As Editor-in-Chief at Belle, Neale Whitaker is at the forefront of what’s hot in interior design. And although he has witnessed thousands of homes grace the pages of the popular mag, he admitted in a recent issue that not every home is to his taste. “…that was a controversial thing to say,” he tells me. I caught up with this industry heavyweight and The Block judge to discuss the magazine, his decor secret shame and his take on Christmas decorating.
What do you believe sets Belle apart from other interior design mags? Do you ever get approached with feature ideas and immediately know “that’s not Belle”?
Yes – all the time! We are in the lucky position of being inundated with content ideas from all over the world, but with only six issues per year we need to be very selective about what is included. I think what sets Belle apart from other interior design magazines is the quality of its photography, its distinctive layout and typography and its fast-paced editorial mix of Australian and international homes, design news and profiles. We also have a sense of humour which keeps us real.
You said in the June/July Luxe Issue that you don’t necessarily love every home that’s featured in the magazine. What interior trends can you appreciate from afar but wouldn’t consider for your own home?
With hindsight that was a controversial thing to say. What I meant was that not every home published in Belle reflects my own personal taste, but I have a healthy respect and appreciation for a home that is a good example of its genre. I’m always cautious of trends for trends’ sake. It’s interesting to see how trends evolve, but you take from them only what you like and what feels right for your home.
What’s your home style like and how has it evolved over time?
Our home is classic, relaxed, welcoming and totally un-Belle! It is full of books, art and personal mementos collected on our travels together. I think it’s a real and accurate reflection of the life that my partner David and I share. And when you live with two large and energetic dogs you can’t be too precious.
What’s your decor secret shame; a so-bad-it’s-good theme or something a little left-of-centre?
My décor secret shame is that we have a downstairs laundry that is desperately in need of renovation and we keep ignoring it. The Block contestants would have had it sorted in five minutes! And then there’s the portrait of me that was painted for the Archibald … never know whether that’s the height of bad taste or kind of cool.
Christmas is fast approaching. What’s your take on Christmas decorating and do you execute a theme at home?
I’m British – and of a certain age – so I love traditional Christmas decorations that remind me of my childhood. I think an attitude to Christmas must be in your DNA. After many years of living in Australia I’ve adapted to pretty much everything – except Christmas. It never feels quite the same without pouring rain outside and the central hearing turned-up full blast!
Let’s talk trends for 2014. What can we let go of and what can we embrace in the new year?
As I’ve already mentioned, I’m not a great believer in trends. What we can embrace moving forward into 2014 is an even greater individuality and sense of what the French so poetically call ‘bricolage’ – a mixing and mashing-up of different styles, eras, textures and colours. Along with this independent spirit comes an increased appreciation of craft, quality and the bespoke.
Do you have any up-and-coming designers on your look-out-for list?
Yes – lots. I’m watching furniture and product designers Front, Nika Zupanc and Sebastian Herkner with interest. In interior design I’m looking at Nick Olsen and Humbert/Poyet.
You’ve been judging on The Block for a few years now. What’s a standout moment for you?
Standing on the rooftop of The Block in the recent SkyHigh series and reflecting on what an extraordinary job the contestants had done. Creating a new landmark building on the South Melbourne skyline.
What’s next for you – with regard to Belle, The Block and anything outside of work?
That’s enough for the time being! Those two things keep me pretty busy. The potential to grow the Belle brand into other areas is exciting.
Lastly, how do you live TLC Interiors?
By staying open-minded, interested and willing to learn. There are not enough hours in the day to read all the things I want to read but I do my best!
Photos in this post supplied by Neale Whitaker.
Want to know more about The Block? Read our ultimate guide to every season!