This beautiful old dame was built in 1910, but after the second world war, she suffered the indignity of an internal separation. Due to the housing shortage at that time in Sydney, large homes were frequently divided into flats, and to that end, Merrilla's staircase was gutted to provide an upper and a lower apartment, with separate street entrances.
The federation era was a particularly lovely one. It was defined by quite distinctive lines that were at once modern in the context, but deferential to the grace of the Victorian era that preceded it. Same high ceilings and graceful lines, but updated deep balconies more fitting for our climate arrived.
The detail was simplified on the Victorian: wider, less ornate architraving, wood panelling featured more inside and cleaner, less fussy ceiling treatments replaced the overly decorative earlier model.
The emergence of this style of architecture coincided with the federation of Australia at the turn of the 20th century and so somehow for me, it feels linked to our national identity. The aspirations for future were embodied in the bold changes of the era and remain a legacy of those exciting times.
But there isn't anything too exciting about dated kitchens, no matter how modern they might have been in their day! And we live differently now; increasingly, people are dispensing with separate dining rooms in favour of a more relaxed style of cooking/dining/living spaces.
To that end, Merrilla was updated with a new pavilion for exactly that purpose. Connecting to the original house by a glass link, the addition was able to respectfully find it's own space on the site where it could be enjoyed and admired for all its modernity, while old Merrilla could sit back and maintain her integrity.
The shingles that clad the new building refer politely to the shingling prevalent in the federation era, yet are cleverly reinterpreted for a more modern aesthetic. The low profile steel doors are designed to blend seamlessly with the room, to deliberately not be a statement in and of themselves, but again, rather as a non compete with the woodwork history of the house.
This is a 1930's P&O house, a Deco era building style that refers to the great modern ocean liners of those times that were revolutionising and glamourising sea travel. The signature curved walls, round porthole windows, glass bricks, flat and railed roof areas, and streamlined detail of these buildings emulated the nautical elegance of the Pacific and Orient Line ships and became symbols of all that was modern and desirable in architecture prior to the Second World War.
If you stand on the roof deck of a building like this one, and take in the 180 degrees views of Sydney Harbour sparkling through the trees all around you, you can quickly feel like the master and commander of the ship!
For this project, we sourced a mix of original 1930's furniture to honour the era, and blended it with the comfort and design of more modern times. The Deco era was famous for its brave and varied use of colour, and so in a nod to that extravagance, we chose a deep red for the downstairs study, but kept to lighter more neutral tones for the rest of the house.
By the client's own admission, gardening had not been a feature of their previous enjoyment of the property, and an abandoned plan to build a back deck during earlier kitchen works had left a perilous drop from the back doors to the concrete paving 1.5 meters below. By constructing a stepped deck, we were able to maximise the outdoor space and create lush garden around it to give it beauty and privacy, ensuring the family's enjoyment of it year round.
This cute as a button country cottage had been languishing behind a veritable jungle of wild garden in one of the prime streets of Berry, a cute as a button country town on the coast two hours south of Sydney.
With a couple of clever architectural manoeuvres, we were able to transform it from a forlorn and forgotten little house, to a light-filled, beautiful home.
We started by gutting the laundry and single bathroom and reconfiguring the floor plan of that side of the house to accomodate a smaller, more stream lined galley laundry next to the kitchen, and divided the remaining space to create a good sized main bathroom and an ensuite for the mater bedroom.
We then completely refurbished the kitchen, taking out an old Agar like stove, and closing off the room from the laundry, to which it originally, bizarrely, opened!
The fireplace in the living room was a monstrosity - not only did it take up a considerable portion of the footprint of the room, but it clearly hadn’t ever drawn well and consequently, the mantlepiece was charred and we were amazed the house had never caught fire!
By removing the fireplace and the wall behind it which had formed an entry hall at the front door, we were able to push the living space back against the wall of the first bedroom. We then installed a gas fireplace in that wall so that the room and indeed the whole house, could be warmed by the smokeless logs that sit safely in their box posing no threat to anyone!!
The front door was removed and a new front door unit in the style of the old french doors was positioned on the other side of the house by the kitchen. The old french doors we removed to make that possible, we repositioned back where the front door had been - if that makes any sense!! In effect, we ended up with the three original sets of french doors (one repositioned) and a new unit front door unit, along with an original wide window to create a room that felt airy and light and large, where previously it had been cold, cramped, and closed.
Tiled flooring is cold, cold, cold, which is why it is so popular in warmer climate. But on the south coast, this was a feature we needed to remedy with carpet. The result is a warmer and cosier feel that is lighter than the awful dark tiles and so much quieter to live in.
