NZ Life & Leisure

NZ Life & Leisure interviews Neil McLachlan

The prominent interior designer shares a career's worth of knowledge.

words: Tracey Strange Watts
photos: Matthew Williams

1) Are there any simple rules about introducing colour into your home?
Introducing colour is a personal thing but not something to be afraid of. One can have colour and still be monochromatic, which may be a gentler way to embrace colour for many people... for example, choose a colour you love and introduce it in various places in various shades. If you are bold and unafraid, choose multiple colours but preferably of a similar intensity as that can also help tie colours together.

2) How do you approach mixing old and treasured pieces with new items?
The easiest way to mix is make sure proportions are bang on and complementary so there is some sense of balance... for example, new pieces need to be strong and have personality to sit comfortably with something old and possibly worn. Colour can also link old and new while texture is my favourite medium of contrast. Similarly old things with clean lines can slip easily into a modern interior without causing chaos.

3) What are the very basics of interior design? What does someone with limited experience need to know?
One shouldn't underestimate it as a skill. DIY is fine when one has no choice, but essentially interior design is a developed skill that is mostly only possessed by professionals. We don't tend to try and solve our own legal or accounting problems and similarly I encourage people to engage professional designers. There is no one-liner to what to know about interior design. Better designers evolve their own style over decades of immersion, travel and experience.

4) What are the benefits of paying for professional advice?
One can avoid wasting money on styles and furniture that won't last by enlisting the help of a savvy designer. It can also take the stress and responsibility away from one partner in a relationship who is tasked with making décor decisions and struggling to implement them! There are a myriad of advantages not least of all ending up with a result the client is truly delighted to live with.

5) What are the key elements that make up a home?
Personal treasures are hugely important. A good basic architectural framework will support personal touches of almost any style or provenance. On a more basic level I seldom design a room without plant life of some description. There is no real substitute for indoor trees and cut flowers.

6) Is there a failsafe colour palette?
Not really. Many view as 'safe' the current trend of pale neutrals but to me is more fashion than anything else. Colour should be at harmony with architecture and spatial balance.

7) What advice would you give to someone who is attempting to decorate his or her home for the first time?
Look at as many magazines and images as possible and decide what really works and what doesn't. Try to analyze what makes a room great, bad or indifferent. Buy a great house. The better the architectural detailing in a home, the freer one is to mix and match colours, patterns and styles. Houses with no architectural features are much harder to work with.

8) Can you 'nutshell' your design philosophy?
My philosophy is to genuinely try to create interiors that suit homeowners as well as the architecture of the building or space. It is all about the clients, not me. I see my role – and in fact responsibility – as creating individualistic homes that meet the personal, social and economic needs of the owners, while being overall designs I can be proud of.

9) Your work on Changing Rooms made interior design accessible to many... what are the most common mistakes novices make?
Maybe going too over the top. Even if choosing bright colours, remember things look much stronger on mass than in a tiny chip on a paint chart. Changing Rooms was foremost an entertainment show and for that reason spectacular interiors tended to dominate, but they were not designed haphazardly.

10) How important are textiles to the comfort of a room?
Textiles and other tactile materials can hugely affect the warmth and feeling of a room. It is by playing with their pattern, texture and sheen levels that one can introduce a multitude of levels barely discernable to the untrained. Window treatments can add incredible softness and change entire atmospheres. Choosing textiles is also an art than can produce anything from an adequate to an outstanding result.


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