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Jamie Durie

Studio Visit

18th October, 2013
Lucy Feagins
Friday 18th October 2013

Jamie Durie at work with team from Jamie Durie Design, in his Sydney offices.  Photo - Phu Tang.

The team discuss a new interior design scheme.   Photo - Phu Tang.

Jamie Durie and designers Emily Buckley and Paulina Frankowski share a laugh… 'work is fun when you love what you do!' says Jamie.  Photo - Phu Tang.

Details from Jamie Durie's Sydney offices. A noticeboard is covered in a variety of random visual inspiration, including a watercolour of Barak Obama, a pic of The Beatles and family.  Bottom right is a gnome from the PATIO by Jamie Durie range. Photo - Phu Tang.

Jamie Durie in his Sydney office.  Photo - Phu Tang.

I am so pumped to share this interview with you today!  I mean, what is there NOT TO LOVE about Jamie Durie!?  I still remember religiously watching Backyard Blitz  every week with my Mum, in ahhh, around 2000.. (?).  We looooved Jamie.  Especially when he would do backflips across the garden.  That was always a highlight.  So I must admit I'm finding it rather difficult to contain my excitement about interviewing Jamie today, and also, it's seriously mind boggling to review just how much he has achieved since those early days of his TV career.

From an early role in Manpower (!!) Jamie travelled the world performing sell out shows across the globe, and at one point even considered joining Cirque du Soleil!  But it was after he fortuitously landed a presenters role on Backyard Blitz in 2000 that Jamie really found himself in the spotlight - and things haven't let up since.  He's since become one of Australia’s most recognised TV personalities, and has even featured on Oprah!  In recent years, Jamie's business has diversified to include architecture and interior design (Durie Design), multiple furniture and product ranges, and a series of best selling books published through Penguin, Harper Collins and Allen & Unwin.  In 2012 he was also awarded the Medal of the Order of Australia for his environmental and charitable work.  Now that's what I call prolific.

Day to day, when he's not travelling, Jamie is based at his head office is in Sydney, where he employs a team of 12 permanent staff in his design business, Durie Design.  'I nurture a barefoot, corporate culture that allows everyone to feel highly creative - even our dogs can come to work and it’s a friendly environment' says Jamie below (and we have pictures to prove it!).

Though hardwork, determination and a good sprinkling of 'right time, right place' have all contributed to Jamie's incredible success, what really drives him is simply an insatiable appetite to contribute creatively to the world we live in.  At heart, Jamie is an ideas man, always coming up with new and ever-more ambitious creative projects which reconnect people with nature.  Like his plans for a 'Transterior Multi-Generational Living Community Master Plan', outlined below!  'I like to bite off more than I can chew, and then chew like hell' he says!

Aside from harnessing what appears to be super-human energy levels, Jamie is also an incredibly lovely guy.  That familiar smile you see in his portrait above is an almost permanent fixture on his face, and he's greatly respected by all those who work with and for him.  Jamie is gracious and generous with his time, as you can see by his thoughtful and detailed responses to our interview questions below.

Jamie's new book, Edible Garden Design will be released next Wednesday Oct 23rd.  It is SO GREAT. The book provides inspiration and practical tips on how to create productive edible gardens in any outdoor space, and documents lots of real life initiatives, both locally and abroad, working toward a common goal of re-connecting people with nature.  It's beautifully designed by the team at Penguin, is 304 pages long (epic!), and priced at $49.99.

Huge thanks to Jamie for joining us for an interview today!  My Mum will be SO chuffed.

Hi Jamie! Your career accomplishments are too numerous to list, but our readers will most likely know you best as a celebrated TV personality and recipient of a Medal of the Order of Australia in 2012. But we’re keen to know a little about your life before all these accolades! Tell us a little bit about yourself – what did you study originally, and what were you doing before you were THE Jamie Durie?

I left school at 14 and have held down numerous jobs in the beginning of my working life, ranging from selling at a green grocer’s to being a librarian’s assistant. I fell into modeling quite early on and after eight years of travelling and working around the globe with an acrobatics and dance troupe called Manpower, and working in large scale showrooms and casinos in Las Vegas, Nevada, I decided that I would turn my creative skills to a new medium. I was not only a performer in the production but I was involved in designing costumes, lighting, choreography and stage sets. It was an incredible experience, and as we travelled the world I would photograph and sketch all types of architecture, gardens and even furniture design. You might say it was the university of life even before I was twenty one.

