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Tara Dennis on decorating tips and craft projects

What are the key decorating trends for new-home buyers?
I’m all about starting with good classic pieces. Buy the best you can afford at the time. If it’s Ikea, that’s OK. Just make sure you go for neutral colours that you can key up or down, according to the seasons. Go for comfort and size. A lot of people forget to measure before they move into a place. Working out a wish list and budget, room by room, is a really good thing. I’m about not spending all your money on a television; get yourself a decent sofa that’s comfortable. Spend your money on a decent bed and good pillows. Buy the best mattress you can afford.

How can home owners achieve the luxe look on a budget?
Everyone perceives luxury in different ways. It’s about being tasteful with your design and not garish. Scale is important. I suggest to people when they have small homes to scale things up. Sometimes luxury is in a big piece that’s like a lovely, big modular sofa with a couple of great cushions and a big artwork and maybe a small round coffee table with a lovely vase. That to me is luxury because there’s not a lot of clutter, things are over-scaled, and your eye can move around the room. Have a couple of good things in there. It could be one good rug or one good artwork: that’s your splurge. That has a perception of luxury; touch me-feel me things are always luxurious.

What are your top tips to time-poor working couples and young parents for keeping a home pristine, inviting, warm and fresh?
No clutter, if you can help it. Less is more. I constantly say to people: ‘tidal’. If something comes in, something must go. I’ve got a basket at home for clothes or whatever in the house, and it goes to the charity shop. You have to be ruthless. It is the curse of the times: having too much stuff. When you’re time poor, you need the basics, not a lot of stuff. ‘Buy better, buy less’ is a good mantra to have. Also have good systems and storage; things like storage tubs in your cupboards and pantry so you can see things at a glance. That applies to your bathroom cabinets for toiletries; it applies to your wardrobe. The same principles apply from room to room. It’s about setting up systems from the get-go and maintaining those systems. Hide the clutter and have less of it. It’s a good way to save time and also helps your head stay clear.

How can beautiful interiors be maintained, given the wear and tear of family living?
A lot of them don’t, and I can say that from first-hand experience! It’s about encouraging good behaviour in children from a young age. You can’t expect your child to keep their bedroom tidy if they don’t have a system: a box for the Lego with a lid; good drawers, and sort their clothes. Kids grow so fast, they’re churning through clothes. So as they’re going through different sizes, that ‘basket by the door’ mentality is good. It’s a little bit military, but you need to be that way. Don’t have a linen cupboard full of towels; have three good towels. Have less and stay on top of it. Plan it and be organised as much as you can.

If money were no object, what products or items would you install in a new home, and why?
I live quite simply. I’d prefer spending a bit more money on better fabrics, a good sound system or a couple of really nice lamps. I always say that when I’m a really old lady, I don’t want to hand my kids my thimble collection – instead a good piece of art, a great chair (like a Hans Wegner) and a box of photos. That’s it. It’s all I want to give to my kids rather than inherit all of my rubbish. So I’m paring down. As you get older, you want to streamline. You want less, but better. At the moment, I would love a Martine Emdur painting and not much else. Good natural light is always important.

What craft projects do you expect will be popular over summer?
I just did a great day-workshop with Jacqui Fink from Little Dandelion. She knits with these needles that are like plumbing pipes, huge, and gets this wool that is crafted in New Zealand, the thickest wool ever. She does these chunky oversized throws that are amazing. Harry, my son, teaches me craft. He gets pieces of paper and sticky tape and builds aeroplanes. We’re mooting the idea of getting a kiln, because I want to do ceramics like little bowls and Christmas decorations. I love having things that we’ve made at home together.

Final words of advice?
A lot of people get caught up with the trends of worrying about what’s in season and ‘Will I be on trend?’ I don’t worry about that. Think about what you need because you don’t need as much as you think you do. A home has to be lived in; it’s not this place that causes you stress. If you want to be a trendsetter, just add a few little accents. You don’t need much to keep it fresh. Most of all, make it a comfortable place for your family and make it who you are, rather than what you see in the magazines.

Tara Dennis was a guest at the Reed Gift Fair at the Melbourne Convention and the Exhibition Centre. 

Words: Nicole Bittar

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