We recently featured a newly renovated home in Highett, designed by Jenna and Josh Densten of Bicker Design. AKA, Josh and Jenna from ‘The Block’. Yes, this industrious pair featured on the wildly popular TV show in 2011, and again in 2013 (for the ‘All Stars’ series), and five years on they still find themselves recognised for their roles on the show!
However, Josh and Jenna have come a long way since their TV debut. After the 2011 series finished filming, Jenna went on to study interior design and decoration, and spent time working in retail design before launching her own interior design studio, Bicker Design, with Josh (who is a licensed plumber, and building project manager). In the years that have passed since then, the pair have renovated 10 properties together!
Last year, Josh and Jenna took on another challenge. With the support of Jenna’s parents, who run their own registered training organisation in Wodonga, Josh and Jenna launched Design School – an interior design school based in an amazing newly renovated warehouse space in Abbotsford. Their accredited courses have been devised by Jenna in consultation with industry experts, with a strong focus on industry experience. The Design School warehouse studio accommodates various ‘styling stations’, where students can paint walls, style and photograph their work for their own portfolios, and there is also a focus on important small business skills such as self promotion and social media marketing.
We’re seriously impressed by Josh and Jenna’s achievements over the past few years – these guys are super talented, entrepreneurial and incredibly hard working, and just such a lovely couple. We recently popped in to their Abbotsford warehouse studio, to learn a little more about this prolific pair.
Tell us a little about your background – what did you study and what path led you to what you are doing today?
Jenna: I was a hairdresser prior to going on The Block in 2011. We had renovated our first home in Albury and had just purchased our second home in Maidstone when we had the call to go on the show. I just fell in love with the idea of designing and styling homes that I couldn’t go back to hairdressing!
I went on to study interior design and decoration, which led to a career in retail design at Cotton On Group. I designed pop up stores, fixtures and window displays, which was a nice balance with our residential Bicker clients.
Although it was a juggle with Bicker, I learnt so much during my time at Cotton On Group and was really able to see another side to the design industry. I really loved seeing how good design can impact sales, and delve into the emotional response to design.
Josh: I started plumbing when I was 16 and continue to this day. Jen and I have together, and with the help of a couple of reality shows, renovated 10 properties. I love the balance of property development, Bicker projects and my plumbing work. I learn so much from every experience, but you usually learn the most from your mistakes!
In my plumbing work as a foreman on high rise apartments, I work closely with all trades, so I have a solid understanding of the entire build process, from timelines, project management to cost estimations. I love the hands on and technical aspects of plumbing. This experience has helped with our own property renovations and our Bicker clients.
I’d love to do Jen’s course too, one day soon!
When did you launch Bicker Design and how would you describe your studio’s aesthetic?
Jenna: We launched Bicker in 2011 after our stint on The Block. We take cues from Scandi style, with its simplicity and neutral palette. Overall we strive to create humble, honest and inviting interiors. We want every project to be unique, so we often reinvent off the shelf building materials, and apply them in creative ways.
You work on a great variety of projects, what have been one or two of your favourite projects in recently?
Jenna: Our recent Highett House project was a great opportunity for us to showcase creative design. We were working with a small space and a reasonably small budget, so it was extremely important that every detail was considered, and money was spent in areas that made the biggest impact. We loved the white washed plywood joinery and it really fit the brief for a family friendly, beach side home.
We are currently working on a small café in Flinders Lane called Saluministi. The entire store is below ground level, and roughly 4m x 3m! It’s been the biggest challenge yet but we are excited to see it open in a couple of weeks time.
We have also just commenced our own home renovation, which was 3 years in the planning and will be our ‘forever house’ if there is such thing! We have brick floors, pink tiles and a full vinyl bathroom.
You recently also opened your newest venture, Design School, can you tell us a bit about this initiative?
Jenna: Design School came about after a discussion with my parents, who run and own a registered training organisation called MP Personnel and Training in Albury.
We believed that design students would benefit from a more practical and hands on approach to education, things they will really use in this fast paced, ever changing industry.
For example, now social media is the main form of marketing yourself and your business, so we should be teaching our students how to use social media effectively. After all, design isn’t just about design; it’s also the ability to communicate, sell yourself and ideas and be able to manage your time accordingly.
