Treble attuned to timber

May 22, 2020

Nicole Bittar


Harvesting the beauty of an environmentally sustainable material that needn’t cost the earth means the world to interior designer James Treble. Timber aficionado, TV personality, Planet Ark ambassador, and more, James’ talents and multi-faceted schedule for endorsing reclamation is a proliferation that knows no bounds.

Like the reclaimed, reusable and designer aesthetic of wood that forms the lifeblood of his home building and renovation practice, James is not only a familiar face, but also hands-on advocate for transforming timber as the ‘ultimate renewable’.

“The success and key for the building industry, or any ongoing industry, is to have our eye on sustainability,” he says. “So gone are the days when we could not worry about that. It’s not only an important thing, because we all want to feel good and feel that we’re having an impact. It’s actually now a tangible, saleable item for companies to be able to show that they’re proactive in doing something.” Innate conditioning also evokes an ingrained attraction to emulating nature in a home-centric environment.

“Australians are drawn towards the use of timber — there’s something grounded
about us,” he says. “Whether it’s having so much natural landscape around, which we’re fortunate to have; a lot of Australians have grown up with timber floorboards or timber in their homes. Even when I’m building new homes for younger generations, they are naturally drawn to timber, but are perhaps not quite sure why.”

Allow James to enlighten you.

“Timber is one of the only products that can be used and re-used in many applications, particularly in the building environment, but also in finishes for the house.

“As finishes change and homes change, we tend towards cleaner finishes. A lot of detail is disappearing from new homes: cornices are becoming simpler; things are becoming more minimalist and you can be at risk of achieving something that’s nice and clean and modern, but also sterile. Timber is the perfect solution to that.

“You end up with a clean, functional, easy-to-maintain, great-looking product, but one that also adds warmth to a space, especially with modern grey and charcoal-based colour schemes.”

But looks alone belie recognition for James’ grass-roots methodology. “I joined Planet Ark in 2014 when I was getting timber on TV show The Living Room and we were finding that I had to come up with renovating people’s living spaces on ridiculously low budgets,” James says.

“We used to go the ‘Salvos’ and find reclaimed things. The fact that they were made of solid timber meant that I knew, no matter what the surface was: I could sand it and either paint or stain, alter and cut it. With other finishes, particularly in furnishings, you can’t do that. That was really the benefit in how Planet Ark saw me, contacted me and I came on board.”

His childhood Carlingford Hills, Sydney home, complete with solid timber floorboards, French polished internal timber doors, a Tasmanian oak kitchen (“and a big floating timber mantelpiece above our fireplace that Dad had sourced from a reclaimed convict cottage in Parramatta”) clearly inspired James’ long-term passion and appreciation for timber’s life cycle.

“A table, chair or piece of furniture could be sanded, re-stained or resealed for our children and our children’s children. That’s the benefit of something that’s made of timber,” he says.

James’ voice of experience also speaks volumes for his predominance in the competitive television realm, given his recent coup as a panel member on the Nine Network’s Open Homes Australia and other TV projects in the pipeline. “It’s quite exciting to have longevity in a career where there’s young ones nipping at the heels who have six-packs and look amazing,” he says.

Experience is essential in creating lasting impressions that rely equally on visual appeal and core values. “Within my practice with finishes, I deal with mid-to-high-end homes and the nature of those finishes demand products that offer quality as well as beauty.

“People see benefit in spending money on a solid timber staircase because of function, but also the beauty of seeing the wood as almost a sculptural element in the home.”

James offers a proven track record for catering to aesthetic demand with high-sustainability and budgetary awareness.

“Renovation’s great, because you tend to find that people can re-use building materials, particularly if they’re pulling something off the back of a house and adding rooms,” he says.

“Those walls that they’re pulling off, the timber frames can definitely be re-used as timber frames because they’re not seen; they’re inside frames. You also tend to get new products where they’ve engineered timber on a plywood backing, so you’re getting the beautiful, natural grain of timber in an easy to lay form that doesn’t require sanding and finishing – you can walk on it straight away.

“And the ply is also renewable and sourced responsibly because it is natural timber. But it’s cross laminated, which means you can get wider planks without it being top nailed, as they click together.”

Similarly, the renewability, sustainability and affordability ethos of adopting wood as a construct for good also interconnect.

“A lot of information that came out of (the previous) Make It Wood campaign was that we all understand and can digest that we feel good when we walk through forest, bush and parks,” James says.

“But what was really interesting was that there’s actually scientific proof that timber, to look at and live with, has indeed many benefits for us – we now know that it helps to lower blood pressure and heart rate, and helps us to feel calm.”


House Koller by Architect Prineas
Tate House by Ian Sercombe Architect
Lightwood Court Pole House by Koch Pole Houses