In Conversation with Home Decor Expert Lynda Gardener

interior design expert in neutral home decor

Lynda Gardener’s most recent abode bares all of her trademark touches: whitewashed surfaces play host to vintage finds, wicker and a swoon worthy selection of soft linens in a natural colour palette. Stacked with indoor plants and hanging pots, the interior is instantly inviting, a response Lynda has worked to cultivate during more than three decades as a stylist.

As a child, Lynda regularly visited flea markets with her mother, paving the way for her ‘lifetime of fossicking’. The habit eventually spawned Lynda’s own successful vintage store in Melbourne’s north and an eclectic style she became well known for in her role styling interiors for magazine shoots.

With a savvy eye for ‘good bones’ Lynda has also brought five boutique accommodation retreats to life: The Apartment St Kilda; The White House Daylesford; The White Room; The Estate Trentham and most recently, Room + Board. Lynda has often incorporated The Dharma Door items in her interiors and shoots, so we took some time to hear about her latest venture and the fascinating journey she has taken to craft her own unmistakable style.

Lynda Gardener_The Dharma Door_White House
You have honed your approach during decades of being a visual merchandiser, store owner, stylist and boutique accommodation provider. Can you share a little snapshot of your journey?

I guess every part of my journey has been organic, simply because I love doing what I do. There was never a time I had a direct vision of who and where I would be by this time in my life. I have grown my brand in very small steps and along the way only have pursued each and every stage of my career if it felt right and I absolutely believed in it and it felt comfortable - literally from my gut instinct.

I was very lucky to start my career in a very big corporate fashion company, which gave me the tools to work with large groups of people by my side, sharing responsibility and direction. It was a great start for me as I had absolutely no idea which way I was heading. It just felt right to be in a creative role and it flowed on from there - setting up concept stores for Levi Strauss around Australia, buying props and setting up their stores. I started when I was 19 years old.

I then moved on to my own store - Empire Vintage in Albert Park Melbourne, which I owned and ran for 24 years, closing only a few years ago to take on new challenges in my life. In the meantime I opened five accommodation retreats in the countryside as well as in Melbourne, all with their unique individual style and bespoke one-off pieces.

They have been incredibly successful and I have just opened up my next property featuring a lot of items from The Dharma Door range - Room + Board in Daylesford. I am still creating and decorating for clients as well with my business partner Belle at Inside Story.

Lynda Gardener_The Dharma DoorWhat work are you most involved with now?

Mainly my accommodation and interior styling and decorating for private homes and commercial properties which include small bars, hotels and accommodation around Australia.

You are known for mixing old with new, whitewashed floors and walls, luxurious fabrics, consistent colour palettes and impeccable layouts that boom with personality. How do you describe your style to others?

To be honest I am not entirely sure. It is a mix, as you say. And really, a home just has a feel from the moment I walk into it. My instincts always direct me which way to go. This new build is my first, as I have always created spaces from old, which I honestly love the most - so much more character to add to.

The new build is a modern barn. You walk in and feel as though you are in an old school room with pitched ceilings. Big old windows line one side of the Barn and it is filled with trees and plants hanging from the rafters and loads and loads of white.

All my houses have my signature throughout, however they all feel very different, which is what I love the most. The space and feel always dictates the style and when I start to purchase the first objects I just run with it and mix it all up - always old and new. I guess for me it always just instinct, not something I have ever been taught. It’s just an innate natural feel I have for mixing things up and decorating my interiors.

Lynda Gardener_The Dharma Door
How has your approach developed over time? What remains as your trademark touch - the core of your approach that you always include in a project?

Old and new. Once upon a time it was only old. It was easier to come by and I loved recycling old bathtubs, sinks and industrial tap ware. Now, I find by adding new to the mix, it’s the old pieces that still stand out – perhaps even more – and become the feature or focal point

I have always loved baths in big rooms and consistently through all my homes and accommodation retreats. I try to make certain that the bath is a feature of the house. Trademarks also include white, open plan, autumnal colour schemes where possible, and very natural and neutral elements - always. For me this combination is peaceful, calm and welcoming.

Why do you think you have been drawn to working this way?

It is just that my natural gravitation and approach has always led me on the same or similar path. I love fossicking and finding that one-off piece that will be the feature. I love the constancy of walking in the door where everything flows and is relaxing to the eye. It all makes sense from the moment you walk in the front door - right through to the back door and garden.

