Working in real estate for 18 years followed by a 20-year career as a qualified colour consultant, and now regular spot on Channel 10’s lifestyle show The Living Room, it’s fair to say James Treble has an expert handle on the building and design industry.
Combining this knowledge, experience and expertise with his love of housing, James launched his own design business, Treble Studios in 2005 offering a holistic approach to new home builds and renovations.
But this wasn’t how he first planned his career trajectory.
“I missed out by four marks to get into Uni to become a Valuer,” he said.
“It really threw me, so I decided to study at Tafe two nights a week for three years, and worked six days a week to start saving my money for my first house, which I bought six years later.”
James has now found his niche as a designer, but his time in real estate provided the fundamental `building blocks’, teaching him how house floor plans work, how to show off a home’s best assets, and how to maximise a properties potential.
In this time James also worked as a kitchen designer for large company’s such as Knebel and Kitchen Connections. Here he learned about functional design, the best use of appropriate finishes and the importance of working closely with clients to achieve the best results.
It was via these roles, combined with his time in the building industry, that set the foundations and left him with a broad knowledge on how homes are built and how they are used.
“I must also have great product knowledge (in my line of work), which I am always adding to and is a vital part of my day-to-day workings,” he said.
“This allows me to be aware of the impact an idea or finish selection will have on the homes structure. It’s easy to suggest ideas to clients which sounds great on paper, but for whatever reason can simply not work! It’s about offering sound solutions.”
We are thrilled to have James Treble as a key speaker at the Decoration + Design Industry Seminar Series in Sydney, 2014 looking at a home from the floor up.
In this exclusive chat, James reveals his design influences, motto’s to work by, importance of budgets, and his top tips for creating a room with impact.
Why did you become a designer and colour consultant?
“As I tell most of my clients, I am essentially a `Lego Kid’ who now deals with very expensive pieces of Lego!,” said James. “I spent a huge amount of my childhood building and designing houses, some of them inside waterfalls, some on huge towers but all of them interesting and inspiring!”
My first `house design’ was an amazing tree house I built with my father and twin brother! It had a bunk bed, colorbond roof and a bucket on a pulley system linked with our rear balcony, so mum could send us over lunch and drinks. Truly amazing.
I guess I have always been interested in houses of all sizes, the use of colour and the placement of objects and how finishes can work together. Its therefore a natural progression that I have ended up where I am, doing a job which I love so much. It’s also easier on my partner as I get to change colours and finishes on my client’s homes instead of constantly changing our own.
What are your strongest design influences, both past and present, that impact your work?
I have always been very interested in history and ancient structures, and as an avid traveler, I have visited amazing places such as Egypt, Marrakech and much of Europe. It’s interesting to see how people lived, and continue to, in these countries as well as what someone expected from their home in Pompeii compared with how our wants and needs have evolved into what we now expect from our homes today.
I am therefore influenced by not only what my clients want from their homes now, but how the space will evolve as their needs and families change. Some examples to consider are flexible floor plans which can alter as your family grows, and the `future proofing’ of homes to allow for new technology and products. This is a fundamental part of building and designing new living environments.
You must have worked on some incredible projects, can you name a highlight? are there any that you can share with us?
I have an interesting client base, working with some fantastic people on their amazing homes. One in particular was a home in Longueville, Sydney. The clients were fantastic from day one and we quickly built a rapport, which is so important as you end up working together so closely.
This large home was positioned well into the site and it stepped down the block in tiers. I wanted to highlight this with subtle colour placement and allow it some contrast without dominating its corner location.
Internally, we decided to continue the amazing marble from the front facade, into the main foyer, running it up a central wall on the staircase. This made a dramatic feature being seen from most view points within the home. The colour palette was calming and echoed the soft greens and creams of the surrounding eucalyptus. I was elated with the end result and more importantly the clients love their new home.
Your experience crosses into the real estate industry, new home building and renovating under your own company, Treble Studios, how different is it working on a house from scratch, rather than coming into an already existing building and trying to make design changes? What do you prefer?
This is a great question! My main focus and probably about 80% of my work is with new builds. The price of real estate in Sydney means I get clients buying older homes in established areas, knocking them down and then rebuilding a new home which better fits their needs.
I have access to the new house plans from day one and I can influence my clients on subtle but important design changes, which may have been overlooked when with the builder or architect. As it’s not built yet, I can alter the location of services, where doors or windows are positioned including thier heights and type, as well as make allowance for certain kitchen or bathroom layouts which the client has not dealt with until we meet. I can do these without altering the overall integrity of the design, and this gives me great flexibility, as small alterations can make huge impacts on how my clients ultimately use their new homes!
Renovations on the other hand require a lot more thought as many changes are not as easy to realise, and are not always obvious on the first visit. For example, I can always run water anywhere I want, even up and over a room, however I cannot do the same with the waste!
To achieve what a client wants, what I believe is the best result and what the builder believes is achievable, creates great dialogue between us all, as how to best achieve the desired results.
Which one do I prefer? I have bought, renovated and sold four times myself, so as much as I love what I can do with new designs, the challenges and problem-solving required for a renovation, really excites me.
Your work has been featured in award-winning homes, what does it mean personally to be recognised by the industry?
