Designer Profile: Diane Bergeron

Each month I will be profiling a designer who inspires me. And as this is my first ‘Designer Profile’ post, I knew I had to showcase someone extra special.

Diane Bergeron has been one of the biggest inspirations for me since I moved to Australia. I first met her at The Art of Dining showcase at the NGV in Melbourne last year and came to realise she isn’t just a talented interior designer but a seriously nice person too. Since then we have kept in touch and I was fortunate enough to have interviewed her a couple of weeks ago, over the phone of course, where she shared her extraordinary story with me.

Diane grew up in Massachusetts, near Cape Cod, essentially the chicest part of the US. She told me that to her “…design came naturally. I know it’s a cliché but literally my parents’ friends would ask me to help them with their houses.” After leaving school, she spent her twenties travelling, working here and there, freelancing and generally honing her inherent creativity. In the early 90s she met and then married her husband Peter, an Australian photographer. They subsequently moved to Miami, where they bought a building that would ultimately change their life and set her on her career path.

The place they had purchased was a rather run-down, 20 unit, Mediterranean-style building in South Beach. Peter and Diane went on to renovate and overhaul every single unit and then sold them on for record-breaking prices. After that, they purchased a home which they also refurbished. When they sold it on, the next set of owners asked to keep all the furniture and every last soft furnishing in the house - a sign, perhaps. During that time they started to attract press attention and after one particularly good write up by the Historic Society the client work began to flow in.

They then decided to move to New York City, where Diane’s design work continued, a career which suited her sensibility but also her lifestyle. “I was always lucky to be able to work and be a present mom,” she told me. She was working consistently, as was Peter, but their children were growing up and they made the decision to move to Peter’s native Australia. They wanted to give themselves and their kids more space as well as the fabulous education that Australia offered.

When they got to Melbourne in 2003 they bought a warehouse in Collingwood. Now a hip restaurant mecca, plus a bit of a design precinct, at the time Collingwood was not on anyone’s radar and nobody could understand their decision. They’d been living in New York for so long that for them it was a style of living that emulated the down-town, ‘Soho’ approach so many Manhattanites were familiar with.

With Diane’s touch the warehouse quickly became a cosy and chic home/work space. However, Diane was noticing gaps in the local offerings and wanted a way to access her favourite American interiors products from her new hometown. With that, she got in touch with her friends from back home, friends like Madeline Winerib, Carolina Irving, Lisa Fine, Paul Romano at Quadrille and Peter Dunham. Before they knew it, they had a showroom full of sophisticated interiors products from the US and Diane and Peter became rather busy with their new business.

Along with the showroom being open and a steady run of press, starting with a 10-page spread in Vogue Living, Diane was attracting local interior design clients fast. At the time interiors in Australia were “…a little strange. The scene here was divided into two schools, one being very heavy-handed traditional decorating and rest being left to architects who used industrial type finishings.” Her fresh and comfortable look was attracting a more interesting crowd, who entrusted her with the task of going back to America on big buying trips. This meant that she and Peter started to regularly send back 40-foot containers from the US, full of goods for their clients’ homes.

One client in particular loved her open-minded and unique approach to decorating. He, a very successful innovator and businessperson, was planning on opening a set of independent schools that focused on subjects such as business, animation, beauty and interior design. After a series of dinners where he asked and encouraged Diane to get involved, she caved. “I was reluctant at first… I’m self-taught after all.” A condition of her agreeing was that she would have complete creative control. “If I was going to teach design, I was going to teach it my way.”

The school, named Mercer, was also in Collingwood, just down the road from Diane’s. The interior of the place was gorgeous, something that is not very common for design schools, let me assure you. The curriculum had just as much emphasis on decoration as it did Revit and CAD, making it a completely unique offering in Australia. She also embraced the future and offered flexible, distance learning that included high production quality video content, attracting many interstate students, and students who were looking for a career change.

