Chantelle Chats about her Winning Dining and Living Rooms

Chantelle from The Block: Fans v Faves chats with Dani about her and Steve’s winning dining and living rooms, how they’re both feeling, and how she remains so positive despite the struggles they have faced throughout the competition.

It’s often said that kitchens and bathrooms sell houses and that the kitchen is the ‘heart of the home’, however I believe we spend most of our time around the dining table and in the living room talking, reminiscing and creating memories. So if you can’t walk into a house and feel instantly at home and comfortable in this space; then it’s most likely not for you. In my household, we discuss our days while eating dinner at the dining table and we catch up with friends in the living room; so these two rooms are definitely two of the most important.

The couples on The Block delivered four completely different and unique living & dining spaces on Sunday night’s room reveal. Chantelle and Steve finally earned themselves a win. Although they were actually tied with Alisa and Lysandra, the use of a bonus point (that they had picked up earlier in the week during a challenge win) secured them the outright first place with a big score of 28.

The judges’ couldn’t help but smile when they walked into Steve and Chantelle’s room, as they felt that not only had the couple nailed the tricky layout issues brought on by their kitchen, but that everything was connected that that the room will make the ‘buyers smile and feel good about it’. Neale said it reminded him of the home he lived in when he was growing up with its ‘1960s feel’. He now feels that his faith in the couple has been rewarded. With only a few minor glitches, such as their lighting choice, Steve and Chantelle finally have the judges on their side. The win could not have come at a better time given the couple’s dwindling budget.

Losing by one point (a score of 27) didn’t seem to faze the twins, as this week they were focused on maintaining their level of style and design from their previous weeks’ kitchen win. And they did; with a huge dining & living space that the judges described as ‘vast’, suggesting that it felt that all of the other apartments could easily fit inside it. Shaynna felt the space was ‘so sophisticated’ and the judges agreed that their apartment has the ‘potential to be the most exciting property on The Block’.

Tying for third, with Kyal and Kara; Brad and Dale produced a ‘really good space’ according to Neale. The judges loved various elements, including the exposed ducting, the fireplace and the pendants. Neale even said that they had the ‘pendants of the day’. There were however too many negatives, as Neale explaining that there was a ‘strong disconnect’between the kitchen and the dining/living spaces and that the dining zone was ‘not working’.

Kyal and Kara achieved ‘great contrast’ this week with the use of natural stone flooring, concrete sheeting on the hallway and living room walls and the beautiful Blackbutt timber feature walls that the couple have become known for. The judges did, however, feel that the living room was small and that the hallway was too wide at the expense of space from elsewhere. Shaynna said that the styling was ‘uptight’ and that she was‘hoping for colour’, but Neale disagreed as he felt that the buyer would‘like the minimalistic styling’ and could envision their own high-end furnishings in the space.

I caught up with a very proud Chantelle to learn and little more about her and Steve’s winning Living & Dining room.

Congratulations!!! You finally have a win in the bag. That said, you haven’t produced a room yet that all of the judges disliked and that’s a bonus in itself. How have you found your experience on The Block so far? Is it what you expected?
I think when we applied for The Block we thought we were applying for a normal Block and we were definitely going to be the underdogs no matter what we stepped into. We are probably the most inexperienced couple The Block has ever had. But then, to go into a Fans v Favesscenario where the other fan couple includes a chippy as well… we had absolutely no idea what we were in for.
We came into this for a challenge, that’s what we wanted… we wanted to push the limits of our lives and we have certainly got that. It’s an incredible experience.

Watching you guys stay up on your late nights and all-nighters, as well as the antics that you get up to is very entertaining and nostalgic for me at the same time. Are you affected by the absolute exhaustion of the project?
You would know! There are so many aspects of that when you are watching from your lounge room, you might understand a little bit; but you really get no idea of just how much time is taken up by production. Probably almost 25-30% of your day is consumed by production, but then the room timeframes are real so there is hardly any time. I got that there were late nights, and on TV you probably see a late night shot of painting, but we honestly averaged about three to four hours sleep a night for three months.

I think our bodies did acclimatise somewhat, but Steve and I realised that there is a kind of sleepiness where you think ‘right, I’m going to throw up’ and you start going cross eyed and you just simply have to rest. We started to monitor each other and Steve would say to me ‘go to bed, you’re cross-eyed’!

