Conversations and Colour: Deb Bibby
Deb Bibby needs no introduction. For someone so softly spoken, she holds an intelligence and creativity that quietly simmers away, powerful in her understatement. Warm, gentle, fierce - what may seem like a paradox is supremely Deb.
And if you're thinking: "Well I don't know Deb." You do. She's the mastermind (founding editor-in-chief, no less) behind the cult-like status of lifestyle magazine real living. Within both interiors and fashion, Deb has edited publications across London and Sydney for over 20 years.
Content specialist. Creative consultant. Chief storyteller. Beautiful inside and out, and an absolute zeitgeist, we were lucky to spend some time with Deb at her home, a boatshed overlooking Pittwater, to chat about life defining moments, favourite get-up-out-of-your-chair tunes, and how Deb packed her pink Fiat with her HSC artworks to score a spot at the Sydney College of the Arts.
Tell us who you are and what you want us to know about you: I'm Deborah Bibby (also known as DB, Bibbi, Beborah Dibby, Deb Bibby, PDiddy), I can't get enough of interiors, design and architecture - fashion is also always there in the background forever an influence. The big love of my life is my son Jack. Family and loyal friends mean everything to me. I'll grab adventure when it crosses my path (except...nothing could make me jump out of a plane). I'm forever grateful for the exciting life my parents created for us in Ireland, Africa and Australia - we are gypsies. I love life and wish it weren’t so damn short - 100 years is over in a flash.
Where do you live and what do you love about it? I live in a boathouse on the water's edge in the National Park, the Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park which is on the Australian National Heritage list (thank goodness), it is on the western foreshores of Pittwater. My bay has no name and lies beneath a magnificent forest of eucalyptus trees, the forest is called Woody Point, access to my little boathouse is via the water. The boathouse was the original house on the property and besides a coat of paint she has remained untouched. For a boathouse she's big with two bedrooms, a wonderful vaulted ceiling, an open plan living, dining and office right over the water; the kitchen is tiled in big format 70's pink tiles and the bathroom is tiled in tiny pink mosaics from floor to ceiling - she's a little rickety, has a shingle roof and a jetty that reaches nearly across the bay - she's a serious charmer. When I need a break from working at the desk I lift my feet off the floor and my chair rolls back at a cracking pace towards the wall behind me as the floor slopes back into the hill - it's a good ride and always cracks me up. You need your core turned on to stay put. The windows blow gusts of air through the slots and rattle in the Southerlies but the thing that really gets me is the light just before sunrise.
Last Christmas my son Jack and his girlfriend Alli gifted me my first little tinnie, they wrapped her from stern to bow in tinsel and motored up the Pittwater on Christmas morning - it was the most wonderful surprise! She is called BUG but I'm pretty sure the neighbours John and Peter would like to rename her LEAKY BOAT for the numerous leaks they keep fixing. When the water is flat and the sun shines it sheer joy to jump in BUG and head to a meeting or grab the shopping, it makes the start to the day dreamlike. There is so much to love about living over here, the walking tracks, the muddy mangroves, the luminous green swimming holes, the sound of the changing tide at my front door, the wallabies when you least expect them; the pitch black at night, the trees so tall you can't see their tops, the waterfalls when it rains and the wildflowers in spring - you are immersed in nature and the kindness of people over here. It all makes sense.
How did your career start - and to date - what’s been your best achievement? I was studying fashion and textile design at Sydney College of the Arts and the fashion editor of Cleo magazine at the time asked me to join as her as her fashion assistant. The head of the college said it was an opportunity to good to pass up and they would defer me for a year and so my love affair with magazines began, I never went back. I became fashion editor of Cleo a year later and then at 22 I was offered the editorship of Dolly magazine. After two years at Dolly I was poached for a wonderful teen title in the UK, off on another adventure and so it goes...
Years ago, I would've said my best achievement was winning numerous awards as editor-in-chief of real living magazine and consistent circulation and readership growth blah, blah but, having once experienced life in a toxic work environment I would now say my best career achievement as an editor with a team of 11 under my wing was creating an incredibly happy, confident team for ten years at real living magazine. We cared for and supported each other 110 percent of the time - you could see this translated onto the pages of real living - it had an energy and joy you only get from a happy, confident team. Hell, I was always so excited to get to work on a Monday. I think it is every managers responsibility to ensure all your team feel safe and nurtured, only then can real success happen. This has to date been my greatest work achievement, I am most proud of this and when I hear of past team members successes - I still feel like a 'mother hen' proud of her chicks.
