Barry Du Bois shares his tips for sustainable stying in a small space
A Friday night fixture in many an Australian living room thanks to his role on Network Ten’s The Living Room, Barry Du Bois is a Master Builder, serial renovator and DIY guru whose design and style philosophy is based upon an holistic approach to creating happiness at home.
A firm believer in surrounding yourself with pieces which work with your lifestyle and your space– not that of someone you follow on Instagram – Barry recently collaborated with Matt Blatt to makeover the townhouse of millennials Julia, the owner of boutique organic wine brand Meta Wines, and her optometrist flatmate, Shay, in West Melbourne.
To get to know the girls – and the way they live – Barry began by asking them a series of questions, some unusual, which is something he does with every client, well before browsing their space or shopping for furniture.
“My work is all about the real world, not the Pinterest world,” said Barry. “Social media is all about trying to identify with someone else’s life. That time and energy is better spent trying to understand our own lives,” said Barry.
“I often remind my millennial clients and renters, like Julia and Shay, that even if you don’t own your own home, you can still express your personality through the furniture and accessories you buy, and the way you use them. By purchasing thoughtfully, you can create an authentic, functional and stylish home – whether you own the walls that surround you or not.”
“To help make the best use of a client’s space, it’s important to understand how they use their space, how they live and how they interact with others both in their daily lives, and when entertaining. My role is to draw a brief from the client about the way they live, and then to add architectural sophistication and help them make smart decisions when it comes to major furniture purchases.
“Too often people are seduced in a store by what they’ve seen in an ad campaign or on social media and they fall in love with a product which is entirely unsuitable for their space, and their lives. They put up with it for a while, realise it doesn’t make them happy the way they hoped it would, and within a few years it’s on the verge ready for council clean-up.
Planning is everything
Barry believes the key to avoiding this all-too-common scenario is pretty simple – plan ahead.
“The biggest mistake I see when it comes to renovating or styling a home is a failure to plan. Seeking professional advice is a good place to start, and always pays a handsome dividend, whether that’s through the services of an architect, interior designer or experienced home stylist,” he advised.
For Barry, scale and proportion are all important. This stems both from his personal background – he has studied human movement through the built environment – and his desire to help his clients transform their space into a place they’ll love coming home to.
The 3 pre-purchase commandments
“Before setting off to buy furniture, you should do three things. The first is to write your own brief for the space: how you use it, when you use it, how many people use it, how many people it needs to accommodate when entertaining, its orientation, which way you enter the room, what you see when you first enter the room, and what existing pieces you need to work with.
“The second is to plan for transient space, which is the unfurnished space that flows between different zones in a larger area, such as an open-plan kitchen, living, dining room. My rule of thumb is that you should be able to walk through these spaces with a suitcase in each hand and not bump into anything – ideally with your eyes closed!”
“The third step in the planning process is to crack out the tape measure, both at home to measure your room and existing furniture items, and in the furniture showroom, to measure potential purchases,” suggested Barry.
Below are the questions Barry asked Julia and Shay well before they hit the furniture showroom floor at Matt Blatt to choose potential products for their dining zone.
What do you do?
Julia is the owner-operator of boutique, organic wine business Meta Wines, Shay is an optometrist.
Would you rather plan a special holiday in the mountains, or at the seaside?
While this question might seem irrelevant to issues of interior design and style, Barry says he learns more from the speed and decisiveness of his clients’ response – a rapid, definite answer points to an organised thinker – than from a client’s preference for the moody mountains or a summer by the sea. Incidentally, Julia and Shay both chose the sea….great minds and all!
How long do you expect to live in this space?
The girls are planning to stay in their West Melbourne pad for at least another year.
What do you love about your space?
As for what they love about their space, Julia and Shay cited its ‘natural light, the artworks, and the way we’ve infused it without personalities by finding creative uses for objects we’ve found’.
With property prices so high, and long-term renting a reality for many, what does owning quality furniture mean to you?
‘The girls’ response to this question was that they like the Swedish mindset of ‘buy once, buy well’, saying their prefer to buy a quality, timeless piece which will be with them for a long time, rather than to buy budget alternatives which won’t withstand the wear and tear of frequent entertaining. They also had the insight to realise that their ‘living environment affects their minds and emotions’, remarking that coming home to well-designed pieces which mean something to them helps them ‘feel grounded and nourished’.
“I’m a fan of seeking sustainable solutions wherever possible, so I was well and truly on board with Julia and Shay’s preference for purchasing quality, which is why we opted for the Gatsby Dining Table as the centrepiece for their multi-functional eat-in kitchen and dining space,” said Barry.
What are your favourite colours and textures? Would you rather walk barefoot on the sand or on the grass?
According to Barry, colour and texture are the tools you use to ‘sign your space’, and seasonal accessories, such as cushions, throws and ornaments, are terrific tools to experiment with and express your style.
Shay prefers deep greens, duck egg blue and black and white, while Julia is drawn to pastels and earthy tones.
To help determine which textures will suit individual clients, Barry asks whether they’d rather walk barefoot on the sand or on the grass. Both the girls chose grass, and both cited linen, raw concrete, timber and clay as favoured textures.
How often do you entertain? What type of entertaining do you do? If you were to host a dinner party, how many would attend?
“Julia and Shay’s lifestyle is pretty social. Enthusiastic cooks and dinner hosts, Julia and Shay enjoy styling their space for entertaining and typically invite six to eight friends to share a night of fab food and wine….although it often takes the form of grazing platters, cheese boards and wine around the table rather than a sit-down multi-course meal,” said Barry.
“Knowing this was an important factor when choosing the right table, and the right chairs for the way Julia and Shay entertain, as it was important to have chairs which could work either around the table, or be moved into other areas to be used as casual seating when the entertaining is more informal.”
Let’s go shopping
Armed with plenty of information about the way Julia and Shay live – and his trusty tape measure – Barry and the girls hit the Matt Blatt showroom in Nunawading.
“The aim of the shopping trip was to help Julia choose products she’ll live with for a decade…or more. We were looking for products that would sustain her through different stages of her life, in different homes, and which suited her personality and lifestyle – not products which would only suit the current room we’re furnishing,” explained Barry.
In the showroom, Julia was initially drawn to compact glass tables – more apt to be tucked in a corner for a family of four – but once Barry began setting potential tables out with chairs and stools around them, her perception of what she wanted changed.
“By arranging products in the showroom so Julia could experience them in a real-world way, not just looking at them on Matt Blatt’s website, or on social media, Julia was able to see how she would interact with the table, how it would work for cocktails and canapes and how it would fit and feel in hers and Shay’s space,” said Barry.
“By the end of our trip, Julia had chosen a quality table that’s sustainable, stylish and easily adapted to the way she and Shay live. From sitting at the table with a laptop in the morning sun to a stand-up cheese and wine get-together to a traditional dinner party or a laidback lunch, Julia is already envisaging the many ways she’ll now be able to use not just her new table, but her re-imagined space – and she can’t wait.”
AFTER – the big reveal!
Shop the LOOK
L – R above: Replica Kai Kristiansen #42 Dining Chairs in Fabric – also available in leather and velvet
About Meta Wines
Meta Wines is a family-owned-and-operated boutique, organic wine business based in Melbourne.