Winning a room is a pretty good feeling, especially when you haven’t won one before. You mentioned though that when you walked out of the room you hated it, have you changed your mind now that it’s a winner?
Oh for sure! At the time when I said that I hated it, I actually couldn’t even explain why. I now know exactly why though: it was because each week we would go in guns blazing, but most weeks we would have a major issue that would drastically set us back. During ‘kitchen week’ we thought: ‘right we’ve got a good chance this week with nothing going wrong’ so coming into living & dining week we thought: ‘yes we’re going to blitz this!’ We had a plan and we knew what we wanted to do but then on the morning of reveal things started to go wrong. The plasterers had moved our electrical wires in the ceiling so what should have been a really quick install for the sparky wasn’t. There were holes in the ceiling where there shouldn’t have been and with 20 minutes to go everything was going wrong and I was devastated that what I felt was our one chance for a win. So I just had an attitude of hating it because I honestly thought we had ruined our chance.

There are so many great features and fabulous things to look at in your room this week including that great big Albert Park wallpaper that I loved. Do you have a favourite element or product?
You’re right there are lots of little things to look at and that’s the feedback we are getting from people who have started to come through the property. They stay in that space for quite a while just taking everything in.
I’d say that my favourite overall element, because it serves so many purposes, is the dining booth and the bench that extends down the wall. It forces you to turn when you come in the door and take in all these different features like the Melbourne blind in the study and the barn door, then the Albert Park mural and it means you don’t have to walk straight into the dining room table. It takes you on a bit of a journey as soon as you walk through the door so it’s my favourite thing.

I love your quirky unique style; it’s very refreshing on a show like The Block where it’s easy to get caught up in the sale and be very simple with your design. Where did you draw your inspiration from this week? 
I had what I call, a ‘style identity crisis’ during kitchen week and I was just so confused. The kitchen wasn’t necessarily a style of kitchen that I would necessarily choose for myself, and then I was trying to style for the buyer but give my personality but then also thinking of the judges’ and I just got so confused, and then it just started to make sense… the penny dropped and I thought: ‘you know what, I actually have the confidence to move forward and please these three groups, the buyer, the judges and myself.’
So I guess for us the approach and inspiration going into it this room was ensuring that we were always thinking about functionality, what it needed and what problems in the space needed solving. How we were going to achieve certain things i.e. we didn’t want to walk straight into the dining, so how we were going to combat that? We wanted a privacy barrier, how were we going to combat that? There was this really long, potentially awkward space in front of the kitchen, what were we going to do with that space?  When style comes into it, it is a bit quirky. Believe it or not though; it’s a toned down version of my own style.

You mentioned resolving the layout issue with the booth. So was that your starting point? 
Yes, definitely. That space was freaking us out in week one! We planned in the first week that we would keep that dining and living space open. And in the kitchen, we are the only ones with a window and it’s huge, it almost comes all the way down to the ground so we couldn’t use that wall for bench space, storage or a cook top so we had the choice of either having hardly any bench space or having a big island bench and that’s what we went with. But then our dilemma was where to put the dining and it just felt awkward to put it right as you walk in the door so yeah it sort it came from there.
The night of judging for kitchen week, Steve had gone to bed and I just thought ‘oh my gosh this is going to work.’ I started marching it out on the floor and thought finally, we have a solution that has been stressing us out since week one. So we went with it and then continued that all the way down into the living area.

I loved the warm energy of your living & dining spaces this week. What was your design process this week and what you ultimately wanted to achieve for this area?
The ‘A1’ goal was to keep the space open and feel large, but to also keep it feeling friendly and warm. We really wanted to keep the space crisp and clean so used crisp white paint wherever we needed paint and then paired it back with beautiful Tassie Oak to keep it warm. We used a sealant that wouldn’t turn the wood yellow but rather keep those pinkish warm tones.
We wanted to keep the theme and heritage of the building consistent throughout the whole apartment, but give it a bit of a modern and quirky twist. So little items like the pendant light over the dining table, which is made out of limestone but then added the block and tackle to bring that unusual vintage twist back in.

