Celebrity designer James Treble has teamed up with Zanui to bring you styling tips and trend advice. We thought we’d take a moment to get to know him a little better.
Charismatic, talented and generous, James Treble is the kind of person you just want to be around. He’s swum in the Nile, slept on top of the Great Wall of China and strolled streets and galleries all around the globe in search of creative inspiration. In addition to operating his own design studio, he frequents Channel Ten’s The Living Room as their resident interior designer. This year marks his third season battling it out against expert builder and presenter Barry Du Bois for the fame and the glory of the Design Challenge.
James describes himself as the Lego kid that never quite grew up. A visual child, he had a love of building and houses from an early age. He counts his childhood in the suburbia of Carlingford as a rich period in his life. “I loved it. It was just like Neighbours. Everyone knew everyone in the street. It was a really beautiful place to grow up. Every home had a lawn and every second house had a swimming pool.”
The son of an electrician with a creative streak, James grew up watching his dad create things with his hands. “Most things in our house were designed by him.” It is perhaps this early experience that instilled in him an understanding of what it means to define your own space. James believes that where we live, and how we live, deeply impacts our sense of self. At the core of his design values is the idea that the four walls of your home represents a visual narrative that should speak to who you are. “Design should be much more about substance than about special effects. It’s about creating that essence, evoking the right feeling for the individual.”
James came to design via a circuitous route. Chasing dreams of becoming an architect or a valuer, he worked in a bottlo after he finished school to fund his studies in Real Estate. “I thought, if I can’t design them or build them, I’ll sell them.” By the age of 23 he had bought his first home, a three-bedroom house in Carlingford that he’d purchased with his twin brother.
Selling homes taught him the value of showcasing a property’s best assets and working within its limitations. Assessing the reality of your space is an important element in realising good design. When Living Room presenter Amanda Keller asked if it was difficult managing design jobs with two clients, James pointed out that there was always a third client – the house itself. “It tells me what it needs and often I have to relay that voice back to the owners… I can’t create a French chalet in the middle of a suburban block on 15 square metres! You have to work within the structure you’re given and respect the integrity of the design.”
After his stint in real estate came the coffee shop in Eastwood. James ran his own cafe for three years before the migraines became too intense. “The doctor told me I was addicted to caffeine. I was grinding 13 kilos of coffee per week right next to my head!” He had studied colour and design. Ironically his Eureka moment came when he took a course in horticulture.
Looking over his work, a teacher told him casually that it wouldn’t matter whether she gave him two football fields worth of space – his landscape design would always feature a series of “rooms”, of smaller spaces working around the same theme. James stopped in his tracks. It resonated with him so strongly he quit the course to pursue design. He worked for Masterton Homes, progressing quickly from bathroom to kitchen then duplex designs. He’d found his niche and his talent and work ethic took care of the rest.
I laugh at first when James tells me he’s a willow tree. “An old Asian lady on the Trans-Mongolian Railway told me,” he says. “She said, you have strong roots but you can move and adapt with the weather.” But she’s right. Innovative designer, modern dad, mad Star Wars fan and more, he’s constantly reinventing and challenging himself. His love of travel incites new ways to break the design rules, from the stark architecture of Siberia to the fresh, functionality of the Netherlands.
For James, experience in all its infinite variety is something to be relished. These days, his home is Sydney’s inner west. He’s drawn to its eclecticism and cultural diversity. He’s driven. Without a doubt. But whether he’s studying the effect of the mid-summer light on a Tuscan villa or questing for the perfect (froth-free) latte in Marrickville, this kid from Carlingford hasn’t lost his boyish curiosity and charm.