I work with a variety of clients from my large builders such as Masterton Homes to smaller boutique builders as well as individual clients. To win an award is recognition of your work from your piers, and it encourages you that you’re continuing to offer the best of new design options to your clients.
I have been fortunate for a few homes I’ve worked on to win major building and design awards. The latest was for this year’s Master Builders awards where two of my homes won in their price and design categories.
The builder, Buildcraft Constructions, also arranged for the owners to be at the awards ceremony. To see their excited reactions on the night was quite emotional. That’s a wonderful and very humbling experience when you can see the huge impact our homes have on how we feel.
You are a regular on channel 10s lifestyle show ‘The Living Room’ as the expert interior designer – how has the move into television been for you? What do you love most about this new role?
I was asked to join The Living Room last year for a one off design challenge with host and builder, Barry Du Bois. Luckily for me we hit it off right away and this turned into a regular design spot this year. The show is growing from strength to strength with a great following and we have just started preparing for season 3, which we will begin filming shortly.
My role on the show is quite different to what I do with my business Treble Studios. The time frames are crazy, and we have to turn rooms around in a couple of days with repurposed pieces and new colour schemes and finishes. Luckily we have an amazing production team and the `challenges’ against Baz means you really have to pull new ideas out of the hat each time. We both tend to be competitive and with years of building and interior design experience himself, he really keeps me on my toes.
It’s loads of work but lots of fun as well, and I think that comes across on screen. It’s part of the success of the show that you can see it’s all very real and not staged. We don’t know who wins until they tell us, and you can’t fake it when the home owner really loves your room and reacts with emotion.
I tend to push the colour palettes a lot in the show and use much stronger colours than I may otherwise suggest. But as they say it is TV, and sometimes you need to turn the volume up a little to make a dramatic statement or get your idea across.
What are some of your favourite colour palettes to work with? why?
I often joke with clients that purple and orange are my favourite colours and watch their faces as they absorb this. In my work I live in a world of neutrals, from whites to deeper tones of earthy browns, greys and limestone greens.
Being that I select fixed finishes, which are more often than not `big ticket items’ such as bricks, tiles, flooring and cabinetry, it’s always a better option to stay with neutrals where you can then add accents in other accessories and home decor items. These can then be easily and inexpensively changed.
You can always have orange cushions when placed on a tan sofa and timber floors. As for colour palettes I work with, this is vast and I work toward this with my clients. As we complete the exteriors of the home and then start selecting items such as flooring and tiles for the wet areas, the overall palette develops and starts to show itself.
This is my favorite part of my job as I not only have my own and my client’s opinions to consider, I also have the house itself which influences what finishes will work best for each location.
What are your design mottos or mantras that you seek guidance from in your work?
One of my favourite quotes and one which I use a lot is by our very own June Dally-Watkins; `Less is more’. This is really an important statement, and it can translate in so many ways! Not only for a home’s internal layout and finishes, but also on how the space will ultimately be interpreted and enjoyed.
To give an example, I often get clients who fall in love with a certain look or many looks and try to fit all of these ideas into the one space. This can create a confusing and in-cohesive space resulting in too much colour, too many finishes OR too many things happening at once.
It’s more often than not a better approach, to have one strong feature such as an amazing splashback or wonderful wallpaper and then provide strong elements to complement this, rather than compete! You therefore end up with a comfortable and understated result that is easier to live with, dates better and makes one clear message about who lives there.
How important is budget when approaching a design project?
Whether I’m working on a $350k or a $1.7 million house, I always have a budget to consider. As I select all exterior and interior finishes, the big decisions start right from the beginning. The choice between certain bricks or whether to render or use some sort of cladding options, can vary in price by $30k. This remains the same throughout the whole selection process. This is why I must work closely with my clients, gently nudging and pushing if needed, to make sure that certain items receive the budget they deserve and others can have perhaps similar but less expensive alternatives.
One of my clients famously told me I am “60% colour and 40 % decision maker and marriage councilor”. This is not far from the truth as you tend to become close with clients, being that my role is spread over many months with each of them, and building comes with a certain amount of stress.
Can you share your top 3 styling secrets to create a room with impact?
Tip 1# Remember that this is your home and is therefore a reflection on who YOU are! Ensure you include some existing pieces or items that are part of your history and story, so it doesn’t end up looking like someone else’s showroom.
Tip 2# Spend your hard earned money wisely. One strong piece is worth the investment and you can then add details and layers, still making a big statement. It’s far better than lots of cheaper items that can make clutter.
Tip 3# A key tip that you will see in every magazine and show home is repetition. Pick up the yellow in your scatter cushions and repeat it in one bowl on the side console, OR place three, even-sized art works on the wall in a row for a dramatic effect. Repetition brings continuity and a sense of order, this can help us feel comfortable and relaxed in a space.
Interior Designer and resident design guru on THE LIVING ROOM, James will be providing insights into the amazing range of flooring and finishes available. Looking at a home from the floor up, he will discuss tiles through to timber, outdoor and bench top materials, cladding and environmental products and finishes.
For more information or to book, visit decorationdesign.com.au
- INTERVIEW: Architect James Cleary on Designing the Kitchen of the Future, Today (inhabitat.com)
- Shopify: This Wasn’t Made Using Computers (huffingtonpost.com)
- Maximizing a small space (openenvelopestudio.com)