It happened again in 2015, when the couple inspected a Californian bungalow in Sydney’s Bondi. “This house was our home from the second we saw it,” Palmer says of the five-bedroom home they now share with three dogs and a 10-year-old son. “We got to the front door and fell in love.” At the time, it was a patchwork of unsympathetic extensions with yellowy-beige walls, orange stairs and three different types of floorboards. But the tropical garden outlook was undeniably special – and the heart wants what it wants.
Designed in two hours, the kitchen comprises joinery by Freedom in Polytec 'Coastal Oak' Woodmatt and a Caeserstone benchtop in Cloudburst Concrete.
True to form, the couple’s renovation plans escalated quickly. They thought it was just going to be a good lick of paint (Haymes’ ‘Light Frost’ – “a good, adaptable white”), but then, two weeks before hosting a lunch for Palmer’s 40th birthday, they decided to do a whole new kitchen. As fate would have it, the new kitchen would be nothing without reorienting the lounge room to face it. This opened up the opportunity for skylights, then VJ panelling, a square-set ceiling and the same for the dining room – one game-changing design choice cascading into the next. “Olivier was like ‘and we’re still going to do all of this in two weeks?’,” says Palmer, but by that point the domino effect was already in motion.
Accessories from the Darren Palmer Home Collection from the Myer form vignettes in the lounge room and entry.
In the spirit of The Block, the television renovating competition Palmer judges, walls were still being installed and painted the day before the milestone birthday. At 12:15pm the next day, they were unpacking the last of the kitchenware boxes. Then, in what Palmer describes as a “tools-down moment”, guests (including fellow Block judges Neale Whitaker and Shaynna Blaze) arrived at 12:30pm and lunch was served.
The atmosphere these days is much cooler and calmer. The ocean is an obvious design muse for the beach-chic bungalow, sweeping through the rugged textures and many bolts of blue. On the halcyon balcony, where the couple spend most of their time, you can just about make out the waves crashing at Bondi Beach if you stand still. Post-reno, that’s something Palmer is trying to do more of. “I used to beat myself up if I wasn’t using every moment of every day for work, but I’m learning to do less and not feel guilty about it.”
Boyd Blue furniture and a Bisque Traders pendant light adorn the dining room.
Palmer and Duvillard both run their businesses from home, in between dog walks, ocean swims and cafe hops through Bondi. Work for Palmer is all about democratising design. His passion projects include the eponymous homewares collection created in partnership with Myer, which delivers high-end luxe at an accessible price point. Other commitments range from interior design collaborations with home builder G.J. Gardner, to a diploma-level masterseries interior design course and his ongoing gig on The Block. He says, “There’s a lot to be said for how efficient you can be when you have balance in your life – I get it done.”
It helps that his private paradise is so laid-back. “Nothing is precious except the people and animals living here,” the design star says of the home. Floors are practical vinyl planks and most furniture pieces have washable slip covers. There’s a lot of white, which he says is far less maintenance than it gets a rap for – “you can bleach it or use orange oil and it gleams.”
He throws together vignettes by feel, though his approach is underpinned by a solid set of design fundamentals: working with scale, colour, texture, pattern and shape. If in doubt he gathers everything on a tray, “to tie it all together”. Looking around, the approach is working for him. But that’s just what happens when your instincts are this good.
Cole & Son wallpaper graces the master bedroom.
This is the interior design bible according to Darren Palmer
Thou shalt not hide special pieces away
“Styling a vignette is the way to go for the things you love. Basically, what you have to think about is something called ‘forced perspective’; something tall, like a mirror or artwork, at the back; mid-height, such as a lamp, in the middle and something small, like a candle, in the foreground. The sense that perspective is moving away from you is really calming to the eye. Then add something living (plants or flowers) and you’re going to end up with a successful vignette.”
Rejoice in nature’s bounty
“It’s amazing the difference a big bunch of flowers on a coffee table can do to a room. It changes it from furniture and art to something alive. Succulents work really well. They are low-maintenance and mini ones are perfect for bedside tables and side tables. Bunches of flowers are great on a coffee table or console. In a kitchen, growing basil or rosemary is a lovely styling point. I love monstera leaves for a big pop of green. Big, tricky arrangements are not my vibe. They are great for hotels, but for homes, simplify.”
Make thy bed well – just not every day
“Having a great bed cover, layers, beautiful cushions, playing with shape, scale, colour pattern and texture, all these things make for a great bed, and a great bed makes for a great bedroom. That said, day-to-day, I don’t make my bed. It’s too much hard work.”
Thou shalt covet cushions
“One: they break up the big block of colour on a couch. Two: they give you the opportunity to tie in other elements in the room that might otherwise not feel at home. By playing with the palette of colours in a space, having one thing that’s a lot of that colour, another thing that’s a bit of that colour and something else with just a little bit of that colour – all in the same line of sight – your eye will feel like everything connects. Subconsciously you will be happier and more at ease in the room.”
Honour thy artworks
“There are two approaches to art. You can have art as decor, meaning it plays into a colour palette. Then there is art that makes your heart race. In my home, I have both. My favourite piece in the house is the Neil Frazer artwork near the staircase. When I stand in front of Frazer’s work, my heart starts to beat faster – it’s a visceral reaction. I don’t think you should be afraid of having different types of art in a room. The thing that is important, though, is to match the scale of the piece to the scale of the furniture and room. On a big wall, use big art. For small pieces, put them on small sections of wall or gather them together to create a gallery hang.”
Style is for everyone
“Design isn’t exclusive to the people who can afford designers. Good design fundamentals are the building blocks of great rooms. If you understand the fundamentals, you can shop anywhere and make most things work.”
This article originally appeared in the March issue of marie claire.