Interview with Darren Palmer from The Block

We talk to Darren Palmer, renowned interior designer and expert judge on Nine's renovation reality TV show The Block, about the 2016 series, the art of bringing a traditional home into the now, and his love of our Queenslander homes.

Darren-PalmerQH: So, the new Block is set in an art-deco style building, and from what we can see so far, it’s huge! What challenges do you expect to see ahead for the contestants of the show?

Darren Palmer: These apartments are the biggest that I recall on the block. The scale of them is a challenge in itself – with such high ceilings, there is that much extra effort and cost required just to build and paint the structures let alone fit them out. The other challenge is the Art Deco factor. The contestants need to work out how to create a contemporary interior that fits respectfully into an Art Deco building. They have details they need to work back into their apartments to satisfy heritage constraints too, so it is a challenge.

QH: Do you think the art-deco influence of the building will (or should) show through in the finished rooms and spaces? Or do you think the couples should take a more contemporary approach to renovating and decorating this kind of architectural style?

Darren Palmer: I hope it does. Every apartment I’ve owned has been Art Deco, and I’ve renovated each one. I have always taken a contemporary approach to my fit outs but have worked around the best parts of the deco period – things like ornate ceilings and detailed skirting boards and architraves. You can fuse the periods together with a great result. It just takes a little nod here and there for it to work in an otherwise contemporary apartment and I hope to see just that. I don’t want to see a slavish reproduction of deco style nor do I want to see the period whitewashed out of the picture. Somewhere between the two, we have a sweet spot that works for us as judges, the homeowner and the market.

QH: Renovating and then decorating a home can be daunting prospect for most – even more so when trying to give a twist on a classic-era home (e.g., a traditional Queenslander). What tips would you offer those who are perhaps struggling with achieving this modern/classic aesthetic?

Darren Palmer: Look at the things that define the period. Whatever the quintessential details are – whether they be VJ panelled walls, decorative ceilings, ornate timber work or whatever the case may be you need to acknowledge and respect them. Finding a way to present them in a contemporary manner is the key to using them as a bridge between old and new. Then you can install your modern kitchens and bathrooms with the latest in appliances, handles and furniture and the project will work beautifully.

Things to avoid are faux heritage details. Trying to recreate a traditional look can be a dangerous path which is why the current approach to renovating buildings of heritage significance is to restore the old and make a clear distinction between the old and new by making the new part of a building obvious. It works very well.

QH: How do you approach the judging on The Block – and what are the main things you’re looking for in a successful room reveal?

Darren Palmer: I judge every space with the same criteria and the same judging formula.Out of ten points I divide them into:

– 2.5 points total for design (things like floor plan, lighting plan, doorway and wall placement, flow through the space, etc.).

– 2.5 points for appropriateness to the market (is it desirable to the largest group of the buyers who are looking for that type of property in that particular area?).

– 2.5 points for finish (is it well built, well painted, gaps filled and plaster sanded well, etc?).

– 2.5 points for inclusions (furniture, fixtures and equipment).

It’s not the same way that Neale and Shaynna judge (Neale Whitaker, Editor-In-Chief of Vogue Living Australia, and interior design expert Shaynna Blaze) so my scores can vary from theirs or can end up similar but for a different reason. That way you can have a well finished room that doesn’t suit the market that ends up a score of five. You could have a really well designed and furnished room that isn’t well finished that gets a score of 7.5. I think it’s the most considered way to judge as each one of those four factors are so important.

Darren-Palmer-Design
Darren Palmer Design

QH: And what’s your go-to decorating style in your own home – what style are you most influenced by?

Darren Palmer: Comfort and durability are key in my house. I like to have nice things of course, but I have three dogs and a seven-year-old, so there are toys and hair and spills and mess that it’s far better to design around than worry about.

In terms of my own style, it changes from location to location, but I have an aesthetic language that you can identify irrespective of the style of the home.

QH: Given you grew up in Gladstone, we know you are very familiar with the homes that Queenslanders enjoy. What do you love the most about the Queensland home and our style of living?

Darren Palmer: It’s a similar feeling to what I have in my house – a connection to the outdoors, a feeling of relaxation and a no fuss approach to living a comfortable home life. All of those things really appeal to me.

I would love to buy a big old Queenslander one day. I love the wrap around verandahs, the breezy flow through all the rooms and the details like VJ walls and ceilings. They scrub up really well, and I have seen some beauties over the years.

Tune in to watch The Block on Sunday 7.00pm and Mon/Tues/Weds at 7.30pm on NINE.

The-Block-judges
The Block judges: Neale Whitaker, Shaynna Blaze and Darren Palmer

Darren Palmer’s forthcoming book HomeSpace is due out in September 2016 (Murdoch Books).