On A Roll
A steep site challenge leads to the perfect indoor-outdoor connection for a NSW family.
Landscape designer Matt Leacy wanted a family home with a firm connection to the garden. “I feel strongly about providing an environment where our kids – Sienna, 11, Amalija, nine, and Thomas, seven – can be kids, and where we all feel connected to the outdoors, even when we’re inside,” he says. It was a sentiment shared by his wife, Marie, when they bought their fourbedroom home on Sydney’s northern beaches in 2012.
Built in the 1980s, a time when orange brick veneer was popular and gardens were often an afterthought, the house had a small, tiled front patio with brown tiles and columns, no driveway and no decent lawn due to its steep slope. Matt, whose landscape design business is based on the lower north shore, had spotted the home while viewing other properties in the area. “It looked bad, with no real street appeal, but there was something about the place,” he says. “At the time, I told Marie I would move this far out for it.” Three weeks later, they bought it.
Much of the home’s potential was in its aspect. There are also unique benefits to being on a steep site. “We can have all the doors open most of the year because we’re completely protected from coastal winds, and there’s always plenty of sunlight, even in winter,” says Matt. “Being up high, our home feels more isolated than it really is – we love that, and the fantastic views, of course.”
One of the first changes he and Marie made was to tone down the orange brickwork with a coat of Resene Bokara Grey. Next, Matt got stuck into the garden. He put in a new driveway, built retaining walls and brought in about 80 tonnes of soil to create a gently rolling lawn for the children to play on. While it took a lot of work to make the garden user-friendly, Matt says it was well worth doing so early on.
Turning their attention indoors, the couple then knocked through some internal walls to create a generous open-plan kitchen/dining
and living area. The kitchen was updated and the old cypress floorboards freshened with white paint. A bank of bifolds now connects the living zone to the extended front deck, garden and leafy outlook beyond.
In 2015, the couple decided to undertake a more extensive makeover of the backyard. With the help of Matt’s Landart Landscapes team, he installed a terraced entertaining area and retiled around the existing pool, built a deck and barbecue facilities, and improved the drainage. Today, the poolside entertaining zone is used throughout the summer; in winter, the family mostly hangs out at the front.
Given the schedule-driven nature of his work, Matt says he really enjoyed the freedom of renovating his own home slowly. “It’s nice to have the luxury of making things up as I go along,” he explains.
Plans to tackle the bathrooms are being made, but the couple are taking a break from renovating for the moment. “I think it’s good for children to see the work that goes into building something,” says Matt. “That said, there’s a point when you need to pull back and enjoy what you’ve created.
“This home is everything to us,” he adds. “Marie and I sit out and watch the sunset by the fire while the kids play footy and dance on the grass. It’s become our sanctuary.” # Landart Landscapes, Willoughby, NSW; (02) 9958 0462 or landart.com.au.