Barry Du Bois is an Interior Designer and Master Builder with over 30 years’ experience in the industry. As one of Australia’s best-loved TV personalities, Barry has the knack of sharing his professional knowledge of design, architecture, renovations, and of ‘DIY’, to the everyday person. I have personally experienced this through working with him at our Recycled Interiors reader event, Working With Wood – where he shared vast experience, personal stories and sense of humour with our community, and in the ongoing friendship we have developed through this. If you have met him you will know that he really takes time to get to know people and has a genuine passion for people and planet.
Barry’s skill set is huge – including everything in the home, from the kitchen bench to the garage, and a passion for educating and empowering people to transform their living spaces into something truly special. Before appearing on TV, Barry had a hugely successful building career. Starting out as an apprentice carpenter, he soon progressed to owning and running his own building company before graduating to renovating multi-million-dollar waterfront homes. At 46 Barry retired, and for the next five years of his life, he spent six months of each year sailing around the world on his yacht, before resuming work by becoming an ‘expert mentor’ on Channel Ten’s show, The Renovators, in 2011. Now you can catch Barry on Channel Ten’s Friday night popular show, The Living Room, where he heads up the ever-popular renovations segment alongside Amanda Keller, Chris Brown and Miguel Maestre. Barry also conducts regular home renovations segments on radio stations including Sydney’s 2GB and WSFM, and Brisbane’s 4BC, as well as running his own interior design and strategic planning consultancy service. Along with his work in TV and radio, Barry is a passionate supporter of many charities, including the Cancer Council, R U OK? Day and the Salvation Army.
“My inspiration comes from the client. My mission as a designer is to retrieve a brief from the client, add the sophistication and philosophy of Architecture, then deliver it back as poetry. Over the years my passion for design, and more recently, for sustainable design, has gradually strengthened. Understanding the built environment is an important aspect of culture to me, and many of the design philosophies I have learnt over the years are also used in everyday life balance”
In June 2012 Barry became a father for the first time, to adorable twins, Arabella and Bennett. His ‘other babies’, his motorbikes, remain a permanent fixture amongst the mountains of nappies and baby formula. His personal story is inspirational, and proves you can overcome obstacles and live the life you choose. It also shows how a philosophy of sustainability, and the importance of those ever-present ‘connections’, weave their way into all of our lives.
“For a couple of thousand years, our homes were built in a way that enabled us to share a lot of infrastructure within our community. Small business surrounded a central square or piazza. Families shared this open space as it encouraged socialisation, debate, and growth of ideas. In this community there was little tolerance for waste – you had to personally carry what you needed. Over the last couple of decades, we have changed a lot. We now live in an incredibly consumer orientated society, driven by very slick campaigns that convince you that you are nothing unless you have the latest of everything. We now have items that we only wear or use for a limited time, or until the next ‘budget priced’ trend starts. In the fifties, we developed modularised homes. These were homes that could be built on a budget because they shared similar floor plans, with variations on facades.”
Barry’s early entry into the building industry was partly thanks to his dyslexia. Barry says his school years were more about his athletic ability than academia. “Back then there weren’t many choices. I had one uncle that was a mechanic and one that was a builder, and a trade certificate was seen as a real advantage” he told me. So in 1976, he started with that builder uncle as an apprentice carpenter and joiner. “My mum and dad had given me lots of love and support, as well a great work ethic and a strong sense of self belief, which helped me to excel as a carpenter,” remembers Barry. “I loved the work and respected the craft”. The majority of their work was project homes and small additions, but then they successfully won a tender to build a house on the south coast, designed by an architect.
Being involved in this project was one of the most influential times in Barry’s life – “we were creating, rather than just building, and the plans didn’t just have lines and measurements – they had solutions and philosophies,” he says. He listened to the architect explaining the reasons for window sizes and heights, the angle of sunlight and shadow, the warmth and vista. “I asked many questions and he took the time to explain the brief and how we would deliver it. I was very good with my hands but I wanted to be him. If the truth be known, I didn’t know what a degree was, and I thought University was where rich kids from other areas than mine went because they couldn’t get an apprenticeship,” explains Barry. Not someone who has ever lacked self-confidence and self-belief, at age 19 he started his own business. Although he says he could not spell the word ‘dollar’, he was making plenty of them! And he had one thing on his mind – he wanted to design and build a home.
“Over time, with urban sprawl and the continual quest to appear as if you are somehow doing better than your neighbour, homes have grown bigger and bigger – both as a display of ego, and to simply house our many possessions. Bedrooms are more like self-contained living areas for individuals. More recently, designers and consumers alike are realising that waste is a huge problem in numerous ways, and that waste is a burden on our planet. We are also seeing the value of working with the environment rather than fighting it. I feel that over the coming decade we will have huge advancements in sustainable housing and in the sustainability of the built environment in general.”
Barry’s first home was completed in 1979, and 30 years later he is proud to say he has designed, built and renovated over $100 million dollars’ worth of beautiful, considered homes. In 2005, Barry became aware that the rapid rise of the property and stock markets was not healthy for our community, and definitely not sustainable financially. He knew there had to be a crash. Many people said this after the global financial crisis, but Barry was one of the very few that sold everything he owned except his home and retired, before the crash. He bought a yacht and commissioned that in the south of France, and spent the next few years there, sailing and furthering his study of Architecture.