What’s been the best influence on you? The best influence on me from a career perspective was a publisher called Phil Scott - I was terrified and in awe of him all at the same time. Phil taught me so much about editing and publishing, he never held anything back and I gobbled up the information, it was a privilege to work with him. He was a legend. Day one on the job I remember my first meeting, he told me he would always have my back, would always say it how it was and he did, I can't thank him enough for that (note to self: must go visit him and thank him again)
How has your life changed over the last year? I'm living the dream. I always imagined living offshore in the national park and was looking to buy a little shack but couldn't find the right one and my agent suggested renting before buying. I joked if he could find me a boathouse on the water I was in, the next day he called and within a week I had packed a bag of clothes, a box of work, a favourite artwork, the good linen and my disco ball and rented out my house at Clareville to a lovely couple who wanted everything left, even my moodboard! And, here I am scribbling to you with the tide high and the water under my feet, seals and stingrays at the end of the jetty, diamond pythons in the sun (and yes, a few dangerous creatures too, Death Adders and Brown snakes but fortunately have seen neither in the year that I've lived here) plus there are some wonderful hikes to waterfalls and magical muddy mangroves. But what has surprised me the most is the warmth of the small community, it has been like walking into a hug.
How has living through a pandemic affected you? For me it gave me breathing space and a real sense of freedom creatively. It also made working from home okay and that's why I decided to take the leap and experience living across the bay - the timing was perfect.
It also gave me time to be with my mum and family - we hunkered down at the boathouse when Avalon was in lock down and played card games, ate cheese (yes, we put on weight), drank wine and laughed a lot. An unexpected bonus. In general, the pandemic gave me time to look, reflect and look up. It's made me grateful for where I live in the world.
What’s your go-to song that never fails to cheer you up? Sorry I can't pick one! Here's three... Breathless Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds; Mrs Robinson by The Lemonheads - I immediately think of the interior in the film (tragic, I know), I love her rebellious nature; and this little surprise (go listen) the beautiful Heath Ledger singing Franki Valli's Can't Take My Eyes Off - these all make me dance like a fool around the room.
Finish this sentence: the book that changed my life is... I don't have a book that literally changed my life but I do have a book I am devouring at the moment that could potentially change my life, it's called DESIGN Building on Country by Alison Page and Paul Memmott, it's the second book in the First Knowledges series of books. It's about a deeper understanding about what 'Country' is, how we can reconnect back to country, the ingenuity of indigenous Australians and our ecological responsibility to care for and redesign the future. It's a call out to the design community to truly respond to the essence of Country and its people. It's a must-read and not just for the design community. This quote from the book will get you..." Our objects, interiors and places can be an extension of the Songlines that crisscross this country in every direction and are a web of knowledge embedded in our everyday lives." I love that, it's the only way forward.
And worst? I feel every influence good or bad has a purpose. My brother's death was the worst influence on me in my life at the time but his gift was teaching me to try to not judge and to always show compassion. I now understand how important mental health is, I never knew his pain. I have indelible memories of him, miss him like mad, celebrate him often and have gratitude for the unexpected gift.
Life defining moment? Missing out by one mark to get into Sydney College of the Arts and packing all my HSC Major Work sculptures into my tiny pink fiat Bambini and driving to the Uni. I unpacked them in the carpark and begged for an interview - I got it and won a spot. That was one of several defining moments. Whether defining moments are positive or negative I feel they all take huge 'courage' in the moment but always important to find the possibilities in a situation and to give it a red hot go, what have you got to lose? Someone can only say, no - so what.
Favourite artwork/artist? So many... but if I have to choose one it's the one hanging on my wall by Jessica Falstein, a New York artist. Her work is mesmerising.
What’s one thing you have to do each and every day? Walk up the little mountain behind my place with thermos of coffee (or 'sludge' as my son likes to call it) do a mini meditation, inhale the sludge and jog back down the mountain to the desk for the day.
Your favourite way to spend the weekend? First up seeing mum with croissants and coffee at our favourite haunt Bookoccino in Avalon and then a long lazy lunch or dinner with friends, laughing hard. Sunday is a hike in the national park followed by bursts of creativity - it's the endorphins from the bush.
Favourite Little Tienda piece? The big creamy toned knit that looks like it might swallow you whole.
Go-to beauty product you can’t live without? Sothys Hydra Intensive Hydrating Serum and Micellar Cleansing Water.
At a dinner party I am likely to be... the host stressing out about the food because I spent too much time styling the table!
Describe your fashion style in five words: Jeans an oversized jacket and shirt (don't tell anyone but bigger sizes make you look skinny, ha-ha).
And what’s next on the agenda for Deborah Bibby? Two interior design projects, one is the US and one up the road in Palm Beach NSW. It's exciting to be a part of creating a beautiful home for someone. Also working on a series of interior one-shots for Funke Media in Germany. And they could be onboard for developing a personal project in the interior space - hopefully news to come soon.
The Covid shut down opened some exciting new doors with all the work overseas - it made working from home okay and managing projects via Zoom possible.
Photography: Jacqui Turk