All the woodwork in the cottage was unpainted and the timber had, over time, dried out and looked dark, dusty and dreary. The poor painters we engaged probably never want to SEE a french door or multi-paned window again, let alone paint one! It was a huge and fiddly job to paint the multiple coats required to bring the desired finish we see now.
Outside too, the timber had been left unpainted and the pavers on the veranda were unsealed - so out they went to make way for a new appreciation of concrete and more painting!
The fence and garden were spruced up, with many failing shrubs and scraggly trees removed to let the sunlight in on a new garden and lawns.
Interior lights were all replaced in favour of down lights and DC ceiling fans, and feature exterior lighting was installed, as was a reticulation system.
So now this cute as a button cottage is as bright as a button, sitting pretty in its Berry lovely neighbourhood!
Click here to see what the house looked like before we started!
Far Meadow House
From an inauspicious start, this home on top of Moyen Hill just outside of Berry, now commands its position overlooking Coolangatta Mountain, the ocean, and the Berry escarpment, with pride.
What a challenge to get it there!
This was truly a story of transformation, taking a 1980's bungalow with little architectural merit, mired in a mucky, messy, snake infested muddle - to a spacious, gracious and groovy weekender for a large family.
The first hurdle was everything. There was not one redeeming feature, save for the views from every window. The house was mean and it was in a state of neglect and sad decay and let me say this, it was not a project for the faint hearted.
But faint hearted is something I am not. I was so inspired by the position of the house and instantly fell in love with what I could plainly see as its potential.
We set to work gutting absolutely everything we could rip out, chuck out and chase out, including a veritable community of black snakes who were not, are not, happy! The carpets had been pulled out and dumped in the mud outside and our thought there was, be grateful for small mercies!! It meant firstly that we didn’t have to pull it up ourselves, but more importantly, we could immediately see that the concrete slab was in great condition and would be ideal for polishing.
I love a concrete anything!
We reconfigured the bathrooms to create a main bathroom and two ensuites, with a cupboard style laundry in the hallway behind bifold doors. We also reclaimed the garage as a study, raising the floor level to match the rest of the house and replaced the roller door with matching aluminium frame windows. Mostly people want to rip old aluminium window frames OUT, but not us. That nasty little thing called budget…
With a new kitchen installed, new curtains and a BEAUTIFUL Philippe Cheminee fireplace now gracing the living area, the interior of the house was now a stunning, relaxed, sun filled home. We needed to turn our attentions outside.
We considered adding a wrap around verandah to the whole house, but in the end decided that that would look like an expensive apology for the lack of 1980s architectural flair. Instead, our architect decided to construct solid pergolas out from each end of the building, front and rear, that would add a little gravitas and take the heat off the house. In other words, provide some distraction by way of innovative architectural intelligence!
By levelling the ground surrounding the house and constructing substantial retaining walls, we were able to include a pool at the eastern end of the house and we ran the rear pergola out at the same distance to give a sense of balance. The result is pretty lush.
Investing in landscape design seems to many to be a luxury they’re not inclined to indulge in, but having spent so much on a renovation, I think it’s a crying shame not to enhance the buildings by creating a garden. The return in value terms is exponential - because you’re creating a home, rather than just renovating a house. If there is a financial barrier, I would always suggest organising the budget to include the garden at the outset of planning, rather than scrambling to find funds at the end from a budget that will invariably be staggering to cross the finish line.
In the case of this property, we planted multiple trees; birch, manchurian pears and a grove of citrus, as well as lining the long driveway with London plane trees. At each end of the house, we planted Boston Ivy that is now spreading over the house like wildfire and giving a spectacular Autumn display. At the base of the ivy, we planted rows of rosemary, and behind the house we constructed raised vegetable beds from railway sleepers. May I say, the peacocks who roam freely love those beds and more alarmingly, shed snake skins have been sighted!
Work on a farm is never finished and we continue to plan and plant more trees in the paddocks surrounding the house to provide not only a visual feature, but also shelter against the elements for the sheep and cows who live here.
I love nothing better than a dump - because in a dump, a paradise can be found if you know how to look! Check out the before photos of this dump here!
The brief for Paddington House was give it a kick up the bum. Built in the 1990s and in great condition, the owner had moved in with her three children and never quite had energy left over to stylise it to her taste.
Being a single mother with a busy practice, the requirement was to try to solve some of the storage issues, the laundry rabbit warren, replace the aging kitchen and much more besides. It’s hard work being a mother, and even harder being a single mother, so we needed to make the house work better and install a sense of calm as we did so.