Lynda Gardener_The Dharma Door
How do you start a project? What should others consider to get the creative juices flowing?

Keeping it constant all the way though. Pick something that you love and flow it through the house. I like a blank canvas to start with. Walk through and get a feel for what you wish to achieve.

In my latest build, I knew I wanted everything low and inviting. Couches low to the ground naturally made you feel you wanted to sprawl all over it. I also kept the bed low, with layers and textures and pure comfort all the way though. I created a very central living room with sofas all through the centre of the space, rather than against walls as is done traditionally. I have not been able to do this in the past - this space was just made for this look and I am in love with it.

You have spoken a lot about using the objects you love, and the importance of developing your own style. What is your advice to others when they are redecorating or looking to edit or refresh their homes?

Find the one or two things you love the most or has the most memories to you. Is it vases in all different shapes and sizes? Make it a statement. Create a wall of shelves and light them at night. Do you collect old art as I do? Make a statement and create a wall full of different sizes, old and new frames, or just old faded portraits and landscapes. Hone in on what you love, the thing that will make your home yours, and not like everyone else’s.

Lynda Gardener_The Dharma Door
How do textiles and woven elements play into your approach?

I love layers and layers and layers in my homes and believe that is why it always feels so instantly homely. I love cushions and throws and texture on sofas and on the floor with rugs. Sometimes I layer the rugs. Never shy away from warmth and details.

You have used The Dharma Door to great effect - can you share some of the ways that you have used items from the collection in your projects?

I love all that The Dharma door does and creates. It fits in so well - particularly with my most recent accommodation ventures. Plus, we always use The Dharma Door in our interior fit-outs. I have used baskets, wall hangings - even the coat hangers are featured in Room + Board for guests. I find the natural fibres and tones fit in perfectly with so many different areas in the house, with them all being so natural and relaxed. It’s perfect. Oh, and the shopping bags are a must to have hanging for guests.

What do you appreciate most about the products?

They are all hand made by fair trade artisans and you can feel the individuality from each product. All natural and nothing is 100% perfect, which is something I particularly appreciate as in my homes and spaces - perfectly imperfect.

Lynda Gardener_The Dharma Door
How do you pare back and keep things consistent throughout - ultimately creating space and balance? What are your simple style hacks for creating well-considered layouts?

It’s tough for me as I tend to be a collector and self-confessed hoarder. So in my case, there is a little more purchased and then the process starts, with a few items put aside for another home or new fit out. I always keep the colour very consistent, even if one of the interiors is dark and moody, as is the case at The White House; it is consistent all the way through. I guess it’s just a matter of looking at your space and not overfilling initially and slowly adding your elements with layering. I tend to be on the ‘adding more than less’ side, so maybe I am not the best person to explain how to pare back!

You have often spoken about making your spaces feel comfortable, considered and homely - something you have achieved to great effect in each of the accommodation abodes you have created. How can others create a restful retreat?

The same way. Just keep it relaxed, simple and not over-styled. Even my cushions are a little crushed and crinkled, as are the throws. I don’t strive for perfection. I keep it relaxed as if someone has enjoyed lying on the couch for a few hours. I don’t overstuff cushions, but usually have them a little under stuffed so they flop. Nothing has hard lines. Plants soften a space, as do lovely linens and natural fibres. Stick to those natural elements and everything feels relaxed and effortless.

Lynda Gardener_The Dharma Door
And finally, what’s next? Would you like to share some details of your next venture?

A big rest and travel this year. I need loads of time for myself. I have worked over the past however many years (most of my life 6 days a week) and created so many beautiful spaces for others to enjoy, as well as myself. I guess that is a perk: I get to stay at all my properties and still to this day, I feel so lucky and special in these homes. At the end of the day, they were all created with love and attention to detail. They are all my country and city homes - made and created for my lifestyle, first and foremost.

I always feel so proud that so many others also feel they want to stay away from them too. I am just lucky so many others love what I have created. So time out for me this year. Then, who knows? As something always lands on my lap without really thinking about it too much. My mind never stops thinking, so to be honest, it could be anything. I am always planning, thinking and creating and working on the next new ideas.

Photographs by Lisa Cohen & Marnie Hawson - supplied by Lynda Gardener

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