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Achieving affordable Aussie design

By Christy Scholefield

Chris Carroll from TLC Interiors is a Melbourne-based designer with a focus on assisting his national client-base to achieve affordable Aussie design

“When I say ‘skimp-meets-splurge’ what I mean is a balance between cheaper decor items (the skimp), and pricier investment pieces (the splurge). For example, I encourage my clients to put their money into larger furniture finds like sofas, beds, mattresses and dining chairs. Pretty much anything their butt is going to touch, gets invested in (comfort is important, right?!). Rugs are often part of this splurge category too. The feet need to nestle on something plush, after all.

On top of those splurge pieces of furniture, I like to drizzle more affordable, approachable decor. Something in me (call it a humble upbringing) just can’t cope with specifying a $150 cushion for a client, or asking them to spend thousands on a vase. These smaller pieces in a home I consider quite transitional; you’re likely to replace and update them as time goes on. So I like to shop at all the stores you know and love for these little gems – pairing them with your prized possessions and family mementoes to create a space that feels designer, but yours!

Of course, some clients want me to go gangbusters on decor (and I can do it). But in a recent project, the focus was on putting money toward larger items my clients would keep forever. And below I want to share some of the results with you.

A Scandi vibe, with a dash of colour
When I first met with my clients, the brief was to deliver a Scandi vibe. The Pinterest board they had curated (I love it when clients have these boards) was super Nordic. Think white and black and grey. The feel was more on the minimal side. They were keen to have texture in the home but not loads of it, and the timbers were quite light.

Of course, I like to push my clients a little. I had to put my own stamp on this home and that stamp came in the way of introducing some colour. The reason for this, as you’ll see, was the red timber flooring the client’s new home sported. Not ideal for a Scandi vibe, as I’m sure you’ll agree. But that’s what being an interior designer is all about; creating magic on the blank canvas that’s been presented to you (I know that sounds super wanky, but it’s true).

Sanding back the floorboards wasn’t an option (we had a firm budget), so we had to work with them. The good news is that you can still do a Scandi scheme with a red floor, but you have got to balance out all that warmth with some cooler tones. That’s why I decided the accent colours in the home were going to be blue and green. Nothing too bright, but rather quite soothing and always with that chic Nordic sensibility in mind. I was also super excited to bring in some marble, because hello – marble is amazing!

A darker man cave was also on the agenda
I was so excited that my clients wanted a man cave at the front of the home. There were three living areas in this property overall, and the front room was to be a bit of a chic pool room/home cinema. Something that felt designer and sophisticated, but harder and more masculine. So we stuck with the black-white-grey Scandi vibe, but focussed on chunkier pieces of furniture.

Thankfully my clients let me go in a darker direction in this space. We painted the feature wall behind the TV black (one of many great ways to conceal a TV set). The room was already a tad on the dark side with not a lot of light coming in the front windows, so why fight it? We made this space moody and cosy, and I was so happy with the result.

I also installed some blonde timber pendants in one corner to pop against the dark backdrop (thanks Beacon Lighting) and I love the first impression they give you when you walk in the front door.

Most of the base pieces in this space were invested in. The sofa and the armchair and the rug and coffee tables were from Globewest. The smaller decor items are from places like Adairs, Kmart, Freedom and IKEA. There were some cool items (like the dog statue) that belonged to the client already and I love him sitting in the corner of the room. I need to give him a name. Maybe Ferguson.

The formal sitting room is probably my fave space
The clients are into music and both quite talented at it. One half plays the piano, the other half the sax and guitar. So we had to create a space where they could sit and have friends over, with all of their musical instruments nearby. So I decided to turn the room at the back of the property into a more formal sitting room.

Two structured sofas face one another here with a glass coffee table in the middle. The artworks are also a standout in this space for me. One in particular (from Urban Road) is super moody and really set the tone for the room.

On the coffee table, I once again went with my usual skimp-meets-splurge approach. Decor items here are from Kmart, Adairs and Freedom. Some of the cushions are from IKEA too (always with feather inserts, of course, which is just one of my many cushion rules).

I swear when you place the right cheap and cheerful items against more refined investment pieces, they’re totally elevated. It’s all about context and how you style them, never about where you get them from or how much they are. If they work, they work. Who cares if they cost $10?! Ain’t nobody gonna walk into this room and claim some elements look cheap.

Yep, I included fake plants and I’m not even sorry!
You know me; I love a fake plant and I’m 100% not even sorry about it. I included a few in my client’s home. I’m sure many interior designers will probably turn their nose up at this, but I’m so into a fakie.

I think the best part about working as a designer (or decorator, or stylist, or whatever you want to call us) is the client’s feedback at the end of the project. My clients were so delighted. They said they were now living in their dream home. They said it was so nice to come home at night, pour a wine, and admire their new surroundings. Even friends had come over and asked for my details.

That is truly the best part of the entire experience. This is honestly life-changing stuff, people. Again, that sounds wanky, but it’s honestly true and the part I love most about my job.

To contact Chris and for more help in creating an amazing space without the stress or overspend, go to

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