With my experience and the backing of my parents’ organisation, we are able to offer accredited courses and apply what I felt was lacking within design education; real life experience. We found a fantastic warehouse studio that we renovated to create ‘styling stations’ where the students can paint walls, style and photograph their work for their own portfolios. We have partnered with many talented designers, stylists and homewares brands, and we offer the students the chance to style real products and have real industry experience.
Can you give us a little insight into the inner workings of Bicker Design? Where are you based, how is your office structured, how many people do you employ, and what significant tasks do you outsource?
Jenna: We are based at our warehouse in Abbotsford. Currently we are a two-man team with Josh and I overseeing all the projects!
I work on the design aspect of projects, and with Josh’s 10+ years experience in the construction industry, he coordinates and liaises with trades, keeping track of the budget! We work really well together, despite the odd bicker! Josh has a really great eye for design and we balance each other out perfectly.
We are currently only taking on one project at a time, with Design School and our own home a big focus over the next year.I do however love working on new projects and sharing them with my students, there’s nothing quite like the satisfaction of your design coming to fruition.
Which other Australian designers, artists or creative people are you loving at the moment?
Bek Sheppard. She’s a young go getter and stylist entrepreneur! Bek has an incredible eye for detail and works with brands on their visual identity. She is definitely one to watch in the future.
Dowel Jones. These guys are just so amazingly talented! Their products are innovative, exciting and practical. They made all of our school chairs, and I’d have to say they are my favourite part.
Willie Weston. We first discovered Willie Weston at DENFAIR and almost fell over when we saw their beautiful prints! Even more inspiring is that they work with indigenous artists to develop their collections. These are definitely going in our home!
Can you list for us your top resources across any media that you turn to when you’re in a need of creative inspiration?
Obviously Instagram, what an incredible platform to see and share exciting projects across the globe! I like to see what’s happening in fashion which inspires interiors.
This is Paper is an incredible source of inspiration. A lot of the interiors featured are Japanese. I particularly love the creative use of tiny spaces and think we can learn a lot by the way they live in their homes.
I like to get on Pinterest. I actually like to pin images I don’t particularly like and ask myself why. This helps me understand what ‘not to do’ which is equally as important as ‘what to do’ when designing a concept.
A great form of inspiration doesn’t come from media, but through mood and material boards from items found around the home or garden. A collection of random items can inspire a colour palette, texture or entire concept!
I have an app called ‘Pages‘ on my iPhone where I make ‘on the go’ mood boards. It’s a great way to develop concepts and when you see something that inspires you on the road, I add the image on a page and build a concept around it.
What has been your proudest career achievement to date?
Jenna: Starting Design School with my family. It was a lot of hard work and still is, but there’s nothing more rewarding than being able to share and teach what I love, with the people I love!
I am so humbled by the support we have had from the industry, and very excited about collaborating with some very talented creatives on upcoming workshops. These are people I have looked up to for years, and now we are working together, it’s craziness!
What would be your dream creative project?
Jenna: We love our city lifestyle, and our renovation is going to be quite minimal and contemporary, but our dream is to transform a modest fibro beach shack.
There’s just something so appealing about a designing and decorating an unpretentious shack with found objects. Somewhere to escape the city life, even just for a day.
What are you looking forward to?
Our house being completed, it’s been 3 years in the planning and we’re ready to move in! Almost all of our renovations have been done with the intention to ‘sell’. This really limits you in relation to creativity, as we are always conscious not to do anything too out there. We have decided to go all out with our own home and forget all the rules!
Your favourite Melbourne neighbourhood and why?
We love our suburb of North Melbourne. We walk to the city and have great cafes and transport at our doorstep. Our favourite part about North Melbourne are the wide, tree lined streets. It reminds me of living in the country, yet so close to everything! It’s such an under-appreciated suburb, but we like it that way!
What and where was the best meal you recently had in Melbourne?
There are so many great places it’s hard to choose but we’d have to say it was a toastie in West Melbourne’s Toasta & Co! Chicken schnitzel, chips and gravy in a pretzel bun and not something we would normally go for!
Where would we find you on a typical Saturday morning?
We are up and at our favourite local café Code Black in North Melbourne at 7am, we go early to avoid the line-up. We are usually looking through property apps, and planning our day around checking out local auctions because we are completely obsessed with property!
Melbourne’s best kept secret?
Roller Door Café in West Melbourne, it’s literally in a roller door, and does the BEST berry smoothie!