Home of the week
The home of Nancy Renzi. Photo: Jennifer Soo
The Paul Kelly song Other People's Houses takes the perspective of a boy whose mother cleaned for a living. It's about what it was like to step into these alternative lives.
Other people's houses are inherently fascinating. Voyeurism mingles with a desire for inspiration and a little aspiration. Grand Designs does it on television, but the internet has The Design Files.
Melbourne stylist Lucy Feagins started it in 2008, never imagining how big it would become. After a redesign this year, page impressions doubled and have remained at more than 1 million a month. And two-thirds of callers visit every second day.
Lucy Feagins, founder and editor of Australia's most popular design blog, The Design Files.
Late in 2009, when The Times in Britain voted TDF one of the world's top 50 design blogs, it reached a tipping point, Feagins says. ''I always say … 'It knows where it's going and I'm just running to keep up'.''
The idea for The Design Files came while Feagins was working as a set dresser in film and television. She describes that work as ''like a treasure hunt: you're always out at shops, looking at product, photographing it, looking for amazing things''.
''It just kind of made sense at the time. It flowed organically, because I was always out with my camera taking shots.''
Feagins read international design blogs avidly, but became frustrated with their ''otherness''. She felt there was a niche for a showcase of Australian homes. She was right.
Much of her writing is done after the sun has gone down, then posted online the next day, about 6am.
Where design used to be seen as quite exclusive, Feagins argues shows such as The Block have shown it is not limited to the rich. ''Conceptually that attitude has changed, but in actuality I'm not sure. It's very much about confidence,'' she says.
''Whenever I write, the No.1 question I get asked is, 'What paint colour is that?' So people want to make a statement, but they want to paint by numbers as well. I think they're becoming a bit more conscious of being a bit more quirky.''
So how much ''set dressing'' does she do when she arrives to photograph someone's house? ''I really don't do any styling. I don't bring anything into the houses. I really just want it to feel like it is.''
Asked what characterises Australian homes, Feagins says: ''The myth is that ours is quite a casual, relaxed, beachy lifestyle, but there's a formality to our homes that you don't get in London or New York.''
She puts that down to our culture of entertaining at home rather than going out.
The past five years has seen a move back to more modest, crafty decor. Places decked out on a minimal budget - often rental properties - are popular with TDF readers. ''I do feature opulent houses sometimes and they're never very well received,'' Feagins says.
She is often asked about her own place. ''I live in Brunswick, in a tiny one-bedroom cottage. I do feel a bit of pressure to support Australian design, because you've got to put your money where your mouth is. I did buy a beautiful [Jardan] couch last year.''
Does she feel the pressure when she has visitors? She laughs: ''I used to, but now I just don't have people over.''