When I was thinking about who next to write about for my Designer Spotlight series I thought about a couple of the high end high profile interior designers in Sydney whose work I love and thought how great it would be to not just to feature their work but also to get their insights into the world of interior design and how we could tap into their clever creative minds.
The first that came to mind was Greg Natale. Greg’s work is amazing, and I have written about him here and here before. I saw him speak on the panel at Decoration and Design last year, which was such an interesting lecture featuring Martyn Lawrence Bullard, Thomas Hamel and Marco Meneguzzi as well. But didn’t think for a minute he’d reply to my email let alone spare the time to meet. He’s as close as we get to Million Dollar Decorators in Australia and celebrity designers. But he replied immediately and personally, and although I offered him the option of answering my questions by email, he kindly suggested we meet in his office and chat. This insightful interview is in two parts, so make sure you tune in for the next instalment.
I taped the interview so I didn’t miss anything, and here’s the direct transcript. There’s no need for me to comment on Greg’s work in these images, I have selected my favourite spaces and they are in a rather random order (sorry Greg!), but the work speaks for itself. Enjoy!
How did you get started in Interior Design?
I was one of those weird kids who knew what I wanted to do from a really young age. So from about the age of ten I said I’m going to become a designer. My elder sister is a fashion designer, so from my earliest memory I had fashion magazines all over the house. It was a really creative environment. I used to see amazing interiors on film and TV and think “I want to do that one day”. One of my earliest memories is of the Brady Bunch house, and the lamps in their bedroom.
Did you study Interior Designer?
From the start of Year 7 I did technical drawing and art until my HSC, then after that I studied Interior Design and since then Architecture. I think it’s important to study. You’ve got to have a good eye, and taste levels and you’ve got to have a gift, but university takes you to another level and teaches you to think like a designer. I can tell the difference between someone who’s trained and someone who isn’t, because of the process they go through.
At Greg Natale Design we consider ourselves interior architects rather than just designers. Decoration and styling is something we do to complete a job, but we are essentially interior architects and architects here. We are doing houses from the ground up now and new homes.
How long has this been the focus of your business?
I went to study Architecture after Interior Design because I love it, and I love building things and structure and being able to move walls. For me, because my work is so specific and so tailored, if I can’t get the foundation right, then everything else looks wrong.
How long does a project take to complete?
A new architectural home could take 3-5 years, interior design is 12-18 months, interior decoration is about 6 months, retail is 3 months. I love the immediacy of interior design, but I also love the more monumental scale of architecture. Interior design has a limited life span, it’s going to be ripped out in ten years, but architecture is going to be there for 50 years.
So what sort of style are you doing now?
My architectural style is very modernist. I know we do classic interior design. What I like to do is modernist architectural design and layer the interior with a lot of decoration. Some houses are very restrained and some are very layered. I love doing classic work and it’s been a big market for us. But we also do very streamlined and minimalistic work. Probably at heart I’m a modernist and a minimalist, that’s how I’ve been trained. But not everyone wants that. Some houses are very restrained and some are very layered. It’s whatever the client wants.
A house in Geelong we just did is an 1880s homestead on a horse stud. It would have been horrible to turn it into a minimalist house from Vaucluse, but I think a really good designer is versatile. We do have two looks in this office.
How do you combine a traditional classic interior with a modern house?
I think Hollywood Regency works with that style. You can really layer that style, because it is a lot more fun, a lighter, more colourful look and you can mix classic and modern pieces. It is a lot more eclectic, you can layer pattern and colour. If you’ve got a modern house and you want a traditional feel, consider Hollywood Regency more than traditional.
So when you were starting out did you work for other designers first?
I worked for various companies for 5 years. I did that on purpose. My first job was with Garth Barnett and he did high end residential. Then I went over to HBO+EMTB, a big corporate and we did offices and hotels. Then I went to SJB Interiors which is a Melbourne based company. I like doing everything. We are doing more commercial work, quite a few cafes and shops, but it’s not my core work. Since the crash we have done less commercial work, but it’s building up again.
How many staff have you got?
There’s about 12 of us which includes interior designers, architects, an office manager and two juniors. I’ve got someone who’s more of a stylist who comes in a few days a week doing accessories.
When you launched your own business did you have help immediately?
The reason I started my own business is because I have a strong personality and I had a vision I wanted to push. I wanted the creative freedom, not because of the money. It was just me and I slowly built it up organically. After about 6 months I hired a junior and then it went to full time, and a couple of years later I started my second person. It’s been very organic over 12 years.
What do you think it takes to succeed in the industry?
If you want to be a designer who has their own business you’ve really got to push your own aesthetic, a signature look. I think if you look at all the great designers of the world, fashion, interiors, anything, they really come up with their own aesthetic and then eventually it becomes more global. I think at the beginning you have to have the courage to find your own aesthetic. It’s a hard one, because at the beginning a lot of people wondered what I was doing when I started, but then the look started going global and there were major people doing a similar look.
Do you turn down work that isn’t in your style?
People are coming to me for a look. We are very versatile, and I always capture my client’s personalities, but then there’s always that Greg Natale design aesthetic that underpins everything. We are doing a country house that’s on a horse stud at the moment, it’s very much the owner and captures the romance of what it is, but it’s also very Greg Natale Design. It’s really trying to bring these things in together.
How do you gauge when you meet a client for the first time, if you want to work with them?
It can be very hard, as you don’t want to offend people. Most people who come to me really want that look, and it can be hard because we might want to push people in a different direction. As a designer you have to evolve, so it’s good if a client is open to change.
Do you think trendy is a dirty word in ID?
No! We are a trend based industry. You’ve go to be on the pulse of what’s on trend. But to prevent things from dating you’ve got to be 5-10 years ahead, or classic enough to last. We were trained at uni to be 5-10 years ahead, or well ahead of the trend. Have enough of that intuition to know what’s going to come. You’ve really got to understand what was the trend before and the history of trends.
Who were your international design heros?
When I was studying there were the early modernists like Mies Van Der Rohe and Corbusier who I really looked up to. Then now architecturally I think Harry Seidler was a genius, Paul Rudolph who was a Mid-Century American architect. I think David Katon is another genius, amazing work.
And of course the late English David Hicks. He is probably my greatest influence. It was really picking up his stuff in the early years, like the late 90s when I started to form the DNA of my business. Verna Panton, who repeated everything and Gio Ponti.
Imperial Trellis? Classic or has-been?
I love it. Of course it’s associated with the Hollywood Regency of the mid noughties, and to a point it has-been, but you can always use it in a new way. It’s still beautiful.
Deco patterns and motifs. It’s really fusion deco and Memphis. The chevron, thin vertical stripes, diagonals, that’s where it’s headed. Deco and quite 80s patterns.
Don’t forget to watch out for my next post which is part two of this fabulous interview. You can see more of Greg’s work here and his rug collection with Designer Rugs here, plus the wallpaper line at Porter’s Paints here.