I’m not in the mood to talk about housing design today, after half a dozen concreters started a driveway pour near us around 6 this morning, building to a crescendo of frantic BEEP BEEP BEEPs from a high-tempo reversing bobcat, a revving tip truck and a cacophony of assorted earth-shuddering thuds, shattering a peaceful dawn. But then there’s nothing like a crab and fish feast at The Mullet, and my bubbly luncheon guest, interior designer and colour consultant Gloria Watson, to lift the spirit. Indeed, many Port Macquarie homes, apartments and other places have been brightened by her intervention over the past two decades. The roll call of those who’ve sought her services includes prominent local families who’ve co-opted her imagination to dress their rooms. She’s one of those terribly capable, up-to-the-minute, oh-so-stylish rare individuals whose impeccable taste, talent and sheer genius for making things look “just right” invariably prompts us to wonder: “Now why on earth didn’t I think of that?”
Ex-Sydney, Watson arrived in Port with her builder husband Wes 21 years ago, just as the town’s growing population was expanding into new residential locations, with shopping centres like Port Central and other commercial developments, and gearing in an upbeat economy towards our now enduring obsession with home decoration (and home improvement TV shows). Wes set about building spec homes while his wife, pregnant with their first child, produced the couple’s two daughters over the next few years. Before long, the elan she brought to decorating her husband’s properties was noticed by other builders and developers – “they caught on to what I did, and liked it” – and word of mouth saw her create her consultancy business “by accident,” as she says. Names like Pycon, Brandon Calder and many more have since sought her advice. Her work would eventually be seen also in retirement villages, day spas, professional suites, pubs and cafes, gyms and childcare centres, even backpacker cabins. She used her time as the mother of two littlies to supplement her innate talent with formal qualifications, acquiring a Diploma of Interior Design from UNE. As commissions built, she travelled regularly to the Sydney trade shows that feature building materials, furniture and furnishing accessories for the wholesale market, keeping up to date with emerging trends. She found the trade shows stimulating … “I loved the excitement of it all!” From decorating she naturally expanded into design as well, opening a studio – first near Freddo’s and later on Horton Street – where clients could come to inspect and select their fabrics and wallpapers, spread out on wide benches, checking textures and colour palettes. Watson’s cache of items to furnish client houses grew larger, and she found she enjoyed sharing the thrill of acquiring lovely cushions, duvets and so on with others. So the business, Homeware Design Living, expanded into retailing all the extra treasures Watson couldn’t resist. “It was the fun bit,” she says, of the joy of spreading her discoveries to a wider circle of aficionados. Eventually though, retail grew too much, with demands of staffing and administration, so she sold the business to concentrate on design – and furniture rentals. Builders were contracting her to do complete fit-outs, to rent entire households of furniture and accessories to them, to showcase their new homes, villas and apartments to the buying public – or, “filling rooms with emotion,” as she puts it, “so people can see themselves living there”. News of her expertise saw her headhunted by TAFE; she acquired a teaching qualification and now lectures students three days a week in Interior Decorating, Visual Merchandising and a Style Savvy short-course for home decorators. “I LOVE teaching!” she tells me several times, eyes shining as she expresses the pleasure it brings her. It’s become an all-absorbing passion, and even as she describes the extent of preparation that’s needed for lectures, she does so with enthusiasm and creative delight. Trends change, she explains: “You can’t just use last year’s material!” She sets exercises around localities such as historic Douglas Vale Vineyard and, when clients agree, gives students the benefit of seeing one of her actual design projects take shape. “I love it!” she repeats, “I thrive on their interaction, and their enjoyment, and the excitement.” She now enjoys video-recording lectures too, for courses delivered online to distance-education students. “I was terrible with computers,” she confides, “but I’ve learned such a lot [via TAFE work]. Now she utilises “mood boards”, creating multi-dimensional room designs, placing furniture and furnishings into an online space where layout and placements can be altered, inclusions and colours modified. She’s adapted it to her consultancy business, taking photos to insert a favourite piece – or even images of clients themselves into, say, an armchair. Above all, Watson loves playing with colour and design. Today, she’s prepared a 50 Shades of Grey storyboard for a class (it’s just to demonstrate the use of monochromes, that’s all!) and has been busy at her sewing machine with colourful fabric swatches. Geometrics are in; chevrons (herringbone-style patterns) are on trend; and there’s a lot of neon – accents, she stresses, not whole rooms! – coming out, she tells me. “It’s easy to embrace new trends with accents like cushions that can eventually be put away, so rooms don’t date.”
Her own home and studio are a tribute to “less is more” good taste: a massive distressed dresser serving as a book/filing case; a huge Cambodian timber desk – “one of the pleasures of having had the shop!” she remarks; three little bottles placed casually in line, each holding a single white flower from her garden; a startling scarlet Arne Jacbosen egg chair creating an exclamation mark in the sitting room – “I like to have something iconic”, she explains. A fashionable dresser, it’s no surprise to learn she’s also a creative cook. Even her remarkable vegie garden is designed and coordinated, she confesses. The different shapes and shades of the leafy greens of the beans, snow peas, spinach, lettuce, rocket, leek, broccoli, watercress, coriander and so on, she shows me, are planned and planted in precise rows … to harmonise with and complement each other as they flourish.
Out To Lunch is hosted by Lou Perri
at The Stunned Mullet on Town Beach
This story was published in issue 83 Port Macquarie