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Matt & Kim bring it home for the win!

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, and 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 day while eating dinner at the dining table or catching up with friends in the living room, so these two areas are definitely two of the most important in the entire house.
This week on The Block we saw the couples struggle with their budgets and designs to ultimately deliver 5 outstanding living and dining areas that any family could fit seamlessly into. But coming out on top this week with nothing but praise from the judges was Matt & Kim.

I have honestly never “fist pumped” at a Block win before, but I felt these guys really deserved it, as they have had me excited each week at their bold and original design ideas. This week the judges felt Matt and Kim “got the balance exactly right”. They said the floor was “amazing” and the timber feature wall was a “risky feature that has paid off handsomely”. Shaynna even went as far to say that she wanted to hug the couple for “showing the maturity of listening to the judges every week – but now going beyond their expectations and never losing sight of [their] own creativity”.

I caught up with a very proud Matt to learn a little more about his and Kim’s winning living and dining room.

Living and Dining week is honestly one of my favourite weeks, as we get to see a whole range of talents and products, and you guys have definitely not disappointed this week. There are so many great features and fabulous things to look at in your room this week. What is your favourite element/product this week?

Hmmm. Kim and I have too many. Here are Kim’s in order of mouth foaming joy: the porcelain pendants, the recycled timber wall and the featherstons. Mine are the dining chairs (it breaks my heart that we won’t be keeping them), the messmate dining table, and the custom bookshelf. To be honest, the rooms themselves we love most. They are our greatest design effort to date. Heaps proud!

Where did you draw your inspiration from this week? Did you have starting point?

The starting point was the continuation of the existing elements. The recycled timber wall in the pantry, the Tas oak throughout the house, and polished rendered wall. It’s important to create repetition in a house for continuity and resale. We knew the dining room was a chance to pull the house together. I always knew the house would come together, but I must admit, you certainly don’t see that on TV.

The immediate wow factor for me in your dining and living room this week is how open and sophisticated it feels thanks to your smart layout and great use of materials such as the large-scale concrete tiles and recycled timber walls. I also love the colour pops and DIY joinery. Talk us through your design process and what you wanted to achieve for this area?

Our goal was to prove that we could please all 3 judges and not lose our style. The themes for the house were artistic touch, architectural high-end features, and to combine soft and hard elements. For example, the polished render wall with the poppy pink artwork. They balance each other out beautifully. The suspended recycled timber wall would act as the division between the public and private parts of the house. It had to be strong and architectural. The rest of the room was a balancing act to offset that wall. Pinks and purples were a good starting point to do so. The Tas oak bookshelf was another. The soft pendants sat beautifully above the sleek dining table. Kim and I take risks every week,and what comes with that is the extra challenge of creating balance. From this point on in the show, we have that balance.

The judges commented that the layout of the lounge room in particular is just right, and feels like a conversational area while functioning as a TV room. What do you think is clever about your overall design?

Well I guess it showed that we had considered the buyer. I don’t imagine a 9 to 5 TV obsessed person to purchase this property, but rather an executive couple/retired couple. This is an inner city entertainer’s apartment with the backbone of a family home, and I hope our design reflects that. Melbourne is cold. Whilst the terrace is an opportune place to share a drink and converse, I don’t feel it caters to all seasons and moods (except for ours of course, coming soon!) By giving the lounge a dual purpose it gives the buyer more for their money.

What was the most challenging aspect of designing your dining/living room this week?

I’d say creating the balance in the room whilst maintaining our ideas. There were little moments of success. The bookshelf we designed helps to balance the off-center window. I was very proud of that. It’s really nice when you can look around a room and say we designed that and the judges love it. That has been our ethos for the entire show and I think it’s the only way in becoming a good designer. Not that we are there yet. We never intended to steal from magazines. That is so easy and boring, and in can build false hope.

What happened to the Pandomo flooring!? I personally loved it, but I also love the concrete tiles. What was the reason for changing up the flooring this week?

