs of it, that Darren started to focus on interior design.
In 2009 Darren was a runner-up on another renovation reality show, homeMADE , before moving into a guest judging role on The Block in 2011.
While acknowledging that renovation reality shows may create some unrealistic expectations for do-it-yourselfers in terms of speed,
Darren believes the genre has generally helped educate the public.
“It shows people they can actually take things into their own hands and can make a space that fits them and is beautiful. It doesn’t mean that anyone who was going to engage an interior designer wouldn’t do so now.”
He believes strongly in the accessibility of good design to every man and woman, but says this should not be confused with questions of taste.
“If I enjoy classical music and you like soft rock, which one of us is right? The perception of taste and what is tasteful is entirely subjective,” he says.
“The absolute starting point of any project should be to define your brief and create some terms of reference. How much do you want to spend, what do you want to achieve, who is going to use it? All those things become a set of parameters so, instead of looking at a whole world of choice, you are looking at it through the filter of what is right for you.”
The Bondi home Darren shares with husband Olivier Duvillard, their young son and a tumble of pets follows that design mantra.
The couple married in South Africa in 2011 and it’s clear that if the normally affable designer was judging the present government on its architecture of a plebiscite on same-sex marriage, it would receive a massive fail.
“Marriage is about a commitment to someone you love and intend spending the rest of your life with,” he says. “How can that possibly be bad?”
- The Block finale will air on November 13 from 7pm on Channel 9
- ALSO SEE: 5 warehouse conversion style tips from The Block judge Darren Palmer