Painter, decorator, author and media maven Debbie Travis is nothing if not the consummate multitasker. While producing a triumvirate of TV programs -- Facelift (HGTV), Completely Hammered and Debbie Travis' Painted House (both shown on the W Network) -- Debbie's quirky take on the decor show genre has garnered her a total of nine Gemini Awards. Since emigrating from England to Montreal 17 years ago, she's created a body of work known for its do-it-yourself, do-it-with-style approach, which has earned her legions of fans. STYLE AT HOME asked Debbie to share some of her secrets of affordable style.
S@H: Let's talk about style for less -- less money, fewer resources -- a notion you championed in Debbie Travis' Painted House.
DT: I truly believe that, philosophically and materially, less is more. Being on a small budget is the best gift when decorating. No, really! Save the dollars -- put them in your kids' education funds. Being on a tight budget forces you to be more creative, and the outcome is generally more interesting than a house that's been decorated for you -- a "designer" house that looks pretty but is devoid of warmth and individual personality.
S@H: That's a wonderful decorating philosophy. How do we put it into practice?
DT:The first thing -- the most important thing -- is to declutter. Ever notice how your house is always at its best right after you move? That's because you've tidied up and purged. It doesn't matter if you have the nicest rugs and antiques money can buy if they're obscured by clutter. Next, I tell people to invest in one really good piece -- a treasure that you saved up for, that you spent an arm and a leg on. Get something of great value that makes you feel good. It can be an armoire, a sofa or a piece of art. Then showcase that piece in a key room to create a focal point. Lots of homes, especially newly constructed ones, just don't have that focal point. It's an approach we all understand, right? I mean, it's like our bodies: everyone has at least one good feature -- a nice pair of legs, a great …. Well, you get the picture. Flaunt your good stuff and, believe me, the rest will be forgiven.
S@H: So, start by stripping away extraneous clutter in order to highlight a key piece. Then what?
DT: Be clever with colour. Colour has been used since ancient Roman times to create the illusion of wealth. Back then, you could go into the poorest homes and see the walls treated. Today, you can do so much with a $15 can of paint, but people often underestimate the value of colour. They play it safe -- they match everything. I tell people to start by asking themselves what kind of mood they want to create -- cheery, dramatic, soothing, whatever -- and then choose the colours accordingly.
S@H: You're a big advocate of the do-it-yourself approach, which has the potential to save thousands in labour costs. But in all honesty, is it feasible for rookies to try some of the transformations seen on Facelift?
DT: Until you try it, everything, and I mean everything, looks scary. But with the exception of electrical work and plumbing, I do believe the majority of us can handle most of the things we hire tradespeople to do. The key is to take your time and prepare. Get books, buy videos and ask questions at the hardware store. Most of the botched jobs I see are the result of rushing. You've got to prime the walls, strip the furniture, source the right materials at the right price. That's the boring stuff people race through. But if you take your time and are truly prepared, you can do anything. I get calls from people all the time saying, “I can't believe I did it!” Now, that's worth every penny.