Dara Huang on judging The Big Interiors Battle
The Big Interiors Battle is the latest must-watch for homes and interiors lovers on Channel 4. Hosted by AJ Odudu and judged by architect and interior designer Dara Huang (founder of Liberty Design Haus), the show will see eight contestants receive the key to a two-bed flat in a renovated cutlery factory in Sheffield. And it’s offering a life-changing prize – a brand new mortgage-free apartment.
With its exposed brickwork, cast iron columns and light-filled rooms, the Eyewitness Works, now owned by social impact developer Capital & Centric, is the perfect canvas. Each week, the contestants will take a new room in their apartment to design. They will learn their fate when they return to their apartments after judging. If their key card opens the door, they stay in the running for another week. But one designer’s door lock will turn red, signalling their departure from the competition.
‘I’ll be holding contestants to an extremely high standard as there’s a lot at stake here,’ says Dara. ‘They’ll need to employ genuinely innovative design hacks to create something original and impressive!’
Good Homes quizzes Dara to find out more about The Big Interiors Battle, which airs on Fridays at 8pm from 21 April 2023 on Channel 4…
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Tell us about the contestants?
When the team picked the contestants, I was like ‘wow, what an amazing selection of people’! A lot of them didn’t have design backgrounds but they sent over a portfolio of things that they had dabbled in, and their work looked so professional and so well done. Each contestant has their own look and vibe that wasn’t cliched or generic; it was very personal. One of the most important things for us was variety and diversity.
What are you looking for when judging the rooms?
Interiors and design are about intuition and the way you feel. Ambiance and non-tangible things are not one thing, they’re the totality of things. I was looking to walk into a room and think ‘wow’. A lot of our clients [at Liberty Design Haus], say they can’t put their finger on why this is so great, but it’s just a feeling. It just feels right. I want atmosphere, lighting, strong finishes, colours and fixtures. Everything needs to be right. It needs to hit the spot.
They had six spaces in the entire flat to design, including the communal hallway. The hallway is a very important space and it’s one that I think people ignore the most and it’s so important. It’s the first thing people see when they walk in. That first impression is so important.
What sets The Big Interiors Battle apart from other shows?
The contestants on The Big Interiors Battle have very different personalities with almost the same exact canvases. And you get to see how somebody does it with very small budgets [around £3,000 for the whole flat]. Many design shows are unobtainable or inaccessible – this show is about making the final look expensive on a tight budget. It’s all about taste and execution and finding those secret hacks. And of course, there’s the element of competition. It’s also about personal journey. As each contestant’s story starts to unfold, it becomes about personal development and professional growth.
What I like about the show, is that it doesn’t just touch upon, ‘oh look it’s pretty and glamorous’, it shows the pain and logistics and budgeting. So much of interiors is dirty. Painting things, scraping things… the thing with the show is that it’s very DIY. The contestants are doing it all themselves. You’ve got cheap ideas, you’ve got DIY, and you get to watch people’s breakdowns and breakthroughs.
How did you get into architecture and interior design?
When I was little, I was drawing. My parents really encouraged that, and took me to all of these art schools and these lessons. When I went to school, they were like, now you’ve got to pick a professional degree. Like, what’s a professional degree? I’m 18; I don’t know what that means! I didn’t really know what architecture was, but it was the closest thing to drawing I could find.
I went to the University of Florida and then got my masters at Harvard. I started in architecture and I kind of fell in love with it. I was so natural for me, it was drawing and ideas and it was very conceptual. I started my business, Liberty Design Haus, doing architecture and fit outs – floors, finishes and walls etc. Then I started getting interested in what takes it from a house to a home. The colours, the styling, the softness, the cosiness, the lighting. I started getting really into that and I just taught myself.
What’s your signature interiors style?
Beiges, neutrals, off whites, linens, cashmere. I like distressed metal and travertine. I love the classic, timeless, relaxing vibe much, I created a furniture and homeware line that I’m launching this year with Liberty Design Haus. I like styles you can blend. Things that look expensive, but aren’t. I like texture. Real stones, marbles, plush velvets, bouclé and shearling.
Do you have any design no-nos?
Yes. Don’t use all down lights and pendant lights at night. I know everyone does. But I just want everyone to buy a standing lamp and a desk lamp from Ikea. And actually you don’t even need a standing lamp, just get a desk lamp! With a bulb that is high enough to light the room. Anywhere from 60-100 watts is enough. Just turn on that lamp instead of the downlights for a week straight and you’ll feel so much less stressed. It’s such a nice way to come home and relax and wind down.
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