With a blend of classic and modern, an ethereal colour palette and some clever play on scale, interior designers Handelsmann + Khaw work their magic on a family home in Sydney
The entry of this five-bedroom house in Sydney’s eastern suburbs features a trompe l’oeil, a vignette of a Château de Versailles gallery that makes the space appear more than twice its actual size. Interior designers Tania Handelsmann and Gillian Khaw of Handelsmann + Khaw have used this and similar sleights of hand to create the impression of a grand house without compromising its human scale. Although this home to a young family couldn’t overwhelm, that didn’t mean the designers had to show glamour the door. “We have always preferred older style homes with character,” says the owner, who bought the postFederation bungalow in late 2015. There’s certainly no shortage of character here, with the residence’s high ceilings, wide hallways and loft-like upstairs bedrooms (the result of a previous attic conversion). “Sitting in the bright, casual family room, we could imagine ourselves spending many years here with our large family,” she says. Downstairs, the large main bedroom suite and study, which provide the parents with a retreat from the upstairs bedrooms, sealed the deal. Though the family room is part of a light-filled extension at the rear of the home, less appealing were the older, central parts of the house, which remained dark and burrowlike. “We wanted to lighten the place and open parts of it up while retaining the original character and period features,” the owner says. Drawn to the designers’ aesthetic, which combines the classical with an updated feel, she hired them to work their magic on these spaces, which would bring a generous sprinkling of European je ne sais quoi. “The house, although cosy and charming, was not generously proportioned, and the public spaces weren’t grand enough,” says Khaw. The primary aim was to make the central part of the house, which encompasses the formal living and dining areas separated by a corridor, more inviting and practical, as a place where the parents could enjoy me-time while also being a hub for elegant entertaining. This leaves the family room and upstairs rooms for the younger family members. Khaw and Handelsmann punched out walls to unify the two spaces and installed strategically placed skylights to bathe the front section of the house with daylight. They replaced plantation shutters on the living room windows with full floor-to-ceiling curtains for a lighter, breezier ambience. And in the dining room, they installed banks of bifolds to the garden to foster an indoor-outdoor connection. Aesthetically, the designers aimed for “a relaxed, Australian take on a European aesthetic”, says Khaw, “a pared-back, quiet sort of elegance, mixing pieces so as not to fall into a conventional interpretation of traditional. And we wanted the light to have a muted, afternoon quality to it, soft and diffused, like a Vermeer”. Limed floorboards, a faded Oriental rug, a white sofa and dining chairs rubbed back to mimic antique paintwork all contribute to a classic “washed-out, dusty” palette. The hues may be muted, but the duo has also delivered plenty of drama. In the dining room, they installed Jacobean-style panelling to give the space gravitas, further emphasised by two oversize coachstyle pendants symmetrically poised over the dining table. Similarly, in the living room, a tepid fireplace was replaced with a much larger one in majestic Portland stone, which lends the room visual weight. Throughout, the designers have adopted a less-is-more philosophy, but the less packs a powerful punch. “While the trend is to fill spaces out,” says Khaw, “we underfurnished this house, so it has a feeling of being spacious.” And, pulling another rabbit out of the hat, they have played with scale. “The pieces needed to be oversize — they create a trick of the eye and make the house itself seem larger.” The overall effect is fresh and relaxed while remaining true to the home’s period features. A 1960s Castiglioni Taccia lamp in the hallway contrasts with the period archway and architraves, while Louis XVI-style chairs surround a Knoll-style dining table. In keeping with the owners’ love of all things French, Khaw and Handelsmann have incorporated such elements into the design as a delicate plaster light in the living room inspired by a piece from the Parisian Musée Picasso. The de Gournay silk panels in the main bedroom illustrate the deft juxtaposition of muted elements and bolder, dramatic elements throughout. In pink and green hand-painted silk, it’s delicate and romantic, yet, covering nearly a whole wall, it’s no shrinking violet. “I really love the de Gournay and the four-poster bed. It’s a dramatic gesture,” says Khaw. “We have made the home live up to its ultimate size, despite its bungalow proportions.”
BY CHRIS PEARSON PHOTOGRAPHED BY FELIX FOREST STYLING BY JOSEPH GARDNER
above: in the DINING ROOM, Louis XVI-style chair from Christophe Living; custom Jacobean panelling; artwork by Kristel Smits.