An Interview With...Babette Hayes

9 years ago
9 minutes

Respected for her work in promoting quality design through her pages in BelleVogue LivingHouse & Garden, Babette Hayes, the principal of Babette Hayes Design, has been working with clients, architects, builders and developers for the past 40 years as an interior designer/decorator and colour consultant, as well as publishing numerous books and presenting lectures. Here is our interview.

You did a lot of groundwork in the interior design industry. What are your top tips for downsizing? You have told me that you’ve moved several times in your career.
Here, and also in London. You downsized, as well, here, in Australia, from a large house to a smaller space.  

When downsizing from one home to create another, I think it is important to keep items that are much loved and mean a lot. At the same time the design and size is important. So even when going back to England as I did for 6 years, I took lots of books, lots of art works, the nicest of everyday items like china, glasses, cooking items and a couple of small pieces of furniture. In England apartments were leased furnished. However when moving from my large home in Hunters Hill to a rented apartment I took one lot of sleek comfortable seating, tables of varying sizes to use as desks and dining tables, side tables, dining chairs, bedroom furniture and book shelves as well as art works, books, collections of small things. I had to let go of all the additional seating, display cabinets, sideboards, and terrace furniture. I sold a lot in an auction, and gave some pieces away to friends. Lighting is important for me. Good table lamps and maybe one good floor lamp – usually new for a client, so as to keep the feeling of lightness in the new home. I will change the pendant light fitting if it is ugly or not doing its job – that is providing a good light source where needed.

The downsizing work I’m doing now is with people who are in their late fifties, sixties, seventies, eighties and one client that I have down sized 3 times, who is 94. They are usually moving from the family home into an apartment, where just two of them are living.  With that, my advice always is keep what is special to you – usually art works, photographs, collections of ornaments, books if they have meaning for you. Favourite pieces of furniture that will suit the new space, usually large pieces of furniture won’t work heavy looking furniture won’t work either. Don’t take anything that is damaged. Downsizing successfully usually means having to buy new pieces of furniture if necessary, that is simple, contemporary and comfortably modern and light in feeling. For book storage I advise to the bookshelves if they will fit into the new wall spaces. Other wise get new modern ones that can almost become part of the wall. I have a lot of IKEA shelves, their cubes, wall to wall from floor to ceiling in my office, and running along the back of a long sofa as a room divider, more shelves built either side of the fireplace floor to ceiling, and same in bedroom, where I also have shelves under the window. It’s interesting because there are certain things that I won’t get rid of, and that is my collections of books, because my art works and books are very precious. Books on photography, the arts, design, architecture, crafts, cooking, some novels, poetry; philosophy, Australian novels and Australian history. Books are very important to me, and I do periodically give to various church fetes but I keep the bulk of it.

Storage optimisation.

That’s what it is.  And, so I just think it’s important to keep my favourite things. I sold most of my furniture, but I kept a couple of pieces that were really special. Like a seventeenth-century small table, side table; another one that’s an inlaid eighteenth century.  They are fine pieces of workmanship, which I just love.  And then a sculpture by Peter Taylor in Tasmania made out of Huon pine. But, of my original pieces of furniture I have very little because my advice is, if you’re going to move and you’re going to move into a smaller place, it is better to buy new comfortable seating. I have just downsized a client where we had to get new furniture because nothing really fitted because everything has been part of an old family home where lots of children had been brought up. And, to be honest, some of the furniture has seen much better days. It’s not that it’s dated, it’s also big and clumsy and my experience is that people now ant something lighter, be less heavy and to be really comfortable.  It doesn’t mean that the old couch is uncomfortable but when you’re trying to fit in big pieces into a smaller space, which is what we are doing with downsizing, and then you have to be logical and also allow some fresh, new ideas into your new home. .

My advice always is being opened-minded.  When they’ve sold the family home, they can afford be selective and buy new pieces. They don’t have to be exorbitantly expensive if they’re on a budget.  It is best to give it away, whatever they can’t use, or send it to an auction. Time and time again, when I am called in for help in downsizing, they have already moved into the apartment. I come along and we put the bulky items that don’t really fit or look good it into the garage and so it can be sold or be handed on but it has to disappear from that room because if they want that room to really feel comfortable and flow, we have to furnish the space with furniture that looks and feels right. The flow of the space is so important.

That is what I’ve seen, as well, in the short time that I’m working with empty nesters. But, unfortunately, a lot of people move without planning ahead and then they sit in these tiny apartments with lots of stuff, and they say ‘I’m not feeling well.  It’s just too much’.  

It really depends, also, on the owners or the owner. 15 years ago, a client, who’s now 94, called me and said, “Look. I’m downsizing from a big family home into a lovely apartment in Cremorne Point”.  And she was very open because she was design aware.  So, we removed a lot of the stuff, and we bought a couple of really nice contemporary pieces, a new oval dining table, which I got from Fanuli, another one from Space. She was very keen to have attractive modern, clean lines for her dining area, useful and comfortable seating and was and open to reupholstering her attractive armchairs and sofas.  We kept her lovely collection of china and figures and a couple of old glass- fronted cabinets and hung all her art works.  We were able to make it work so that she enjoyed being there.

She was open-minded, and that’s the key, to be open-minded.  Some people are much attached – they think they are throwing money away but they’re not.  They’re not throwing it away; what they’re doing is giving them the opportunity to create a loving, warm, appealing, and comfortable home.  And, once you start taking out stuff and putting in what you feel is right, they can feel it.  They feel it in their bodies. 

When it has worked, is successful, they’ll feel it and say how much they are enjoying being in their home. I go all the way.  I organise and supervise the hanging of the artwork and the actual placement of .all their objects and furniture because not many people know how to do that.  The artworks are important because they’ve lived with those paintings, or photographs, or whatever, for a long time.  And, there’s very rarely, any reason to dispose of any of that.  That is what gives the home character.

Interview conducted by Bettina Deda, a Sydney-based interior stylist, blogger and author of Downsize With Style, the first practical style guide for empty nesters. In this interview, Babette Hayes shares her story, talks about career highlights and provides tips. Stay tuned to for the remaining parts.