Di Henshall is an interior designer with a successful practice on the Sunshine Coast, Australia. In 23 years of running her business, her work has encompassed everything from design consultancy to full scale construction and project management. A one-stop-shop for everything related to interior design.
My journey in design
I knew I wanted to be a designer when I was five years old. I didn’t know anything about interior design at that age, so I thought I would be a fashion designer. I made a book and drew page after page of dresses, all of them looked exactly the same except for the colours and patterns. When I was eight, my sister and I decided we would design our dream house. I still remember exactly what I drew – there were no corridors, which is funny looking back, because I have an aversion to long corridors even now.
I was brought up in England in an era when high street furniture was transformed by people like Sir Terence Conran, who started Habitat, forever changing people’s attitude towards good, modern, affordable design. Tricia Guild, of Designers Guild, re-wrote the rules about colour – we had never seen the intensity of bright furnishing fabrics like that before in England. Vivienne Westwood and Zandra Rhodes, two fashion designers, who revolutionised fashion in England during the 70s. Vivienne Westwood is still an iconic figure in fashion today.
Like most kids, I didn’t really appreciate old buildings when I was young, they were everywhere and didn’t have much of an impact with me, but I always loved Georgian architecture and was fascinated with some of the Georgian facades of the grand terraced town houses of London and Bath.
Marc Newson is a stand-out designer in anyone’s language. He would be one of Australia’s best exports and a true inspiration to me. His work challenges you to think outside the norm. Philippe Starck is another brilliant designer on the world scale, his eccentricity makes him even more appealing.
This will be a bit of surprise, but there is a Canadian designer called Candice Olson, who has a television show on cable. She does some brilliant work, albeit jollied up for the viewing audience, but inspiring on a very practical level. Back to the more obvious inspirations, Frank Gehry and Frank Lloyd Wright are both geniuses that have inspired generations of designers and architects.
Two amazing female architects that I am in awe of – Julia Morgan, one of the first female architects in the US (responsible for Hearst Castle) and Zaha Hadid, who could create a masterpiece out of a discarded napkin! Clothes and interior design are synergistic and I get inspiration from Giorgio Armani, who has made an empire out of restraint and Alexander McQueen, whose legacy in fashion and pure artistry will live forever.
Design and Build
I am a designer that builds, rather than a builder that designs. My first and most important consideration is the design aspect of all my projects. Space planning, environmental considerations, sustainable materials, ventilation, light, interior and exterior aesthetics, lighting, electrical layouts and furniture placements are all elements of good design. Once these have been carefully considered, planned and designed, then the building aspect is almost like painting by numbers.
I spend a great deal of time in the planning stages, with minute attention to detail regarding all specifications and scheduling. Once all these crucial steps are completed, the build programme becomes very easy to manage.
Going back to school for an entire year and then a further eight months to complete my assignments for my builder’s license was excruciating, but the knowledge and recognition I have gained made it very well worth the effort. Combining building skills with design expertise has made me appreciate both aspects of the business in equal measure.
It is literally impossible to single out favourites or most challenging projects, I have completed about 2000 in the time that I have been practising.
Challenges are always there, sometimes I can only think of the design solution just before panic sets in! Listening to clients, understanding their point of view, their lifestyle/business/workplace and how they interact with the space is vitally important to get the right result – this is their life, their home, their work environment, not mine. So, it is important, as a designer, to understand that I am the conduit between them and their ultimate desire.
The biggest challenge a designer faces is recognising that a client’s perception and anticipation of a result can differ greatly to what is being created by the designer, so it is imperative that the designer clearly communicates, by words, detailed plans and visuals exactly what the result is going to be.
My Design Style
I personally love simplicity in design (note my love of Armani) and in my own homes. I usually use whites and neutrals, relying on artwork and rugs for colour and added textural interest. Having said that though, I do some very complicated, intricate designs for clients and get equally excited about traditional looks as well as ultra-contemporary.
Comfort, clean lines and a sense of luxury are very important factors in my personal choices. I think the fact that I can turn my hand to designing any style, be it Victorian, Federation, Art Deco, retro, urban, coastal or ultra-modern might be a factor that draws clients towards our company.
I absolutely love it when I am designing opposing styles for different clients at the same time, it is a real mind-bender. I remember once I was designing a French 18th century style house in Melbourne and simultaneously designing an apartment with primary block colours and Dick Tracy type motifs for a Hong Kong based family – fantastic exercise in mind adaptability! At the moment I am working on a Spanish mission-style total renovation of a large property as well as designing a city contemporary boutique hotel.
Kitchen and Bathroom Design
Kitchen design is the pivotal, most important part of domestic interior design. To design the perfect kitchen for a client, it is necessary to find out crucial elements of the client’s lifestyle, habits, eating style, cooking likes/dislikes and family composition. Once this information is absorbed it is relatively easy to design a kitchen that will encompass the client’s wish list.
I believe, if you design the perfect kitchen for a client you can then design the rest of the house armed with that knowledge. The perfect kitchen needs to address the fundamental components of storage, food preparation, cooking, refrigeration and serving.
The trick is to make sure that the FLOW of work is seamless, with minimal amount of movement or steps to take between one station and the next. Therefore, storage of food should be near to food preparation area, followed by the cooking station, and so on. The knee bone connected to the thigh bone concept.
I have been designing kitchens for many years and have never designed a kitchen with base unit cupboards. They are singularly the most wasteful, useless answer to storage. I use drawers for all storage purposes, minimising the amount of wasted space and optimising the space available.
The Australian perspective
Australians are generally well-travelled and well-informed regarding international design trends. The exciting thing about living in Australia is the country’s multi-cultural population, which brings an energy and great diversity to architecture and interior design.
Australians have a sense of adventure and the “newness” of the country means that we are not chained by historical bounds and traditions, which gives designers a relative free hand when it comes to creating a uniquely Australian look. We have some sensationally talented designers in this country – interior, fashion, graphic and industrial designers that have pushed design boundaries beyond limits.
Visitors to Australia relate to the relaxed and vital lifestyle, which is reflected in our interior design. Australians love art, sculptural forms, natural materials such as native timbers and stone, plus we use great expanses of glass, far more than many other countries.
Our clients are discerning people, who want to reflect their lifestyle and their lives’ achievements through their home and work environment. Individuality is the key to true success and I can see less going-with-flow trends in the future.
Larger kitchens, eat-in variety, luxurious, spacious bathrooms, TVs hidden from view, more emphasis on outdoor living/cooking/entertaining, more desire for quality/heirloom furnishings and artworks, that can be treasured for a lifetime and smaller houses, with less wastage of space and resources.
Solar energy, environmentally responsible building practices, including more prefabrication in construction, more recycled furnishings and a collective conscience about our sustainability, our health and well-being. All of these factors will play a role in the design choices we make.
My tips for a well-styled interior
No clutter – if something can’t be stored correctly and used regularly, chuck it out.
Correct scale and proportion of furnishings.
Use of natural light – combined with brilliant, versatile artificial lighting.
Simplicity – don’t over-complicate things or get too clever.
Comfort – everything in a well-designed interior should be comfortable, practical and beautiful.