So how did Barry du Bois end up as one of Australia’s most loved television personalities when he was sailing around France? It is one of the most incredible stories – one day he got a call from a casting agent at Shine Australia. They told him that he had been suggested by a couple of people as being perfect for a new show that would be on Channel Ten. Barry replied “I don’t know who would say that, but I am in a customs office in Turkey and pretty happy with my life as it is thanks!” Plus, he told them, “I haven’t got a good head for TV!”. What Barry didn’t know at the time was that a good mate of his, Peter Colqhoun, had shown some footage of the two of them on Barry’s yacht, to one of the executives at Shine. Barry says Pete is an amazing architect and brilliant TV presenter and over the 5 years they had been sailing the Mediterranean he had joined Barry a couple of times.
“We would sail into harbours that were off the regular charter routes, into cities where architecture told beautiful stories of history. Pete being Pete – he filmed much of this and often asked me questions about the architecture and construction methods – we could talk those subjects for hours on end. At the time Pete thought this would make an interesting ‘little doco’. The executive producer said that he loved the ‘big bloke’ for this new show. This was for a role to mentor and judge the work of contestants vying to win a huge cash prize. The casting agent called twice more, and it seemed that the more I said I wasn’t interested, the more they insisted I come in for a chat!”
Then in March 2011 something happened that changed Barry’s life – he heard those words –“ you have cancer…..” Barry says life slowed down at that point; and in fact, it was like slow-motion. “I remember watching the lips of the different doctors moving while giving me their opinions of what MY life would be. The room was very bright and it all seemed surreal. My wife was in tears and our hands squeezed tightly together. One of the doctors said she couldn’t promise I would still be here in 3-4 months. I didn’t believe what was happening, but I wanted to talk to my brother, so I reached for my phone. Although it was against the rules, no one cared that I turned it on. It rang loudly as I picked it up, and it was a private number. Reluctantly I answered – well I pushed the green button. I didn’t actually say any words, I just wanted them to think I wasn’t there and hang up so I could call my brother. After a few seconds a very enthusiastic female voice said ‘Hi Barry, we are very very very keen to talk to you. We really want you to be a part of this show. Please call back. Please call back anytime’….. I was stunned. I felt like saying just leave me alone…. ‘are you there? We know you are perfect for this role.’ I am here, I said, but I can’t talk now. If you can call me back in 3 months I will do it”.
The next time Barry heard from her, he was walking out of St Vincent’s hospital on the last days of his 9 weeks of Radiotherapy treatment. He had undergone major surgery and the 115kg guy they had all seen on the video, was now 79kg. Nevertheless, not too long after this, he was introduced to Australia as the design and building mentor/judge on ‘The Renovators’. Nowadays, he says, he often blushes and goes into a cold sweat when people say to him “How did YOU get into TV?”.
“As someone who is a perfectionist, I wonder if people who say this are questioning my on-screen performance – which is something I question myself every time I watch. It’s funny because I am an incredibly confident person, with a great sense of self belief. But it’s a combination of self-belief, skill and support to be successful. Thankfully I sit beside and am supported by, probably the most talented television personality in the business – Amanda Keller. I also share the stage (or Living Room) with two very talented and incredibly supportive mates – Miguel Maestre and Chris Brown. As it turns out, the world of TV that I was so reluctant and sceptical about, is the perfect platform to share my knowledge of all things Home Design, DIY and Sustainability related. I believe any problem or project can be broken up into smaller parts which makes them less intimidating, and that method of teaching works best on TV.
Here are Barry’s top elements of sustainable design for you to use in your home
1) Relationships: You need to consider your family, your community and yourself; when doing anything, and particularly when designing or rebuilding your home. Question everything with this in mind. I would love to see just one article or TV report on the holistic merit of a built up area. How many parks, school, places to come together as a community does an area offer? Is there a proactive council? What is the balance in income, age, and religion?
2) Design: When it comes to design, understand as best you can how the home will accommodate your family well into the future. Try to see your home as an extension of nature into your world. Just like nature, your world must be in proportion and have the ability to change and grow.
3) Waste: Waste is only waste if you don’t use it. So much of the waste generated by people is sold back to us as a commodity. We block out the sun and then pay for light and heat. We flush our waste into the ocean and then pay for fertiliser and water.
4) Materials: Materials used in any structure have a life. Consider where they have come from, and how they got to where they are. Consider what can be reused that may have already had a life, but is in the perfect state to be used again. Structural steel is a classic example of this. Second hand structural steel is exactly the same as new, but at half the cost.
5) Be Yourself and don’t follow trends: I am a very strong believer that your home is an extension of you and the others that you share the space with, and so it should showcase your personality. Whether you are into home crafts or minimalist environments, are bold or subtle, just be honest to yourself.
Barry believes that humans have proven for centuries that we can do just about anything we put our minds to. The biggest stumbling block to DIY he says, is self-confidence. A sure-fire way to fix that, he says, is to start out small on very simple jobs and grow both your confidence and ability. “Any job, whether a skyscraper or a vintage chair restoration, is just a series of small jobs. Obviously statutory regulations will mean licences are required in some circumstances, but there is nothing stopping you from having a go.”
What a lovely, genuine and passionate man, making a real difference to the world.