Inside Out (Australia)
When a wine collection inspires a home’s overhaul, the result is every bit as noteworthy as you’d expect
After two decades in an unrenovated 1960s house, a busy executive made more space for herself, her daughter — and a prized wine collection
Architect and interior designer Kitty Lee first met her potential client Chew Lim at Chew’s house in suburban Sydney, where the scene spoke volumes. “Kitty could see boxes and boxes of wine everywhere,” says Chew, laughing. “So she knew immediately what was important to me.” Chew had purchased the compact house – in Kingsford, close to Sydney Airport – 16 years earlier, around the same time that her daughter Phoebe was born. The red-brick bungalow had served Chew and Phoebe well, but over time it had begun to feel cramped. “In addition to the wine situation, Phoebe was about to begin studying for her HSC,” explains Kitty. “Both mother and daughter were in need of more room.”
By the time Kitty showed up, Chew had already been planning to renovate for almost a year. “Chew had hired another architect before me, who took her through the DA process and got it approved,” says Kitty. But Chew had trouble communicating with her original architect, and when a colleague suggested contacting Kitty instead, she didn’t hesitate. Using the existing DA as a starting point, they began planning afresh, while being mindful of not doing anything requiring them to go back to council. That meant no significant changes to the house’s exterior, apart from a pre-approved back deck.
Inside, however, Kitty and Chew opted for some major alterations. “I ended up tweaking the arrangement of every single room,” says Kitty. “It was a full internal redesign.”
Chew told Kitty that she was hoping to expand the footprint of the main bedroom and, if possible, add a walk-in wardrobe. Phoebe’s bedroom, which overlooked the back garden, was also on the small side – and both mother and daughter dreamed of having separate bathrooms.
The exterior of the property was also due for a re-think. “One of my most basic requirements was to bring the external laundry inside the house,” says Chew. “I always found it difficult going outside when it rained, or during winter time, or even in summer when there were a lot of mozzies.”
In addition, Chew wanted to install a deck to make the property more conducive to entertaining. “The house was built with concrete steps leading down to a paved backyard area,” Kitty explains, “but Chew wanted a deck that was on the same level as the house to create an indoor-outdoor flow.”
Chew allowed Kitty to choose an aesthetic direction for the renovation. She did, however, nominate a starting point. “The house had beautiful old floorboards, but there were gaps between some of them and I was scared those gaps would get even bigger,” says Chew. “Replacing the floors was a priority.”
The DA included plans to repurpose the single-car garage, which was located at the front of the house next to the main bedroom. “It was so narrow that Chew’s car could barely fit in,” says Kitty. “We converted that space into a new ensuite and walk-in wardrobe for the main bedroom.” The external laundry was another space that Chew was happy to reclaim. “What used to be the external laundry became part of the second bedroom, and we created a new laundry inside,” says Kitty.
In the main bedroom, a clever new joinery unit was designed to conceal a study nook and a hidden door to the walk-in wardrobe and ensuite. In Phoebe’s bedroom, a full-width desk overlooking a new picture window was integrated with the bookshelves and wardrobe to provide plenty of space for the year 12 student to study and store her things.
The dining room was to be relocated from the front entry area to the rear of the house, with new bifold doors opening onto the deck. And the galley kitchen, which connects the front entry area and the rear dining room, was slated to be rebuilt, with the main kitchen bench extended. “The old kitchen was not really big enough to fit both a normal fridge and a wine fridge,” Kitty explains, “so we extended the bench out.”
Kitty’s starting point for the interior design was handsome blackbutt timber, which she used for the new floorboards and much of the joinery. “The house was quite humble, so I wanted to introduce a richer material palette,” she says. “Though we have white joinery in the bedrooms (to make them lighter and brighter), we still have blackbutt timber benchtops and desks in there to tie in with the rest of the house.”
Meanwhile, the kitchen was dramatically transformed with midnight-blue joinery, fluted-glass cabinets and soft-grey stone benchtops. “It’s a galley kitchen, and you walk through it to reach the rear,” says Kitty. “I wanted a darker palette there so it fades into the background. It didn’t need to be a feature like the two spaces that bookend it.” The centrepiece of the new dining room is a full-wall display unit for Chew’s precious wine collection, designed by Kitty and crafted from blackbutt timber. “It’s perfect,” says the delighted owner.
After the false start with her previous architect, Chew had found herself becoming fatigued with the renovation process, but says linking up with Kitty made all the difference. “I’m not in a rush to do it again, but I am very happy with the result – and count myself lucky that we were able to move back in before the coronavirus lockdown in March.”
See more of Kitty Lee’s work at klarch.com.au or @kittyleearchitecture