How actor Penny McNamee reinvented her place
A different drama kept this actor busy away from the set, writes Jennifer Veerhuis
In the year before she took on the role of Dr Tori Morgan on Channel 7’s Home And Away, Penny McNamee was dealing with a completely different drama.
She had decided to oversee the renovation of her home in Rozelle in the inner west, on top of looking after her newborn baby.
To an outsider, it might have seemed a crazy plan but it wasn’t the first time Penny had renovated this property.
Penny says the home was a deceased estate and basically unlivable when she purchased it with her husband Matt Tooker in 2010.
They moved in and started renovating it to make it suitable to rent out.
“We bought it as a ‘fixer upper’, which was probably an ambitious term for our home at the time,” she says. “It was built in 1920 and it was a tiny two-bedroom semi.
“It was literally just covered in grime and cockroaches and it was fairly revolting.”
Penny says she and Matt spent three or four days just cleaning the house so that they could move into it and then another few weeks painting every surface.
Over a nine-month period they installed new floors in the bathroom and kitchen, pulled up the bricks that covered the entire backyard and updated the 1970s kitchen, painting the cabinets and splashback tiles and changing the handles to chrome.
Opportunities overseas beckoned so Penny and Matt left Australia for New York for four years, and in that time Penny picked up guest roles in US TV dramas Elementary, Blue Bloods and Political Animals.
Missing Australia and their small cottage in Rozelle, they returned in time for the birth of their baby Jack.
Living with Penny’s parents, they also organised for the second, and full-scale renovation at their home, calling in builder Maarten Noot of San Remo Construction.
“The first six months of Jack’s life, he would go in the Baby Bjorn I would be walking around the construction site, talking to the builder,” Penny explains.
“I would be driving around, looking at tiles, picking up tapware, constantly in the car carrying a newborn with me.
“Looking back I can’t believe I did it but at the time you just get on with it.”
As part of the renovation, they retained the front of the house and removed the back, including a 1970s fibro lean-to.
“We built a whole back living area, upstairs we built the parents’ retreat, an ensuite, a walk-in robe and a balcony,” Penny says.
“So we turned it into a two-storey, threebedroom, two-bathroom house from a twobedroom, one-bathroom home.”
They widened the back of the house from 4m to 6m, pushing it to the boundary.
“We put in big bi-fold doors at the back because we’ve got a north-facing backyard so the sun streams in,” Penny says.
“We also put some big skylights in the living room downstairs and we built a deck off the back, so it all just flows through.
“If you open the front door and the back door, it’s just free flowing all the way through and you get a beautiful breeze.”
Wanting something that would be in keeping with the age of the home, they selected a French provincial-style kitchen.
“It’s not a really ultra-modern kitchen,” Penny says. “We still have old-fashioned chrome tapes, a big porcelain farmhouse sink and even the profile of the doors is provincial style rather than just a flat modern look.”
In the bathrooms, they chose timber tops for the vanities and subway tiles to evoke an earlier time.
However, they did opt for a slightly more modern touch for the bedroom upstairs, with more contemporary lighting and a grey carpet.
Penny says the kitchen took a lot of planning, but she believes she got it right in the end.
“We put the bin right next to the sink and the dishwasher right next to the cutlery drawer,” she says.
“I wanted the sink to be on the island so when we were washing up we could still talk to people in the living room.
“The idea was to make sure everything was thought through in a practical sense, not just aesthetically.”
Old homes, new tricks
As with many renovation projects on old homes, there were some aspects they hadn’t bargained on —one of which turned out to be quite costly.
“One of the surprises was when the builders went to sand our original floorboards in the hallway and the front bedrooms, they discovered there wasn’t enough groove left, so
they couldn’t sand them apart,” Penny says.
“Also, the floors were springy and when they pulled up the old floorboards they found that underneath all the bearers and joists were rotted.
“We really loved the old original floorboards so that was really disappointing.”
Ploughing ahead, the old boards were torn up and new bearers and joists were laid, along with new blue gum hardwood timber floors.
“They look beautiful and feel a lot more solid than the old ones,” Penny says.
“Even though I was really disappointed we couldn’t keep the old boards, I was so thrilled with the end result.”
One aspect of the home that stands out is original brickwork where the old house originally ended. Now it signals the end of the old house and the start of the new work sitting in the middle of the house at the end of the hallway.
After their builder pulled off the timber door frame, he sandblasted the original brickwork. The results were so charming, they decided to leave it exposed.
“We also kept the stone step underneath it which was the original back step of the house,” Penny says. “It just brings that old antique feel into the home.
“Even next to our staircase we have one layer of bricks which is the original brickwork of the home and for the second storey we’ve got new bricks above it.
“We just kept the original bricks and the new bricks above them so you can see the line where the new part of the home starts and the old part finishes, but I like that because I feel like it tells the story of the house.”
In a nutshell
The kitchen was designed to be practical as well as visually appealing.
The original back doorway is now a feature in the middle of the house.
Bi-fold doors and skylights capture the
The new kitchen overlooking the living space offers all the modern conveniences while still fitting in with the age of the house.