You may recognise her from lifestyle television shows such as Changing Rooms and Renovation Rescue but there is a whole lot more to interior designer Deborah DeJong than meets the eye. Motivational speaker, champion of women and master of reinvention, she’s living proof it’s never too late to follow your dreams.
Deborah DeJong was born to stand out. Not one to follow the pack, she knew from an early age that she wanted to make her mark in the world.
An entrepreneur at heart, Deborah and her then husband co-founded Fantastic Furniture in 1989 with just $5000 and a dream.
“My ex husband and I started at the Parklea markets in Sydney selling furniture, then we opened a retail store in Blacktown and ended up building 20 company-owned stores, with 500 staff and our own factory,” says Deborah.
It allowed me to see that if you are driven and have a dream, you can build something amazing from nothing.”
The couple sold the business, which grew to become a large consortium called Fantastic Holdings, and was sold to global furniture group Steinhoff International for $361 million last year.
“We sold the business because we were moving into different chapters of our life,” says Deborah.
Always looking for her next challenge, it was after the birth of her only son, Deborah began studying interior design and discovered she had a natural flair for it.
“The opportunity to join Channel Nine as an on-screen presenter on several of their lifestyle shows presented itself and I absolutely loved it,” says Deborah.
I love the whole makeover aspect of a room or a house. I love the before and after, not only of the space but the people as well.
“To see a home that needs work and give it some love and make it look fabulous is so rewarding. I loved drawing on my creativity and seeing what other people may not have seen or putting their vision into reality. Seeing people’s faces light up when they see the end product is priceless.
“As women, we all have a common denominator, and that’s our nest. If the nest isn’t right, life gets out of kilter,” says Deborah.
“Life is busy and fast and if you don’t have somewhere to disarm and download and just be, there is no respite from the world. You have to create a sense of yourself in that space rather than what is being dictated by the markets, the rules are there are no rules.”
With a public profile came speaking engagements, both nationally and internationally, to women’s conferences, events and summits. This is where Deborah discovered a love for speaking to the hearts of people and helping them find their passion and purpose to fulfill their dreams.
“I love to champion people. I don’t think there is anything more rewarding,” says Deborah.
“If I can be a catalyst for someone to make their dream happen, that’s complete fulfilment for me. From a makeover perspective, when I get up and talk about interior design, I’m also talking about the person’s interior, making over the house is making over the person as well. I can see how to bring out the best in them too.”
It hasn’t all been smooth sailing for Deborah, she has faced her own personal challenges along the way, including the breakdown of her marriage, which she says helped her gain a new perspective on what life was like for those who had suffered setbacks and loss – a new compassion and motivation to even further encourage women in their world to be self-sufficient and to find and follow their dreams.
“My life was perfect and rosy, I had a child, I had a business, I had a career in television and suddenly that all fell over. My marriage ended, my son went to live with his dad, the television show folded and I thought, ‘What now?’,” says Deborah.
I had to think, ‘Okay, well who am I without all the trimmings?’ and I had to pick myself up and say, ‘Actually I’m pretty spectacular on my own’.
“I have a passion for life, for building something from nothing. I reiterated my story recently and helped someone who had given up on life. My story gave her permission to realise she had a purpose. If you can be the key that unlocks someone else’s story you have to share yours.
“As you age, your priorities change. For me, the real value in what I’ve got is people. My personal conviction is the only thing you take with you at the end of the day is the stories of the people whose lives you have changed.
I think when you are younger there is an incredible desire to achieve, but life changes and you stop looking at yourself and start thinking how can I make a difference, how do I make my life worthwhile?”
Currently spending her time between the Sunshine Coast and Sydney, Deborah is working with a trio of sisters who have created a successful business as property stylists to teach others how to make a living in interior design.
“These talented sisters started from their garage and now have 25 staff. I’m working with them to create a property styling academy. It’s a wonderful project. I’m getting to champion these girls who have a dream and in the process I’m building something that can be a tool for other people to change their life,” says Deborah.
“When I see people who are dusty and tired of where they are in life, I’m passionate about helping them transition to a better space, kickstarting them to a new and exciting path.”
Like fine wine, Deborah is getting better with age, and if her past is anything to go by, the best is yet to come.
Deborah’s top 10 tips to make your home sing
1. DE-CLUTTER I understand life gets busy but we have to start with a good foundation, so give the house a detox before you decorate.
2. CONTRAST The magic happens when two things collide, whether it be texture, contrast between light and shade, contrast of scale or differences between colour, materials or patterns, you need to find opportunities for variation and contrast.
3. FOCAL POINTS Whether it’s a staircase, a fireplace, a dramatic arrangement, a beautiful sculpture or an opening to a view, you need to consider a focal point for each space.
4. LESS IS MORE A large component of decorating/styling is really about editing. Know what to put on display – and select pieces with maximum impact and little clutter.
5. ECLECTIC SHOULD LOOK EFFORTLESS As easy as this looks and sounds in magazines and books, it’s a tricky look to pull off without knowing the fundamentals.
6. GET ARTY A brilliant centrepiece artwork speaks volumes about who you are and what you love.
7. MIX HIGH AND LOW-END PIECES Mixing and matching from a variety of sources speaks more powerfully about the homeowner’s sense of style than their bank balance.
8. LIGHT IT UP It doesn’t matter how expensive, luxurious and beautiful some items, finishes and materials are, they will never look good under bad lighting.
9. NATURAL BEAUTY This one is so easy! Fresh flowers, potted plants, long lean branches or fresh herbs in the kitchen immediately enhances a home’s look.
10. UPCYCLE Breath new life into old pieces by giving them a coat of paint.