One thing Diane was determined to do was to organise an annual trip to the US for students, and of course she made it happen. The first trip sold out to students immediately, and enabled them to visit some of LA and New York’s most sought after studios such as Kelly Wearstler, Cortney & Robert Novogratz, Nathan Turner, Peter Dunham, Thomas O’Brien, and Ashe + Leandro.

A friend of mine, now an interior designer herself, was lucky enough to partake in the trip. “Visits to the design studios of Kelly Wearstler and Drake/Anderson provided priceless insights into their design processes. It was hard to believe we were learning from some of the best in the business. Of course one of the highlights was visiting Tony Duquette’s Dawnridge Estate. A living piece of design history and an absolute testament to the design ethos ‘more is more’. Diane herself was always so generous in sharing her knowledge and curating a truly once-in-a-lifetime experience.” It’s things like this that really set Diane’s teaching method apart.

Mercer’s success also brought stress. “I had never been so busy, I had 45 staff to deal with and a lot on my plate.” She and Peter recognised that the needed a change of pace. So they initiated their next adventure in South Australia. They bought a piece of land and started plans on their traditional, East-Coast style home, design studio and warehouse, to be built near McLaren Vale. “We love it here. We’ve lived in cities for so long but now it’s so nice to be near the beach and the vineyards.”

To top that off, the same client who created Mercer with her also introduced her to the people at the Mirabel foundation, a Melbourne-based charity that helps children suffering the consequences of parents who have died from or are dealing with drug-related issues. The charity acquired a house in Melbourne’s St Kilda and Diane has led the overhaul of the interiors, made up solely of donations from local interior design brands and businesses. The result is a beautiful space for the children to go for their various programmes, not to mention a very chic headquarters for the charity’s volunteers and CEO, Jane Rowe. The house was launched late last year, in conjunction with House & Garden magazine. I attended the launch night and will say it was incredibly busy event and an truly admirable feat by Diane.

About five years ago another project came about when a sales rep for Arthur G, a Melbourne based furniture brand, known for high-quality, locally-made furniture, visited Diane at her studio. As they were chatting Diane admitted that she mainly got her furniture made by a local craftsperson “…so the furniture could look exactly how I wanted it to.” This information lead to conversations of a collaboration. At the time, designer collaborations weren’t all that common in Australia, but true to her ways, Diane was one of the first decorators in town to do such a thing.

Since the inception of the collaboration with Arthur G, which started with a simple set of five products and now offers over thirty, the range has become a staple of Arthur G’s offerings, and has been an extremely successful collaboration for both parties. The designs themselves are a totally new look for Australia and combine sophisticated uptown glamour with a dose of Australian durability and usability. The types of products in the range being glamorous sofas, slick ottomans and comfortable slipper chairs.

She feels now that product design is her calling and it’s what she enjoys doing most. She has recently launched a gorgeous series of monogrammed bedding, which I saw at last year’s Decor and Design expo, and trust me when I say that it is heavenly. She has also extended her range of fabrics into wallpapers, showcased at the same expo as cute lampshades and fabulous feature walls. She also mentioned to me that there are more product collaborations launching soon…!

As for interiors and style, Diane has her own set of rules. She likes to mix and match vintage and new and introduce unique pieces into every space. The only real design guideline she follows is the rule of symmetry, often showcased in her perfectly positioned lamps and elegant layouts that are easy on the eye. She exclusively shops online or overseas during her travels. She is currently working on her own online store that will offer customers and clients a glimpse into her world as well as the ability to buy a curated selection of found goods alongside products from her own line.

Diane’s list of accomplishments certainly is remarkable. Her subtle sense of fearlessness, open heart and open mind are really what have made her. She arrived in a foreign land and has made herself into a local pioneer and icon, all whilst bringing the best bits of North American style and sensibility with her. For a somewhat traditional interior designer she has always been ahead, and personally I cannot wait to see what she does next.

To find out more about Diane follow her on Instagram and do keep an eye out for her website which is launching soon.

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