When I finally started thinking about what I wanted from life beyond performing, one of the things I seriously considered for some time was to perform with Cirque de Soleil. While our show was in residence in Las Vegas, Nevada at The Stardust Casino, I made a lot of friends in Cirque and even did a lot of training in ribbon trapeze with them (similar to the type of thing that Pink does in her concerts!). I then thought, how long could a physically intense career last? Every athlete goes through the same issue. Having seen so much architecture in Europe and Asia and so many beautiful gardens, I felt drawn to work with the natural world. Some might say I was suffering Nature Deficit Disorder from spending eight years in hotel rooms and casino showrooms. I finally decided to study Horticulture and Landscape design in Sydney because I’ve always had a huge connection to the natural world and I loved being outdoors.

You are one of Australia’s most recognised personalities, originally gracing our screens on Backyard Blitz and later collaborating with Oprah! How did you originally get involved in television and did you ever anticipate this kind of success?

I started my design business in 1998 while I was still studying. It was a retail shop that sold plants, pots, water features and other outdoor décor items including a little furniture. The design studio was in the back room. The Decorating Editor of Belle Magazine, who had attended the launch party for the shop, published a one-page story in the magazine. Don Burke’s production team, who were working on putting the Backyard Blitz team together at that time, saw the article, contacted Belle and asked to be put in touch with me, and the rest is history. I hosted the show as well as being part of the design and construction team. It was a fantastic time in my life because my own business went from strength to strength as well. After 'Blitz, I went on to host the first and second series of The Block, and have since worked on over fifty design and lifestyle shows in Australia, Asia and the USA.

It was after the second series of The Block had aired, that one of Oprah’s producers tracked me down and asked me to appear as a guest on her show. It was a dream come true. I’ve never been so nervous, although I needn’t have been as Oprah is one of the warmest human beings I’ve ever met. That was a real ‘pinch yourself’ moment! I am one of those really positive people who can’t imagine good things not happening. In fact, I quite often act like the good thing has already happened… it’s the way I’ve manifested things all my life. I don’t know where or how I learnt to do that, but I’m very determined.

While television was certainly not on my agenda, it has given me the opportunity to be able to communicate my passion (design) to a huge audience. So rather organically, I was able to mix some of my showmanship from my earlier career into my new career as a presenter of design shows. And so my objective has always been to continually educate myself and share the most relevant, practical and powerful ideas with the public. It’s a privileged position and one that should be treated responsibly. So I’ve always tried to weave messages about sustainable building practices, environmental tips, energy efficient architecture, responsible horticultural practices and encourage a greater awareness and use of water-wise and native species. This is what we in the industry call 'Info-tainment', and why I see my education never-ending. So my viewers and readers will always feel both informed and inspired.

Details from Jamie Durie Design HQ.  'One of our creative director's prized possessions' – a miniature working model of the famous Hill's Hoist that door-to-door sales man used in the 50's and 60's.  Jamie's Exec Assistant, Deanne Curry in the background.  Photo - Phu Tang.
You’ve since diversified your creative output to include architecture, interior design (Durie Design), interior and exterior furniture ranges, at a mass market level with Big W right through to the top end level in Milan with RIVA 1920 and many others… even rugs and a series of best selling books published through Penguin, Harper Collins and Allen & Unwin. That’s an impressive line up! How do you juggle and prioritise these various facets of your business?

I have an amazing team that keep me on track and help me keep the dream alive. I like to bite off more than I can chew, and then chew like hell. Having said that life is always a bit of a juggle because we do have so much on, but we all really love what we do and have a lot of fun.

Bodhi joins the creative brainstorm in the boardroom at Jamie Durie Design HQ!  Wicker PATIO by Jamie Durie chairs. Photo - Phu Tang.
With nine best selling books already under your belt, what inspired Edible Garden Design and what can readers expect to see in this book?

This is definitely my new favourite book and I’m very passionate about the subject matter, which is designing your outdoor rooms by integrating edibles right through the garden. It’s about using edible plants; their foliage, their colour contrast, their habit and their architecture with design in mind. So the gardens are not only well designed but they are good enough to eat.

I think with both urbanisation and industrialisation came a great loss of knowledge of the natural cycles of nature, as a result our vital connection with nature has been minimised and in many cases severed entirely. We are an intrinsic part of nature so we couldn’t thrive like this for long, and there is definitely a global groundswell of feeling in almost all urban communities to reconnect with nature any way they can. That means people are making the most of their outdoor spaces, even if all they have is a balcony or windowsill.

Movements like Guerilla Gardening, Community Gardens, Verge Gardening, School Kitchen Gardens are very strong trends that will keep on growing because all this actually benefits our sense of wellbeing and make us feel more whole. It’s like that scene in Avatar when they all gather round the ‘mother’ tree and plug their tails into the ground to reconnect with her!  That’s what us urbanites are doing when we start growing our own herbs and food in our backyards and designing more living spaces outdoors to maximise our time spent outdoors.

