Tara Dennis’ DIY inspiration

Tess Gibney

Gracing our screens weekly as part of Australia’s much-loved lifestyle program Better Homes and Gardens, interior design diva Tara Dennis is a woman abounding with inspiration. Attributing her ‘can-do’ attitude to her hard-working English parents, Dennis’ innovative DIY approach is born of an innate desire to make the most of what one has. Wholeheartedly endorsing the idea that the most beautiful of homes and spaces are not those that are costliest to create, her weekly Better Homes and Gardens segment sees the mum of two take to our televisions to show consumers just how transformations can take place without breaking the bank.

As many lifestyle program viewers know, finding the creativity needed to give our well-worn interior spaces an overdue overhaul can be both exhausting and confusing. With one book, aptly titled Home, and now with an affordable home wares range up her sleeve. Sydney Observer caught up with Dennis – mother, author, TV presenter and recently appointed ambassador for Reed Gift Fairs (2nd to 6th August at Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre, Melbourne Showgrounds) – to find out just how she gets those ideas to flow. The website is www.reedgiftfairs.com.au

How and why did you first become interested in design, decorating and styling?

I’ve created, designed and decorated for as long as I can remember – it feels really natural and all comes from my mum and dad. Like so many, we moved across the world to Australia from England in the early seventies so starting life in a new country with young children and very little wasn’t easy. My parents have always been incredibly hard workers and made the best of what little we had to make a lovely home. They’re just very creative people who always had a ‘can do’ attitude which I’m really proud of.

What is your design mantra?

Rather than coveting other people’s homes, be true to yourself and embrace your own sense of style no matter your budget. Some of the happiest times I have known have been owning very little and having had to make do. It teaches you to be resourceful and add your own personality in fresh ways. You also learn to love the little things.

What are some common mistakes you see people make when renovating and re-decorating?

Without a doubt the most common renovating and decorating mistakes are underestimating how much things can cost and also how much time it can take. So often people launch into big projects without proper planning and unrealistic deadlines, consequently resulting in disappointment and jobs left incomplete. Plan, plan, plan and set realistic budgets and finish times!

What are your top tips for an interior style overhaul on a budget?

Clear the clutter for a start – we all have way too much stuff. Maybe you don’t need an extra room added on or even a new house, maybe you just need far less ‘stuff’. Give your home a clean from top to bottom, just as though you had professional cleaners in and then decide a ‘style’ for your home. Do you want it to feel modern, cottage, coastal or colourful? Once you’ve decided, find ways to make that happen. A good place to start is with paint which is by far the fastest and most effective way to get a new look. By choosing the same colour throughout, the whole place will look unified and much brighter. Also consider cleaning or replacing carpets and window treatments, maybe even polishing floor boards. Edit some of your furniture and either sell or donate to charity. Some pieces can even benefit and add to your scheme with a little makeover using paint and new fabric.

How would you go about making a home fresher for the upcoming Spring months?

Throw open the windows and clean from top to toe, rearrange the furniture for a new view on things and sort your wardrobes and linen closets. Relieving cupboards is enormously satisfying and allows you to get ready for the warmer months ahead. I dry clean and pack away heavy winter clothes and bedding in those airtight plastic tubs. They can easily be stacked somewhere clean and dry, like the loft, until next season.

What are your style trend predictions for the upcoming season?

Right now, metallics are proving enormously popular and look set to stay for a while. Yellow metals like brass, copper and gold can be seen on everything from taps to cushions and furniture. Statement lighting is a big deal now in Australia which brings welcome warmth and interest to interiors. Accessories in bold colours and geometric patterns, textures and prints remain popular while I predict next season a cooler, monochromatic palette of rich charcoal greys through to black and white will be big. I also think the resort look at home will be popular. It’s all about that laid back, smart tropical holiday feeling where you live well and feel fantastic.

From where do you draw inspiration and how do you manage all your ideas?

I’m naturally creative so I need outlets that make sense. A few years ago I started my own home wares range which allows me the freedom to paint and design for my collections. I travel overseas every year to Europe for business development and inspiration and find it essential to stay current and look ahead to what overseas markets are doing. I run my own creative design studio and have a small team who help to make it all happen. It’s where you’ll find me on my days away from television.

Do you think it’s important to have some sort of vision or style goal to adhere to before re-decorating a home (or room, for that matter)?

Absolutely! I always have advocated storyboards as a visual reference to use as a guide, and to help keep you on track when decorating, especially for kitchens and bathrooms. I gather magazine clippings, fabric swatches, photos, paint samples, even tiles together, until it all just sits nicely and ‘works’. These days Pinterest is also enormously helpful for collating ideas, though it is incredibly addictive!

For the time-poor, what are some quick ways to reinvigorate the interior of your home?

Add colour! A few new cushions and a throw instantly lift a sofa. Add a print onto the wall above it and some flowers on a side table and the room can look so fresh in minutes. In the bedroom, it’s as easy as a new quilt cover and cushions for the bed. Just step into any bedding store and see how they display the beds, take a photo and make it happen. For the bathroom, a quick tidy around and some fresh towels does the trick. In the kitchen, wash up, put things away, clear the benches, and add new canisters, tea towels, a bowl of fresh fruit and a potted plant.

What are some great ways to be more sustainable when renovating and re-decorating the interior of your home?

Reuse what you can, when you can. Old furniture doesn’t have to be thrown out or overlooked just because you don’t like the colour or style: paint can do wonders. If it’s furniture you’re after, try online sites such as Gumtree or Ebay for second hand finds, they often have a free section too which is enormously fun and a great way to share the love.