A lot of what was required was actually already there - good artwork, interesting bits and pieces - but critically, a client who was absolutely open to suggestions and unafraid of bold colour moves.
We undertook some minor structural work, like flipping the french doors so that they opened outward, and removing a wall that separated the laundry from the downstairs loo. By fitting new cabinetry in the laundry, we were able to turn a cramped and impossible space into a spacious, efficient and pleasant place for a mother of three teenagers to function in.
The kitchen was dated and had more teeny tiny and useless drawers than I’ve ever come across. The new cabinetry is taller, the island bench is deeper and the lighting is greatly enhanced by the new natural white surfaces.
With the french doors now opening out instead of in, the overall sense of space within the kitchen/dining area is hugely improved and the aesthetic is finally corrected. What had those previous builders been thinking??!!
The living room was made cosy by installing a wall of cabinetry that houses the TV and a thousand books. The effect of a wall of books has a profound effect and somehow lends a certain quiet to any room. We installed a sliding door between the dining and living room that literally disappears into the bookshelves when not in use, and when it is closed, it’s as though the room is hugging you. The use of the green colour also helps to create that library feel that is a welcome relief in a busy loud world!
The bedrooms were a pleasure to do - sun filled and warm, they were crying out from a break from the dull cream they were originally and the master bedroom now looks stunning with its beautiful Porters grey/green and Society bed linen. What a dreamy room!
It isn’t always practical or possible to do everything in a house at once - and in fact it makes me laugh to think that highest on this client’s agenda for me was to help her turn a tiny little cupboard of a room into a workable office space from where she could run her consultancy practice. Instead, we’ve almost done the whole house and in time, will finish it by refurbishing the bathrooms and potentially the garage.
Good thing her business is booming!
Perhaps the best thing I did in this house, as in so many houses I have the privilege working with, was being a task master when it came to culling the crap. We sent rubbish to the tip and to Vinnies by the skip load, allowing the family to shed a mountain of STUFF, thereby creating space in which to actually live. It’s a lesson to us all - the possessions we value are often doing us harm, cluttering our homes and our headspace and so to ditch it, is utterly liberating.
My client and her kids now enjoy a home that enjoys them. Such a good feeling to know I helped them achieve this new happy space.
The Republic ll building in Darlinghurst was designed by Burley Katon Halliday (BKH) and was built in 2000 on the old Sargents Pies site.
Iconic, stylish and just a short walk to the CBD, this is an exceptional place to live if it's inner Sydney living you're after.
The brief here was to completely revamp and refurnish the apartment, removing a truly awful crimson, glossy kitchen fit-out for starters! You’ll see the before shots over on the blog, but for now, enjoy the photos here of this groovy and lush new home.
This apartment is long and narrow and while the bedrooms on the entrance level are flooded with natural light, the kitchen which is at the back of the downstairs level, is not. So it made sense to instal a new kitchen that would reflect light, not absorb it.
We went with a warm shade of white for the cupboard fronts, and a beautiful marble bench top to match the original bathroom shelving, and we were very happy with the result. Note that there are no fussy cupboard handles, a pet hate of mine!
The original timber floor was quite a golden colour and was in bad need of resurfacing. Rather than just revarnish it, we went for a more contemporary Japan black, which strikes a dramatic contrast with al the white. A lovely semi gloss finish gives the floor a warm and soft lustre.
It’s so much fun when a client puts total faith in you - and shopping at Jardan Furniture is a pleasure I like to relive over and over! We mixed up the glories of Jardan by adding a beautiful 18th century french farm table and old green metal cinema dining chairs, a beautiful richly coloured hide for the floor, and to top it all off, a Kate Mackenzie original portrait.
Art is so integral to good design - it can quite literally make or break the impact of any room. I discovered Kate Mackenzie in NZ and have had great delight in sourcing fabulous works by her for a number of my clients, not to mention for myself. Check her out in the artist section above.
Moving upstairs, the bedrooms are quite small and so we avoided cluttering them with excess furniture, opting to let the linen and the feature wallpaper be the wow factor. The wallpaper was sourced from Wallpaper Trader, a fabulous new agent in Australia representing all the coolest papers from around the globe. These two designs were printed and shipped to us from Finland, and were hung for us by a Russian woman who could quite possibly have worked a second job as a super model! Incongruous!
For me, beautiful linen is a must for every bed. If the budget stretches to Society Limonta from Italy, then great - the colours and quality are amazing. But increasingly, new suppliers are opening here and the choices in colour are fabulous for a lot less outlay. We love dark and moody for winter, light and fresh in summer, so more affordable brands make it easier to collect more colours!