Australians are being inundated with home décor advice through mainstream media and it’s making many think they are designers/and or builders.
From television shows to print magazines to tastemakers posting their finds online, the content feels endless and in some cases, not as “inspiring” or “helpful” as it should be.
While the likes of The Block, House Rules and Reno Rumble are doing great work to highlight the Australian building, architecture and design industries, just how viable is the information for the layperson?
The sometimes cookie-cutter design approach and “trends” can make it feel like we’ve seen it all before. Then there’s the rapid turn-around on projects that in the real world never happens unless you’re blessed with a star team and a tidy budget. Sometimes, it’s just the way some television shows make DIY projects look so effortless with a result that’s almost always flawless.
So it’s no wonder that so many Australians are now attempting their own design projects but not necessarily achieving the same results as their favourite décor resources, be it Reno Rumble or Houses magazine.
Of course, they tend not to think of the realities of construction - potentially hazardous realities such as electrocution or roof collapse. They also tend to undershoot when it comes to budget, failing to see how a misstep can lead to copious additional expenses.
Knowledge is great, but what most people need is actual experts. The same goes for the decor advice on offer. Like fashion, it’s important not to be a victim of trends, and to apply knowledge carefully.
Decoration is one of the most appealing forms of “updating” a space because it takes less effort and is generally less expensive, though with many watching the same shows, they may all opt for similar - or even identical looks. Does a home's decor truly stand out when it's the same as myriad other homes?
All of this leads one to wonder:
- Are we diluting the industry and our creativity by emulating and not really designing?
- Are renovation enthusiasts being set up to fail because it's not as easy as it looks?
- Or is this market focus doing wonders for the design industry?
Dr. Brandon Gein, CEO of Good Design Australia, is a trend skeptic and believes the “bombardment” of television shows seems to have a strong influence on where the public is learning their style tips.
Sydney based interior designer Crystal Amesbury agrees and thinks the allure of trends is linked to the need not to feel “old fashioned.”
“Looking towards trends is the easiest way to source what’s current and what’s in season,” she said. “There will always be a demand for trends as it’s only natural to want to look to the future and seek what’s new, improved or evolved.”
She would like to see consumers reach out to interior designers, decorators and futurists for a breakdown and interpretation of those design trends.
Gein believes there are better trends to focus on than a “seasonal” wall colour or “must-have” Scandinavian table. Instead, an increased focus on positive trends such as sustainable products and applications and highlighting up cycling efforts.
“For example, worm farms in backyards and vertical gardening are fantastic. I think many of these mediums could provide more detail on the sustainable materials being used,” he said.
“In cases such as a refurbishment that’s used sustainable materials rather than stock standard materials, it's important to reveal the benefits from an environmental and cost perspective.”
While design shows look to inspire viewers, in some cases they’re actually creating a concrete jungle effect indoors and killing the creativity of the nation. More and more houses are being built and decorated that all look the same with limited personality and individuality.
“On one hand you’re asking people to be more creative in the way they design their homes but in many cases they’re only taking cues from a television show that dictates what an 'ideal bathroom looks like,'" Gein said. "The greater process is that of copying, you’re not really trying to create something.”
Amesbury said a desire to design won’t necessarily make the project a success.
“Not all consumers have the aptitude for putting together a scheme and this is how we end up with mish-mash interiors with no coherent concept or style,” she explained. “A TV show or magazine can make you aware of particular products, but making those same products work with and enhance what you have in-situ is a skill all in its own.
“And let’s not forget, an interior designer or decorator works with you personally, with your tastes, your budget, your existing items – (many of) these TV shows dress to impress for the highest bidder and start from a blank slate.”
Many columnists in Belle Magazine are industry experts and the judges on The Block have design expertise, but they won't be on-site when a layperson is looking to spruce up their home. Instead, readers and viewers apply visual cues and design advice that was given for a space that isn’t theirs.
“Design is so much more than a wall paint in a different colour,” said Gein. “A professional will figure out the intention of the design and try to get an impact on colour, light and sound - all elements that a lay person would just not understand.”
Of course, Australian consumers remain taken with the advice shown in the mainstream media and simply see well-designed spaces at the end of each episode.
“The appeal of (these shows and magazines) is that they’re within reach with minimal effort or outlay, whereas there is a stigma related to interior designers and decorators that they’re only useful for high end homes, or that they’re too expensive when that is simply not the case," Amesbury said.
“Just like other services, interior designers and decorators work towards varying budgets, and can achieve amazing results under all those circumstances.”
Many industry experts agree that while rooms at the end of a televised “challenge” can look nice, a professionally decorated space will still finish miles ahead of an attempt to simply replicate solutions seen on screen. Making matters more difficult is the condensed nature of the television shows.
“I know there is a lot more that happens in these TV shows; there are builders and there are other experts involved," Gein said. "I think it’s a little bit dangerous to give that message to the public that overnight you can just watch the TV show and you’re a designer."
Gein has experienced failure in the design and renovation field, so he knows it's not all as easy as it looks. An industrial designer by trade, he describes his first attempt at a DIY bathroom renovation as a “disaster.”
“It may be entertaining to watch but to give the impression to viewers that they too can be interior designers and is not the right message in the sand,” he said.
Despite their drawbacks, these shows and publications do perform a service to the design industry by bringing it to the forefront, but they're missing a huge opportunity to support the true industry professionals.
“It’s wonderful that people are taking more interest in their personal spaces and are putting in the effort and investment into good design due to the exposure renovation shows have given to property styling, however a professional designer or decorator will always provide a depth of knowledge and have a collection of unique sources that can’t be obtained through TV shows and trend articles alone,” Amesbury said.
“The benefit of all this is in slowly building up the true value of interior designers and decorators and showing that everyone can have a beautifully purposefully styled home on any budget, whereas the challenge is in not diluting the true value of professional design and decoration by applying that same title to what are essentially contestants and renovators.”