Interview | Greg Natale

Georgie chats with Greg Natale about how he got his start in the industry, advice on updating a room on a budget and what the future holds for Greg Natale Design.

Since 2001, Greg Natale Design has been dedicated to the integration of design and decoration in the areas of interior and exterior residential, retail and commercial design. It is known for its tailored, polished spaces and precise, considered approach, which have made it one of Australia’s top design companies and earned it several awards and accolades over the past 13 years.

Greg’s own bold signature style and inimitable use of colour and pattern have led to many successful collaborations and I’m sure many more to come. His passion for interior design and for creating meticulously curated, layered spaces are at the core of his first book due out in November of this year.

Having had projects featured in both local and international publications such as Australian BelleHouse & GardenReal Living Magazine and Houses, and UK magazines Elle and Wallpaper*, Georgie recently caught up with Greg to learn a little more about him and his work…

How did you get your start in interior design?
I did a three-year course in interior design at the Design Centre Enmore, in Sydney and then went on to study visual arts at Sydney College of the Arts and Architecture at the University of Technology.

I got my first break in a residential design firm as a junior interior designer and from there I worked in two more commercial firms until I decided to set up my own business, Greg Natale Design in 2001. Everything had led to this point; where I was ready to make my own mark with a new, luxurious look that departed from the minimalism of the previous decade.

I think the real turning point for me was designing my sister Sarina’s one-bedroom apartment. I installed wall-to-wall custom-coloured Florence Broadhurst wallpaper, layering it with matching artwork and linen. The apartment was published in Australian Belle and the UK magazine Wallpaper* and won me my first award, the ‘2002 Belle Wild Card’ award, a category created especially for me. I’ve never looked back.

Where do you find inspiration?
In the most unusual as well as the most obvious places. I find inspiration everywhere, but outside my industry I’d name fashion, art and travel as three influential factors.

I’m a big fan of the sexy yet timeless tailoring of fashion designers such as Halston and Tom Ford. I continue to be impressed by the bold splashes of colour in Scott Petrie’s paintings and the play on light and shadow in Dion Horstmans’ sculptures – both are Australian artists I admire.

And then there are the random inspirations that come from the places I visit.  Some of the designs for my new rug collection for Designer Rugs were born from details I observed on buildings during my travels.

How would you describe your individual style?
I would describe my style as very tailored and tightly edited. I take a precise, considered approach to designing interiors in which every piece has a place and shares a relationship with the other pieces in a space. I believe strongly in the importance of layering rooms, no matter whether their design is minimalist or maximalist, to create a warm, livable, inviting effect. I do love monochromes for their bold simplicity and the striking effect they can have in a space, delivering a sexy sophistication or adding drama to a neutral palette.

Who influences you?
The work of the late English designer David Hicks and Danish designer Verner Panton have been major influences on my aesthetic, as have modernist architects such as American Paul Rudolph and the late Australian legend Harry Seidler. I consider myself fortunate to live in one of Harry Seidler’s buildings today.

I’ve always been a fan of the Californian Case Study Houses of the ’50s and ’60s, commissioned by US Arts & Architecture magazine. I would count Jonathan Adler and Kelly Wearstler among my contemporary inspirations.

What’s the standout colour trend for this season?
I’d say navy blue. It’s such an attractive colour, both strong and stylish, and a soft alternative to black that can work within a neutral palette as well as holding it’s own among bolder hues.

What’s your favourite colour?
Pink, who doesn’t love it? Against the monochromes of my apartment, pink provides bright pops of colour in artworks, accessories such as flowers and books, and a feature chair.

What key pieces do you continue to return to e.g. would you always return to a Bertoia side chair?
I will inevitably return to Minotti sofas by Italian designer Rodolfo Dordoni.  They’re simple yet never boring, they’re comfortable and always hold their shape, and they feature interesting details as well as displaying impeccable design.

How does lighting affect a room?
What I love about lighting is the way it can enhance or create a mood in any room, as well as influencing the space of the room itself. Task lighting is crucial to workspaces such as kitchens and downlights are great for maintaining the feeling of height in a room. I am a firm believer in lamps for adding softness, warmth and atmosphere to create a more intimate mood in living spaces such as living rooms and bedrooms. And while I feel lighting choices should be consistent throughout a space (for example, I encourage using the same downlights throughout a house), I think pendant lights are the exception. They almost act as a feature in themselves so they don’t require the same consistent approach, plus they can help to bring a high ceiling closer and draw together a room’s design.

What’s your advice on hanging artwork or picture frames?
Artwork can take on any number of roles in a house – contrasting, complementing, making a statement in itself or drawing a theme together. It’s important to give your art enough room to ‘breathe’ – if you have a large enough space, you could consider illuminating it from above with spotlights and even anchoring it below with a well-placed bench to really make a feature out of it.

Artworks and picture frames can also be used to affect the appearance of a space – for example, one large work or a cluster of smaller pieces can help to break up a vast expanse of wall. Yet the reverse can apply, too – sometimes a large artwork can actually make a small space appear bigger, as if it’s very presence suggests that the room is spacious enough to accommodate such an impressive piece. A favourite artwork can also be transformed to work in a different space simply by reframing it.

You have been involved in designing commercial, residential and retail. What’s your passion?
My passion is for making good design, no matter what area I’m working in. Each of these fields offers excitement, possibility, challenges and rewards. A good designer can design anything and take on any project.

Can you share some advice for people who wish to study design?
First, do your time studying at a respected tertiary institution such as the Design Centre Enmore or University of Technology in NSW, Victoria’s RMIT University, or the University of Queensland.

Next, make sure you’re skilled up in all relevant computer programs (Illustrator, Photoshop etc.) having these skills is almost a given these days so you’ll be left behind if you don’t have them.

And lastly, don’t get caught up in your ‘look’ too soon – your early days will be spent working for others so it’s important that you represent yourself as adaptable and objective.

Greg Natale Design has been around for over 10 years – what’s next?
The most exciting next venture is my first book, The Tailored Interior, which is coming out in November with Hardie Grant Books. It’s been a chance for me to share my philosophy and approach to interiors, as well as demystify some of the elements of interior design and give a little insight into the process.

I’m also collaborating with Designer Rugs to produce my first range of carpets, which is due out in August. I’ve worked with them before on a range of rugs, as well as with Porter’s Paints on a wallpaper collection, and these collaborations have been an excellent opportunity for me to diversify and really fuse design and decoration.

Geographically, I’m looking forward to moving to a bigger and more spacious office – it’s time I sorted out my own location!

Finally, what advice would you give somebody who’s updating an existing room with a budget?
Changing the entire look of a room can be as simple as applying a fresh coat of clean, white paint on the walls, or staining woodwork a different colour to lift and lighten the space. Both of these options can have a dramatic and lasting effect.

What I think is important about working within a budget is identifying where to invest and where you can pull back. Curtains and sofas, for example, tend to be fairly long-term purchases and worth putting some money behind, whereas rugs can be changed more often and don’t always require the same level of investment. Cushions are one of the most enjoyable ways to update a space without spending a fortune and can be replaced and changed easily. Accessories such as books, ornaments and flowers also bring a beautiful new look to a room without breaking the budget.

I’d like to add that updating a room doesn’t always even mean buying new pieces. Reframing an artwork and re-upholstering a piece of furniture are affordable ways of refreshing your design while at the same time giving old favourites a new lease of life.

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