Let your surrounds reflect the real you

I am lucky, says acclaimed designer Vince Frost. For I have found a way, unintentional as it may be, to make my living space meaningful by introducing an item that not only allows me to feel at ease but is a fabric of my being.
I am lucky, says acclaimed designer Vince Frost. For I have found a way, unintentional as it may be, to make my living space meaningful by introducing an item that not only allows me to feel at ease but is a fabric of my being.

IN A sunny corner of my living room sits a cane chair. Compact but old-fashioned, with its deep seat and rounded arms, it should be at odds with the modern decor.

Instead, it is proud, secure in its importance and the quiet ruler of all it surveys.

It could do with another coat of varnish and probably a bit of work on one of the back legs wouldn't go astray, yet it still manages to elicit a sense of comfort and light bringing wonderful memories to the fore with little effort.

The chair has travelled around the world with me, a constant fixture as the craziness of youth has slowly mellowed into the responsibility of motherhood.

It is a familiar link between the homes I left behind and the new one I have made here. It was my great-grandmother's favourite, her little private oasis on the veranda where she stopped to take her tea, perhaps gather her thoughts and cast an eye over us as we played under the African sun.

Today, all these years later, when I glance at it or walk past and run a tender hand over a worn arm, I can still see my grandmother behind that curtain of purple bougainvillea, her lips caught in a smile, her weathered fingers in such stark contrast to the dainty china teacup in their grasp.

I am lucky, says acclaimed designer Vince Frost. For I have found a way, unintentional as it may be, to make my living space meaningful by introducing an item that not only allows me to feel at ease but is a fabric of my being. 

That forms the basis of Vince's Design Your Space principle, an essential element in his new book Design Your Life, in which he uses the experience gained as one of the world's best graphic designers to suggest ways in which we can best turn problems into opportunities, recognise our value and eventually redesign the parts of our lives which need some work.

One of the pillars of change is to ensure that the space in which you live is not merely functional but also serves to stimulate the senses, provides a port in a storm and is a real reflection of your personality.

"Your home is an essential part of designing your life," says Vince.

"Your home is a blank canvas. It's practical as well as a sanctuary. Get the basics that will give you comfort in your own home. Get a great bed. Introduce light and the smells you like. Use colours that bring you calm or joy."

That, of course, sounds wonderful in the ideal. I certainly have pieces picked out that I would rush into my home if money was no object.

But furniture and homewares, especially those of the quality designer kind, can seriously stretch the finances. So how do you reconcile the fact that the table or rug or chair, which you know would add value to your space, may be beyond reach?

When redesigning a room or moving into a new home, it is natural to hustle around to finish it, to furnish it quickly so that everything is just so. But it is important, says Vince, to not feel like you have to do everything at once.

Take your time, consider the space and add pieces at leisure.

"It is not such a bad thing, although it may be odd for while not to have furniture, to take your time and get the things that you feel a real connection with rather than just any type of table," he said.

"Good quality stuff is not cheap. You can go to Ikea and assemble your whole house in a weekend, but although you may be able to do the basics that way it is certainly not for all your furniture.

The stuff that I bought 25 years ago, which at the time I couldn't afford so I only bought one stool or one chair or a lamp but they were by a well-known designer and well made, those are the things that are still an important part of my life.

I have never kept anything from Ikea for more than a few years.

"Be mindful that you are not just filling spaces or filling them in the way you think others expect you to. You don't want your home to look like the houses for sale on those real estate websites; all much of a muchness like no one actually lives there."

Most of us have a picture in mind of our "forever" home. It is a beautiful place in which we will grow old, a home our grown children will come back to during the holidays, a home somewhere between a dream and reality.

Some of us are lucky enough to be in it already, but for many - me included - it is an end result to which we aspire while making memories in our "getting there" homes. But even the latter, or perhaps especially the latter, needs to be filled with spaces that give you room to dream.

When we first walked into our home four years ago I was captivated by the light in the large living room and less enamoured with the lack of it in the smaller family room. That darkness, not eased at all by countless changes of furniture, rugs and pictures, still irritates me today.

"Every single house has its own arrangement, own light, own feeling created by the height of the ceilings or the size of the windows," says Vince.

"I often find my stuff doesn't look right in all of them but I do look for a place with a discerning eye, a place that can house the things I like and also a space that can be energising, is good for the whole family and has a great feel to it."

Vince, a British-born, Sydney-based designer, spent his formative years in Canada and his professional life traipsing around the world.

Being the youngest associate director at London's famous Pentagram studio in the 1990s is just one of Vince's many achievements.

His inspirational talent has not only won him a plethora of prestigious awards but has also made him one of the most respected artists in his field.

He is also no stranger to failure. An unsuccessful, stunted tenure at Japanese Vogue is one that stands out from the rest.

Design by Failure is another important tenet of his book in which he suggests that instead of giving up, do what designers do - put an idea out there and then tweak it as necessary.

With so many people petrified of taking the first step because of the fear of failure, his is a concept that can help ease your feet down the road of uncertainty.

"Failure can be extremely debilitating," says Vince.

"The thought of getting it wrong is an unattractive thing. I've always wanted to get things as right as possible but I think you need a combination of trial and error and listening to your intuition and inner voice - it can help you get closer to being right than screwing up.

"I've screwed up quite a few times and it's not been without having plenty of warning signs prior to doing so. Like when I went to Japanese Vogue. I knew in my heart it was the wrong thing to do and it turned out to be a total disaster, in one respect, but turned out to be an amazing experience that has helped me through other difficult things since. The important thing is not to think about it too much. Just get out there and do it."

Age, he adds, can be a great eye-opener forcing you to finally accept the realities of life. On the cusp of turning 50, the father of three is hoping to inspire real people who are trying to find their way.

"After years of internal battles I finally realised that a lot of people think similar thoughts and to know you are not alone is a wonderful feeling," he said.

"Very few people have got it sussed despite outward appearances. When you are younger you think time is infinite but now I am more selective of where I put my energies. I have a plan about what I want to achieve in the next five years instead of just letting it happen to me."

Design Your Life, published by Lantern, will be available from all good book stores from October 22, RRP $49.99, available October 22.

Topics:  editors picks home home decorating weekend magazine

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