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A Life in Design With Collette Dinnigan

For Collette Dinnigan, making beautiful things has long been a way of life. After starting her eponymous fashion label in 1990 she soon became Australia’s most lauded designer and a mainstay on the international fashion stage. Her collections were praised as the definition of contemporary Australian design and her boutiques were brought to life as immersive spaces for customers to experience the brand’s singular vision. In 2017 Collette guest edited Vogue Living’s ‘Italian’ issue to much acclaim, and for us, it was this moment that truly captured the designer's love of and movement towards interiors. Earlier this year we were thrilled to shoot our ‘Nook’ campaign at Collette’s beautiful property the Black Barn Bowral and had the opportunity to speak with her about the interior design process, sustainability, and living well in the country.

Nook Photography by Nic Gossage.

Hi Collette, we were so excited to shoot our ‘Nook’ campaign at your beautiful property in the Southern Highlands. Can you tell us a little bit about the residence and what you enjoy most about spending time there?

Our location here in the Southern Highlands is very close to the township of Bowral, yet we feel as though we could be miles from anywhere. There are four defined seasons in the year, which makes each stay at the Black Barn Bowral very different, for example in spring the property is surrounded by blossoming trees and then by Christmas all the stonefruit are starting to ripen. Autumn brings with it the change of colors and loss of leaves, and winter is bleak but there’s something beautiful about the bleakness and keeping warm by the fire inside.

We’ve followed your career in fashion for many years and were thrilled when you turned your design eye to interiors too. Do you find there’s an overlap with the way you design garments or collections?

I have always had a passion for interior design, starting with my own boutique stores and houses. For me, yes there is an overlap because my starting point is always with color and I am passionate about textiles and proportion-and-scale in both fashion and interiors.

What was your design vision for Black Barn Bowral?

I wanted to make an authentic country residence, retaining as much of the old barn elements as possible, and using as much reclaimed materials as possible, such as the floorboards and lights.

You’ve been an advocate for sustainability for quite some time; how did you incorporate this ideology into Black Barn Bowral, and how do you relate it back more broadly to your work in design?

By using as much reclaimed and local materials as possible, and making sure we would maximize solar energy and collection of rainwater. Also lots of energy saving timers etc to reduce our carbon footprint. All our cleaning products are phosphate and paraben free. We use no chemicals whatsoever on the property and all waste is composted, we also create our own mulch from the deciduous trees and also put a real emphasis on insulation to stabilize the temperature.

Outside of sustainability, are there any other common threads that contribute to your ethos on design? How are these reflected in your projects?

I always work with craftspeople over mass production, and take the time to source and search out different materials and finishes that are unique and bespoke.

Do you have any advice for people thinking about undertaking a renovation or re-design of their own?

Yes, my top five suggestions:

Live in the space before you renovate to understand the space and your favorite areas.

Make sure the structure is sound.

Start with an electrical plan because it’s difficult to make good after the interiors are finished and channeling is needed for wall sconces etc. Personally, I do not use downlights as it loses the ambiance of a room.

I always like to take the tops of my windows closer to the ceiling with more room at the bottom to put furniture under, it also gives a greater feeling of height.

Finally, make the direction of your floorboards follow the length of the hallway, parallel to the kitchen bench or island and to the bed where you sleep.

Are there any local spots that you enjoy visiting in the Southern Highlands?

Yes, I have actually just released this guide with The Australian which I encourage you to visit.

Lastly, what are you most looking forward to most for the rest of this year and into 2023?

I am opening a little boutique store in Mittagong, New South Wales which will showcase my growing fragrance and candle collection, as well as some of my handmade ceramics from Southern Italy – and also my new collection of tablecloths I designed with Tigger Hall called ‘Dinnigan Hall’. The shop will also showcase some of Joe Vinks’ stick furniture.