Shaynna felt that you had ‘saved your apartment’ with the layout of your spaces this week. What do you think is clever about your overall design downstairs (including your kitchen) and what sets you apart from the other apartments?
If anything is clever in that downstairs space then I think it starts at the study with the barn door; it’s almost like a retractable wall and the reason behind it was so that the natural light from the drying terrace floods through that downstairs space. We’ve used the same floor so when that door is open; it looks as though that floor space extends wider across that whole downstairs level.
The nib wall provides privacy but it’s almost the start of the journey because you’re forced to look at the large Albert Park map, and then you’re forced toward the barn door and then the rest is unveiled you kind of get this feeling that wow there is way more to this apartment than the nib wall or entrance area.
By extending that bench seating right down into the living area it gives the buyer the ability to add a really long table in that space which is perfect for large dinners and family occasions.

The judges suggested you rethink your lighting. Is this something you will take into consideration now you have won a little bit of money, or is that money already spent elsewhere?
Actually the funny thing is that I had the best, most beautiful light for the living area but it was just far too big for the space… you would actually hit your head on it, so we used a smaller alternative pendant light. I really like the style of the pendant light we used over the dining table. It was limestone and had a beautiful industrial twist to it but I could definitely see what the judges were saying about the size of both lights be too small. Personally I don’t think I would change anything and at least it’s a simple element to change if it’s bothersome to whoever buyers the house.

Not having a room win for so long and constant budget pressures can really throw your confidence. How have you both managed to stay positive and keep the creative juices flowing? 
It’s so weird actually… when one week is over you feel like you don’t have anything left creatively. You can’t force good ideas, so having that added stress of the budget doesn’t help. One of our main budget issues was that our tradies never submitted invoices regularly so it was hard to keep those costs accounted for. We were pending money without knowing how much money we had. With the budget though, we just tried to make sure we had one big wow factor each week and then tone it down a little. I learnt to do this from Neale quite early on in the competition.
We would also use a lot of problems like an air-conditioning duct going right through the centre of the room as a positive thing and seeing how we could incorporate that as a design feature. That would then often spark an idea and we were off and running.

Have you got your target market firmly in mind? 
Yeah we did from day one and were one of the first couples to get a real estate agent on board so we could firmly know what the market wanted. It meant we could discuss with an expert what people buying in that area are looking for and what they actually want. Getting an agent on board so quickly was essentially our market research. Now that that place is all together we really do feel like we have a broad range of potential buyers.   I’d probably say the one key area of our apartment that is more appealing than the others is that it could actually function as a home business. Because we have that study with its own power room, shower and outdoor area, it can actually operate as its own space.

Coming into The Block, did you have a game plan and has it changed since the competition has progressed?
We didn’t have a game plan for every aspect but we decided that I would be responsible for, and trump Steve on, design choices: so if we were ever stuck in an argument I would get final say. And then the same went Steve’s way with structural and building decisions.
Our other thing was that we both acknowledged was that my personal style is appealing to a very niche crowd but that it would possibly alienate a lot of buyers and the judges so Steve would my voice of reason to tone down my style.

What is your favourite room so far?
I have two favourites actually and I’m finding it very difficult to choose: I love the living & dining room and it’s just such a nice space to be in and I really like the master bedroom that is yet to be revealed…

What are your top two tips for people who are renovating a dining & living room on a budget?
1. Don’t underestimate the power of vintage or antique goods and combining that with a modern twist. Some people will assume that antiques are junk, but if you just be creative with it; you can make some really arty pieces. Everything that goes into a room is an opportunity to make something really creative and beautiful and it should be the best that it can be. I guess just thinking about how you can make little things interesting.
2. Make a list about what you feel is important in a room and then see if you can double and make that thing serve more than one purpose. For example the nib wall gave a few different solutions to a couple of different needs.

It’s a huge week ahead again for the couples as they work to complete the full interior of their apartments including their master bedroom, en-suite and walk-in wardrobe and I can’t wait to see what Chantelle loves so much about her master bedroom revealed next Sunday!

The Home Journal is an Interior design and Lifestyle blog by Dani Wales, fomer contestant on The Block.  Check out her blog for more inspiring articles.