Tuesday, February 28, 2023

Sterile House Design


I was reading the real estate lift out this weekend. For a while now we’ve been seeing the 70’s/ Palm Springs architectural trend. It’s usually white, lots of arches in doorways, perhaps some curved walls and gardens that could in some cases be described as stark. The other feature that strikes me is that they look like sterile impersonal show houses, not homes.

I understand that when you are selling a house the real estate agents advise to declutter of personal items. That makes sense- potential buyers need to envisage their future lives in the house, not see your life.

However it’s not just the real estate pages showing the impersonal interiors, it’s also reflected in feature articles where people are showcasing their homes in glossy magazines and online stories.

I always feel that these houses tell nothing about their owners’ personality. Sure the home owners would have briefed the architect about the look they wanted. But when the house has only trendy design features and neutral décor, it sadly comes up lacking the lived in/ loved feeling. And more to the point, it’s really difficult to live a minimalist show house lifestyle. There’s shoes that get discarded around the house, pet food bowls, magazines, bills, books, family photos & mementos, homework, coffee cups, devices and chords etc. 

My thoughts were echoed to me when reading a recent article on Oprah Daily. Oprah describes finally accepting that she needed a house that showed her true personality, instead of trying to conform to trends and how she thought people wanted her house to look.

As a designer or architect it’s not unusual for a client brief to request “a hotel feel”. However as a designer if I want a Hotel Feel- that’s exactly where I go. I’m more than happy spending time in a nice hotel or boutique accommodation that is beautiful and elegant yet neutral.

What I most enjoy when entering a house for the first time is seeing the personality of the owners. It can still be a stunning modern interior, but the details such as family photos, framed children’s artwork, well tended hanging plants with tendrils trailed around shelves, book collections, the odd lamp that stands out because it’s a family heirloom or the dog bed in a spot where he can watch his family come and go. They are the things I like to see, not the inter-changeable cookie cutter houses.

Trends are great and they influence everything in life from our cars, to fashion and how we live, until they don’t and we’ve been oversaturated and then suddenly realize that just because it’s trendy, it doesn’t represent the true you. It’s easy to throw out the acid wash jeans and trade your car to upgrade to a new model, but houses are a lot more expensive to update.

Wednesday, February 8, 2023

My 5 tips for Retailers


Ask anyone who has worked in the retail arena for their top tips and you’ll get different answers every time. The responses are largely influenced by the area of specialty that person has.

For almost 30 years I’ve lived in the realm of the retail world. I love watching all the mechanisms that meld together to make this industry function. I’ve designed shops and retail outlets for all types of clients- hair and beauty, foodies, clothing, jewellery, health and medical, real estate, furniture, produce, garden and lifestyle.

Here are my Top 5 Tips for Retailers.

1.      Know your Market. I always ask new clients who their market is. If I’m designing their store I have to make the look appeal to that market, but also be conscious not to isolate any potential customers on the fringe who may be enticed in. Knowing the market is also important for service. One example that comes to mind is a brand of upmarket clothing that appeals to the pre-teen market who aren’t quite old enough to work and therefore rely on the bank of mum and dad. However the sales people are known for being super rude and dismissive to the parents.

2.      Have Omni channels. We’ve definitely seen the importance of this during covid, but even before then businesses knew the value. Multiple platforms and ways to allow customers to buy are so important. They may be browsing your socials or website at 11pm but wanting to come into your store the next day at 9am so they can touch and feel the product and then purchase. Or they may simply purchase online, as many had to during covid.  Do not limit the methods for them to purchase from you.

3.      Educate your customers. If done well this will generate add on sales. This is done by sales staff and visual merchandising and promotional/ advertising online. It’s the sales person who offers up accessories or a top that goes with the bottom piece the person is trying on. Or it’s the window display that shows the a whole outfit all working beautiful together or the online images showing a range of home décor that compliments the furniture in a room. People often need to be shown or advised about how to make something work or how versatile it can be. Many people are nervous about “getting it right” if left entirely to their own decisions.

4.      Walk the walk, Talk the Talk. I know a gorgeous older woman who owns a suburban clothing boutique. When I see her at the local supermarket she always looks stunning in an outfit from her shop. Her hair and makeup are beautiful. Her social media promotes her stock and shows her customers out and about wearing clothing from her store. She attends fashion events and also promotes these on her socials. She personifies what she sells. If you are building a brand it needs to encapsulate everything you value for your brand. There is nothing more disappointing than the plumber with the leaky taps.

5.      Acknowledge your strengths that set you apart from your competitors. There will always be competition in life regardless of what you do or which industry you’re in. Instead of getting caught up in what your “competition” is doing, think about what you can do to be unique and add that edge of difference. Perhaps you have an interest in a charity that ties into your area of retail- promote it. Offer customer incentives- spend $1000 on clothing and get a free styling session. A well known tile shop is currently promoting the fact that you can get complimentary tea or coffee while you are in the showroom browsing.


My tips are not about having a well designed store. That’s important, but is only one cog in the wheel. A great looking store will only get a retailer so far if the other elements are not working. Over the years I’ve designed stores knowing from the start that they won’t work because the other factors are not in place and not considered important. However it’s an absolute delight to watch a retailer who nails it in every aspect and their brand grows with success.