In the book we talk about all these different ways of reconnecting and all the practical tips you need to be able to do it yourself, no matter the space you happen to have. My career started by inspiring people to reconnect with nature, in fact our slogan has always been 'Connecting People with Plants'.

Over the last 15 years, in running my businesses and growing into new areas, I’ve had to become both an interior designer and a furniture designer. It’s just that where this originally took place, was in the garden. Now I’m having fun in both spaces!

Jamie Durie's new book, Edible Garden Design published by Penguin is out next week!  Photo - Eve Wilson.

Jamie Durie's new book, Edible Garden Design published by Penguin is out next week.  Photo - Eve Wilson.

Jamie Durie's new book, Edible Garden Design. Photo - Eve Wilson.

Jamie Durie's new book, Edible Garden Design. Photo - Eve Wilson.
Can you give us a little insight into the inner workings Jamie Durie inc? Where is your office based, how many people do you employ and what is it like working at Jamie Durie inc!?

Our head office is in Sydney, and we have a satellite design studio in Los Angeles. Our entire team consists of 12 permanent staff and we hire up and down as the projects require. At some points we’ve had close to 50 staff. I nurture a barefoot, corporate culture that allows everyone to feel highly creative – even our dogs can come to work and it’s a friendly environment. The office space is open plan because we all cross-pollinate and work together as a team and have a lot of fun.

Nadine Bush, Group Creative Director, and David Knott, Design Director working on product design in the boardroom. Photo - Phu Tang.
What does a typical day at work involve for you?

As soon as I wake up I usually hit the beach for a soft sand run and a swim, or I may go for a kayak. If I have time I will meditate for twenty minutes. Then breakfast and zoom off to the office or meetings. I am usually in back-to-back meetings most days. Then another day may entail hours in a studio recording voiceovers or filming tv shows in the USA, Asia or Australia. I do a lot of overseas and interstate travel as well.

My assistant tries to carve out at least 1-2 days where I just stay in the office and work with the team on our different projects. I love my days in the office, where I literally am barefoot and walk from desk to desk working with the team, brainstorming, sketching and we can’t help a fair bit of joking around goes on. If it’s been a particularly full-on week we will have a few drinks around 5 o’clock on a Friday.

Can you list for us your top 5 resources across any media that you turn to regularly for creative inspiration that you tune into regularly?

I can’t limit to five…sorry!

Wallpaper Magazine
Habitus
Dwell Magazine
The Design Files
Dezeen
Yellow Trace
Pinterest
Instagram
Design Boom
The Contemporist
French Elle Décor
Côté Sud
Maison Jardin
Moda
Share Design

Which other local artists, designers or creative people are you most inspired by at the moment?

Marc Newson
David Knott
Tracey Deep
Dinosaur Designs
Hecker Guthrie
Rosemary Laing
Adam Goodrum
Our creative director, Nadine Bush
Saskia Havekes
Florence Broadhurst
Lionel Bawden

What would be your dream creative project?

I would love to create our own chain of Eco Therapy Resort in inspiring wilderness enviroments around the world, with sympathetic architecture and interior design and furniture, where people who need to rejuvenate from urban living can go to reconnect with nature and restore their balance.

Other dream projects would be to build a Transterior Multi-Generational Living Community Master Plan, a Boutique Hotel style aged care with a greater connection to nature, and to open a transterior design, lifestyle flagship store which we are in the throes of working on at the moment… stay tuned!

Jamie sketching out designs for his next ambitious project!  Photo - Phu Tang.
What are you looking forward to?

Having more kids.

SYDNEY QUESTIONS

Your favourite Sydney neighbourhood and why?

The Northern Beaches where I live. It’s got a great village feel with a close-knit community. I love being by the ocean, with fresh air and open, blue horizons and plenty of bush land around as well.

Where do you shop in Sydney for the tools of your trade?

Wirreanda Nursery, Australian Native Landscapes, Alpine Nursery, and Flower Power.

What and where was the last great meal you ate in Sydney?

Last night I had roast quail salad and then a very fresh Jewfish fillet floating on a bed of beautiful Asian veggies floating in a delicious broth at Starfish Restaurant in Avalon. They do great modern Australian/Asian food and it’s local.

Sydney’s best kept secret?

Palm Beach Bible Garden. A beautiful little garden made up of a series of grassy terraces that gently descent towards the most magnificent panoramic and iconic view of the full crescent of Palm Beach, Barrenjoey, Pittwater, the national parks and the central coast. A sensational place to stop and smell the roses, so to speak.

Cosy corner at Jamie Durie HQ!  PATIO by Jamie Durie Freemantle Modular Sofa, Jamie Durie Signature Leaf Canopy indoor rug with a backdrop of framed botanical prints and perfect indoor plants, Raphis Palm and Ficus larata in the entrance foyer of the office. Photo - Phu Tang.

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