In the second of our Woman of Style and Substance series, we talk to interior designer extraordinaire, Mum, business woman and TV presenter; Tara Dennis.
In conjunction with her busy schedule with Better Homes and Gardens and appearances, Tara runs a design studio and, along with her team, has just launched her newest homewares collection.
Tara hand paints and prints original designs and these are reproduced onto beautiful, practical items for around the home. Her ranges can be found at David Jones stores nationally as well as independent retailers.
Tara has published a book called Home, where she shares her styling secrets and tips on colour and decorating and is currently working on a new title which incorporates her love of all things handmade.
If you need any decor inspiration, Tara’s website taradennis.com is packed full of decorating and craft ideas as well as styling advice.
Tara kindly took some time out of her busy schedule for a chat with us:
You have just released your sixth homewares range, where do you find inspiration for your range and styling?
I love the process of design and I hand paint all of the original prints which is so much fun. The first range was tricky to find my niche but now I feel I’m on a roll and it’s evolving nicely. For inspiration, I’m a massive believer in the power of travel to broaden your mind. Every year I fly over for Maison Objet, which is an incredible industry only design show in Paris. It’s super high end but the presentation is superb and definitely filters down through to what we see in retail here in Australia. This year I’ll be also be going to Copenhagen, London and New York which is incredibly exciting. I’ll take my sketchbook and watercolours as always when I travel and literally hit the streets. I get so much from my trips, it makes me dizzy just thinking about it!
How did you first get into interior design?
I’ve decorated and created things for most of my life so to me it’s second nature to do what I do. I never expected to have a presenting career, I was an incredibly shy kid and the thought of public speaking used to make me feel ill! I actually arrived on TV by default. I used to work in marketing for an artist’s paint company in the mid-nineties and part of my role was to come up with fresh creative ways to promote the paints. I used to regularly ‘stunt double’ decorating stories for a TV show called ‘Our House’ and when the paints were involved, I was the behind the scenes girl who just made it all happen. One day the producers asked me to screen test as an on-air designer for a new show called ‘Changing Rooms’. I reluctantly participated as I was still super shy but I loved the challenge of designing on a budget and the crew were incredibly supportive. I stayed on and the rest, as they say is history and I’ve been lucky enough to have been on TV now continuously for over 17 years. I am pleased to say also that I have overcome my shyness!
Out of the many, many home styles, which style would you say is your favourite?
I think it’s easy to say I love ‘Hamptons’ but in essence what I truly love is classic coastal, with a slight Scandinavian feel. I’m not into a super modern scheme yet I do like to incorporate a few modern elements. I do like rustic but too much is too much. I like a blend, as though the place has ‘evolved’ over time. For me, it’s all about smart casual/airy spaces.
With TV presenting on Better Homes and Gardens, travelling with Better Homes and Gardens LIVE, your design studio, ambassadorships, website, appearances and homewares ranges, how do you find time to look after yourself and what do you do to look after yourself?
I am insanely busy but I truly love what I do and when you love what you do it’s just not work. My days and challenges fuel me so I believe I’m actually happier, stronger and a better person to be around when I’m busy. I have passion for life and it shines through. I’m super low maintenance, I don’t love shopping for clothes, I’m too lazy to try them on, my favourite shoes are my work boots and a good day for me is pottering at home and in my garden with my family.
I’ll fess up and admit to not being able to remember the last time I had a facial, manicure or did some regular exercise but I do get my hair cut and coloured about every eight weeks and that’s only because I just can’t get away without it, I would look too wild! It’s excruciating for me to sit in a chair for hours getting it done, I’m really not into it. I do eat really well, too well in fact. Lots of veggies, lean meat, good cheese and I drink plenty of water. I balance it out with plenty of wine and good chocolate, everything in moderation after all!
How do you juggle your career, children, a home and life? Do you think you have a work/life balance?
It’s never easy; ask any working parent, there is never a perfect balance. I had my daughter at 22 years old so juggling is my speciality; I don’t know any other way. I make sure there is lots of love to go around, I try to stick to the plan and be as organised as possible so the wheels don’t fall off and most of all I try to be happy. If Mumma’s not happy, boy the house goes into chaos. I’m acutely aware of this so, as a result, 99 percent of the time we have a very calm, peaceful house, that’s my proudest achievement. With everything going on around us, home is a sanctuary for all of us.
What advice would you give a woman wanting to start her own business?
Have focus, plan out what you want to achieve and how you’re going to get there. Is it truly what you want to do in your heart of hearts? If so you’ll be amazing, if not, time to revise that plan. I love the saying ‘if you don’t change direction you might end up where you’re heading’. Consider it well, it says a lot.
Who do you admire or find inspirational from?
I admire anyone willing to give things a go and be brave enough to try. I love it when people make great things happen. I’m not a fan of celebrity for celebrity sake, I admire skill, goodness and determination.
What is the best piece of advice you were ever given?
Live life with purpose or life will be lived for you.
What is your favourite “me time” thing to do?
Read a magazine in bed in the morning with a cup of tea, in one of my Tara Dennis cups of course!
What would you say your personal style is?
It’s like my decorating style, smart casual. I’m a big fan of classic cuts, great fabrics and a less is more, more or less approach. As I’m getting older I’m investing in quality versus quantity in every area of my life.
Being a Woman of Style and Substance yourself, what do you think are the most important attributes a woman can have?
Determination – I never say I can’t do something, have an open mind and anything is possible.
Focus – Don’t let life happen to you, live with purpose and focus on your goals. Strength comes from clarity.
Confidence – I had to overcome shyness in my younger years which was incredibly difficult. I pushed through and am discovering a real confidence which has changed my life. I do believe I’m feeling, looking and am becoming a better woman because of it.
For more tips, and to see Tara in action, visit Better Homes & Gardens Live at Sydney Olympic Park from 13th-15th November. For details head to www.bhglive.com.au.