Television do-up shows have demystified decorating for the average Jack and Jill, but also hammered home the message that neutral hues are more likely to entice prospective buyers than properties with personality.
The result, according to interior designer Helen Shaw, has been forgettable decor that isn’t to the owner’s taste and doesn’t necessarily score highly with future house hunters.
The Pukekohe-based Picturebook Interiors designer says many Kiwis put pragmatism before passion in their homes and focus on five years down the track, rather than today.
“I’ve always been an advocate of putting things in that you like,” says Helen.
“Everybody thinks neutral suits everyone, but it doesn’t. We get locked into so much beige on beige.”
An unexpected silver lining of the global financial crisis is that people are beginning to treat their homes as havens, rather than just assets.
“People are more aware of their surroundings, I suppose that’s what a recession does,” says Helen. “People look at what they’ve got at home when it’s not economically viable to [renovate] or to build new.”
She says the days of easy-come-easy-go spending on household projects are over, with people paying more attention to where their dollar is going and how to make the most of it.
“There’s not enough money left in it [the property market] to buy and sell all the time. People are looking more at home, and into their own lives.
“They are more aware of the environment they live in and are starting to bring in more colour and more patterns.”
“We are seeing a lot of people re-covering furniture rather than throwing out, and repainting,” says Helen. “A lot of people out there want to put their mark on things. They’re just not throwing away now — they’re working with what they’ve got.”
If the old really can’t be salvaged, she says it’s better to save up, spend a little more and get something you really like.
“I have a huge aversion to really cheap and nasty things. If you are not sure of something, don’t always buy it because it’s the first thing you see or because it’s in your budget. Save that little extra and get something special, rather than get something that’s just okay. There’s nothing nicer than walking into a room and saying ‘wow, that looks fabulous’, rather than ‘oh, this is just another room’.”
In her decorating Helen prefers a classic look, but likes to add “a little bit of interest” in whatever she’s creating.
Earlier in the year she gained bronze in the New Zealand Interior Design Awards with her entry, a bedroom tailored to a rugby-mad 17-year-old boy.
“I was absolutely stoked,” she smiles. “I’ve never entered anything like that before and I didn’t even think to look at the website to see the entries from previous years.”
In her entry she incorporated different patterns, accessories and textures, and says these are good options to jazz up any home.
“I layer up lots of texture,” says Helen. “It’s about not being scared to mix it up – not being afraid of hessian textures, polished cottons and things like that.”
“Wallpaper for most people is a fantastic medium and some of the wallpapers are beautiful. I like to mix the two. There is a huge range out there that fits into all sorts of categories in design.”
One of the most neglected areas of the average New Zealand home is lighting, according to Helen.
“If anything in this country needs to be revamped, it’s lighting,” she says.
“It can make an area sparkle or it can make an area look more in the shadows.
“People put in recessed lights and it just peppers the ceiling. A lot of people will put them everywhere; they’ll put six in the room and they only need four. I think it’s a waste of energy and they don’t gain a lot. There are some wicked things that you can get, and it doesn’t have to be a chandelier.”
Looking to this season’s trends, she says shades of green are coming to the fore and patterns from the 50s and 60s are back in vogue.
“People have done the neutral thing and they’ve done a lot of the grey thing. Out of Europe there are a lot of the yellowy greens coming in. It’s really lovely and works beautifully with neutrals.
“Upholstery is a lot simpler than it ever was. The patterns are a lot smaller, especially on lounge suites. But when it comes to individual chairs they’re really going to town.”
Helen’s advice to would-be decorators is to stick to colours and styles they like, rather than what they think will be attractive to buyers.