The epoxy floor had to go. It was amazing, and belongs in a future home of ours, but the reality of not winning another room was too critical. I knew we would win a room eventually; we’re never short on ideas, we just had to get back to basics and produce two rooms that were restrained and elegant.

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?

Kim and I worked til 3am just about every night. I lost 11 kilos. Our budget was never a major concern because we did a lot of the work ourselves. The plan was to spend big in the most frequented areas: the dining, lounge, terrace, master and kitchen. These areas HAD to be inviting, you had to want to walk in and try them out, and each of those rooms has these features. There were times when we doubted ourselves, but our problems were different to other contestants. Ours weren’t what are we going to do, but more what aren’t we going to do!

How have you found your overall experience so far, and is it what you expected?

Nothing can prepare you for The Block. Nothing! Bec, for example, came to The Block with scrapbooks full of ideas, and it only got her so far. Everyone had their secret game plan, and for the most part it worked to no avail. The Block’s job is to create uncertainty; our job is to deal with it and renovate like mad. I have learnt a lot about dealing with pressure and understanding what real refined design is. My advice would be to know your stores in that city and come into it with a fresh mind. Don’t try to preempt anything, because they (The Block) have already thought of that (I make them sound so evil!)

Coming into The Block 2013, did you have a game plan, and has it changed since the competition has progressed?

I had a stack of insane ideas ready for The Block. The panic room was one. We quickly learnt that this show celebrates those whom understand the needs of the mainstream best. It is not a blank canvas to throw paint at. But as someone who is studying a design major, I could never just do that. Kim and I have learnt how to refine a big idea and make it palatable. It’s been such an amazing learning curve, and I feel imagination is everything. So with some guidance from the judges and some openness to opinion and criticism, I feel Kim and I are now in a great place in the show.

How have you approached the design aspect of the competition? Are you trying to stay consistent and true to your taste and style, or are you altering it depending on the judges’ comments and feedback each week?

We have treated the judges for what they are: professionals. They have a wider scope on design, and it’s free for us to learn from, and that’s an amazing thing. Our apartment, whilst daring in some people’s eyes, has been refined every week throughout the show. The kitchen design we booked early, so that doesn’t truly reflect our journey accurately, but for the most part we are moving in one direction. By the end I hope we have won Australia over with a tasteful and unique apartment.

Every time I have been asked tips and advice about renovating, my number one thing has always been “have great tradies and plan for EVERYTHING to go wrong”. What’s your number one piece of advice for aspiring renovators?

Well there are the usual ones, like “give yourself 20% more money and time that you feel you will need”. But I think a good one is to select some base elements that will link your project together. In ours, it’s shadow-line ceilings, Tas oak finishes, and polished rendered walls. The rest can be an experiment as long as they relate to those base elements.

You guys are producing a very design savvy apartment and seem to have your target market firmly set. Who do you think is your biggest threat come auction day?

The reserves will decide all. I feel the twins should do well. To be honest, I hope everyone makes a bucket load to lead them onto the next phase of their lives. It’s been a long road.

What are your top five tips for people whom are renovating a dining and living room on a budget?

1. Just that: budget out every item first, then you can cull or adjust where necessary.
2. Do the background work yourself, build the timber frame, and plaster the walls. These things are behind the finished product, and are never seen. There is no reason why good money should be spent in these areas. I couldn’t hang a ceiling in the first week. 6 weeks later l can do it on my own.
3. Create spaces that you will use. If you like to read, create a space that you want to dive into every day. Mood light, create a space for your coffee cup and biscuits, surround it with book shelves…whatever it is you like, do it. Don’t wait for the next house. Don’t create a space you feel you ‘should’ create.
4. Hunt high and low for your furniture and materials.
5. Use your imagination to dream up cheap ways of creating an expensive look. As an example – recycled timber is cheap, but has such a powerful impact when designed into a space cleverly.

To get Matt and Kim’s winning look, check out Matt & Kim's shopping basket at The Block Shop or for more from Dani, head to The Home Journal