I kind of knew I would win…

She was the victor of the first season of ‘the designer within’ and a judge in the second season. We unpick one of the sharpest minds on the show.

By Mark Cox

You’re the only participant who was an integral part of both seasons of the show. How do you feel about the experience now, looking back?

It has been quite a while now, so I can look back on both seasons with truly objective eyes – and I am impressed! I think the second season, in particular, made a real leap in terms of the show’s scope and ambition. And I really enjoyed my involvement. After appearing in episode one of the second season as a judge, I sadly couldn’t make it for the final part of the judging process. And that’s a shame, because I think my voice would have added value.


As a competitor in the first season, you arrived quite late to the show and started literally weeks after the rest, yet still managed to win. How on earth did you manage that?

I did a lot of planning in advance and was very clear from the outset about what I wanted to accomplish. That’s generally how I operate. And since I worked in interior design back then, I had access to lots of high-end furniture and lighting at trade prices – literally pennies on the dollar – so that was a bonus. I spent those early weeks searching for great deals and ordering large items with long lead-in times. So, although it looked like nothing was happening for a while, behind the scenes I was working hard. It’s like when a duck is gliding serenely over the water – you don’t see the legs paddling away furiously below the surface.

You came across as quite self-assured. To what extent was that due to you already having real-world experience and a few successes under your belt?

Honestly? A big part of me didn’t care whether I won or not, so long as I was doing good work that I could be proud of. But I was also quietly confident that my design would be more sophisticated and mature than the other contestants, who were younger and less experienced. I also felt that I got the best unit, with the nicest layout and view. In fact, it was the prospect of working in that particular apartment that first grabbed my attention and stoked my enthusiasm.


You took a very minimalist approach to designing your place. Is that your signature style?

Yes, I did – and yes, it is, even to this day. Given the same budget today to create another apartment, I’d probably take the same approach all over again. I just like the beauty of sparse spaces, with a mix of contemporary and rustic influences.


Were you happy with your final product – was that the apartment you envisaged creating?

Absolutely. I still recall how cosy and comfortable it felt to be in that space, and I loved it: I genuinely did not want to leave. Certainly, there are things I might have done slightly differently with a larger budget, but I happily would have lived in that place.

On judging day, were you surprised to be announced as the winner?

This is going to sound awfully big-headed, but I figured I was going to win, actually. I hadn’t seen the other contestants’ finished work, but I had seen enough of it along the way to guess that I probably would come out on top. Having said that, I wouldn’t have been heartbroken not to have won. For me, it was more about the overall experience.


Fun fact: As a judge on Season Two, you nailed the contestant Rae’s artistic approach and even character just from seeing her ‘urban garden’ design board. How did you do that?

I believe that how we do one thing is how we do all things, so to some extent you can see aspects of a person in their design board. I’d previously done lots of guest juror spots for design students, and you learn to recognize how some young designers take everything they think is cool and put it into their project. Rae’s board had a flavor of that; there were around ten different concepts all jumbled together. I called it ‘designer A.D.D.’ in the program and I think that was right. If someone isn’t paying attention to straight lines and clean edges on their design board, then they’re not likely to be attuned to craftsmanship or careful organisation on their actual project. Having said that, she made for great television.


What makes a good design board – what elements must it contain and what should it avoid?

A good design board shows restraint. One that contains too much ‘stuff’ is generally an indicator of inexperience and not knowing how to make decisions. There will always be many more elements to a project than can be contained on a board. It is simply meant to suggest the overall concept of the project, rather than be a comprehensive and instructive guide to what the finished piece will look like. Even when you walk into finished apartment, you don’t immediately identify each element: you just get a general sense of that space. And that’s what a design board is meant to do. In most cases, I think having a lot of white space on a board is a positive thing.


You no longer work as an interior designer. Why not?

I often say that being an interior designer is 5 percent creative work; 65 percent paperwork, project management and marketing; and then 30 percent counselling and being a psychologist. It is a thoroughly exhausting process. I’ve always been pretty good at reading people – and working in design, I found there was always a lot of the kind of ego and BS that I’m not very good at pretending not to notice. I loved the creative parts and actually doing the design, but the rest of it drove me crazy. That’s why I’m now an artist.


That’s right: you own a small art gallery. Do you still dabble in interior design or are you exclusively about the art these days?

I’m happy not to be doing interior design anymore, though I still get to use some aspects of the skills I built up then now in my art gallery. To be honest, I’m not really one to stick with any one thing for too long – I like to try new things.