THE WOW FACTOR
Design goddess Shaynna Blaze lights up our screens in quest of something classical with a modern twist
She’s best known as one of Andrew Winter’s sidekicks in the successful Selling Houses Australia, along with handsome and industrious landscape designer Charlie Albone. Interior designer Shaynna Blaze, famous for her cushions, artful deployment of empty vases and display bottles and decorative job-lot artwork, has become one of television’s style queens, and she’s so popular she’s known to most of us by her first name.
She’s a bit of a sex symbol to the many men who tune in, it must be said, not just for her inexpensive bathroom makeovers. Blonde and emotionally intense, she’s also direct and forward moving, often almost on the run, constitutionally incapable of succumbing to melancholy, though laughter often has her close to tears.
She’s also handy with a paint roller, mixing it with the tradies, and has practically reinvented the throw or scatter rug, being artistically adept at random placement.
Her career has spanned not only interior design and commercial artist but entertainer and jazz singer, and in her design presentations there’s something of the sophisticated comedian about her, witty and self-reliant.
Her honesty and that sense of untrammelled enjoyment of being a celebrity are on full display in her new two-part special, Shaynna’s World of Design, which follows her on a highstakes journey through the glamorous design capitals of Milan, Venice and New York as she attempts to create an exclusive signature range of interior lighting with the possibility of international distribution.
As she says, lighting was once “a basic table lamp lying next to someone’s bed”; now it’s often the main feature of a room, capable of theatrically transforming it, fixtures as important when they’re turned off as when illuminated. But Shaynna is worried that our houses are all starting to look the same, lacking subtlety and character, altogether too pragmatic with art and poetry rigorously banished.
So she’s looking for something classical with a modern twist, heightened designs that provide architectural, sculptural pools of light. But, of course, this being a quasi-reality factual documentary, things do not really go to plan.
Along the way she talks to designers such as the influential if icy Australian expatriate Jeanne-Marie Cilento, editor-in-chief of Design & Art Magazine, in Milan, and idiosyncratic architect Iris Tassalini in Lake Como, a lively mistress of decoupage. And in the drollest sequence Shaynna shares a giant bird’s nest surrounded by huge white eggs with Rossana Orlandi, in her part design shop, part gallery, part sun-dappled courtyard cafe back in Milan as part of the famous Salone Internazionale Del Mobile.
Orlandi, known as the fairy godmother of designers, tiny but mercilessly vivacious, has some simple advice. “Live into the design,” she says intently, which they certainly seem to be doing in that bird’s nest thingo. Shaynna’s advice to us is less metaphysical. Add layers to let your rooms evolve, she advises, contain collections in clusters, re-purpose second-hand pieces and, above all, tell your own story.
The show is beautifully shot by photographers Matt Bronger and Enrico Stocco, and produced lightly with the right combination of design manual and travelogue by Amanda Brown. It’s the perfect coat hanger for Shaynna who, for all her glamour and “aspirationalism”, as TV designers like to say, is practised at constructing a kind of familiar neighbourly form of address. She’s the expert in those issues of personal style and fashion but as much determined that we change not only our houses but ourselves.
In this new series she blends the softer, more feminine concerns of the interior design world with the harder focus of manufacture, construction and marketing, tied together by Brown with a highly cinematic aesthetic. And while many highbrow makeover shows illustrate a class-infected style of guidance around questions of style, taste and sophistication, Shaynna exhibits a classless sense of chic, entertaining as much as she educates. I’m sure Blaze would agree there’s something atavistically satisfying in watching one of those so-called controlled explosions where massive buildings gracefully collapse in on themselves, brought down into their own footprint. They teeter, then fall in elegant slow motion, initially soundlessly after the blast, in a majestic blossoming of smoke and dust. All that concrete that took so long to construct instantly dust, decades of memories obliterated in a big bang, the perfect moment for a selfie.
Sometimes these so-called “blow-downs” cause a nationwide debate about the value of architecture and how we might improve the design quality of the built environment. “The fact is that a lot of modern architecture is monstrous, and seeing it blow up is an ecstatic release,” British architecture critic Jonathan Jones wrote recently, adamantly suggesting that 1960s tower blocks that were built in an ugly spirit of authoritarian design, combined with corrupt penny-pinching, deserve to be destroyed. “As for cooling towers that dominate a town or, much worse, an entire rural landscape, the fewer of them there are, the better.”
Well, they come down in wonderful fashion in the new BBC series Demolition: The Wrecking Crew, which follows the bringing down of some of the biggest buildings in Britain. It’s the story of a rough-and-tumble billion-dollar industry, a world of dynamite, dust and destruction, a continuous cycle of obliteration and redevelopment that’s changing the face of Britain.
With his format — part science demo (lots of physics with artful graphics), history lesson and blokey against-the-clock thriller — director and producer Adam Hopkins concentrates on revealing the difficulties of demolishing massive structures and the fastidiousness needed to safely reduce complex constructions to rubble. This is a pity. The stories of the experts and the often oddball, obsessive characters who plan, engineer and complete the removal of obsolete, damaged or dangerous buildings take a second seat to the sheer delight of blokes plugging holes with tonnes of explosives and hitting the detonating plunger.
Maybe in later episodes there will be greater comparisons between the demolished buildings and their replacements and more discussion about how the Brits used to work and live and how they might in the future, as the series seemed to promise.
In the first episode, a demolition crew from Coleman and Company attempt to bring down the 100m high, 10,000-tonne cooling towers of a decommissioned power station in Didcot that have long dominated the Oxfordshire landscape, their biggest job in 50 years. The locals are preparing to make the night a public event, camping out in surrounding fields, the atmosphere circus-like. But the demolition chaps are unhappy. It’s a job of work, they snap, not a public event. Meanwhile, Paul Johnston, a much smaller operator, is tasked with taking down a small bridge, facing severe financial penalties if he can’t complete the schedule.
And in Hastings one of Britain’s favourite piers desperately needs saving. It’s an intricate and difficult operation with some complex demolition conducted from a cage on the end of a gigantic hook dangling from a crane on board a specialist barge floated in from Norway.
While it’s all entertaining enough, it doesn’t explore why bad buildings were built in the first place and how they could blight the lives of communities that have to live with them. Although a sequence when the mother of the engineer in charge of the pier demolition is shown the results does give a sense of what a series about repairing damaged places might have been.
Johnston (“I say it as it is”), his accent as thick and gritty as a bucket of mortar, might have been worth a series in his own right. “That bridge has gone, that bridge is no more and what is everyone else doing?” he rasps as the dust settles. “Sitting on a couch watching The X Factor. Look what I’ve done. I’ve made a bridge disappear.”
8.30pm, BBC Knowledge.
Shaynna Blaze exhibits a classless sense of chic