Inside Out (Australia)
A Sydney house that has been cherished for generations receives a respectful refresh
As a child, Nicola Wines was a frequent visitor to the Sydney home of her grandparents, Betty and Ken. “When my mum Lisa went back to work, my grandparents looked after me three days a week and, after that, they were still the go-tos for babysitting because they lived around the corner from us,” recalls Nicola. “We were all very close.”
So close in fact, that when Betty passed away in 2018 – after living there since 1952 – the inner-western-suburbs property was left to her son Paul and his wife Lisa, in the hope that it would eventually become a home for her beloved granddaughter. “I’m an only child, as is my dad,” says Nicola, “and I think it was important to Betty that I could live close to my parents and everything I’d grown up with, if that’s what I chose to do.”
While she loved the 1920s semi, Nicola geared up for a major revamp. Although the original section of the house (containing two bedrooms, a hallway and a living room) was solid, the back was a collection of tired, poky rooms on different levels, some of which had been added in the 1970s. With so many memories involving the house – Paul was also born there – the family was keen for the renovation to respect yet not be restrained by its history. “I wanted it to pay tribute to my grandparents’ house,” says Nicola, “but at the same time, feel like it was my home.”
Designer Alexandra Marrotte of Sydney-based Amarot was engaged to fix the floor plan, after Lisa saw how she had transformed a colleague’s Victorian property. “That finished result was incredible, and I liked that Alexandra was a young architect with fresh ideas that could work well in the renovation of an old house,” says Lisa. Key items on the wish list included another bedroom and a bathroom (“we knew the renovation was going to cost a lot of money anyway, so it made sense to add them,” says Lisa), an open-plan kitchen/dining/living area and, at Nicola’s request, vivid pops of colour throughout.
Alexandra’s design response was to knock down everything apart from the original front section; the wider-than-average block meant that the space behind it could include a new main bedroom, ensuite and main bathroom, with a European laundry tucked into a hallway leading to the rear. The combined kitchen and living areas are now at the back, with a raised ceiling and clerestory windows bringing in much-needed northern light. “Lifting up the ceiling was also crucial because we had to raise the floor in that area to make the house level from front to back,” says Alexandra. “The skillion roof also became an important design feature because of the light it introduces to the space, not to mention the wonderful glimpses of trees and sky through those upper windows.”
DINING AREA Glass tinted with ecoGlaze reflects the sun, and double-lined curtains prevent heat or cold transfer, making it really pleasant to be in here right through the year. The Ana dining table is a super-flexible laminatetopped style featuring a butterfly extension, and the 58/68 chairs are a classic design by Hans J Wegner, both from Great Dane. Jumbo Diamond vase in Baby Blue, Jardan. Tiki sofa, Fred International. Marcel pendant cluster in Smoke, Beacon Lighting. Wall colour, Dulux Silver Jewel. Abstract artwork by Ray Saunderson, through The Wellington Gallery.
A striking element of the new space is the blue and grey polyurethane kitchen cabinetry (“I don’t tend to do white kitchens,” says Alexandra with a laugh), which is combined with luxurious slabs of Super White Dolomite stone on the benchtops and splashback. More stone has been used in the bathrooms, where elegant grey-toned Fior di Bosco marble is paired with vertically laid handmade subway tiles and porcelain floor tiles. The overall look is serene. “We wanted the bathrooms to be crisp yet quite neutral and relaxing,” she adds.
Despite the block being a snug 395 square metres, the house feels spacious, thanks to more light and consideration given to the flow and proportions inside. “Every room was mapped out so it ended up being the size and design it needed to be,” says Alexandra, who also helped with the colour palette. In the original part of the house, the period features have been offset with liberal splashes of colour. The sitting room is painted vibrant Murobond Turquoise (or ‘Nicola Green’, as Lisa calls it), while the main bedroom walls have a moody vibe courtesy of Murobond’s inky-blue Pacific.
Reno over and Lisa, Paul and Nicola couldn’t be happier with the finished result. (“So much so that our friends ask us why we haven’t moved in,” jokes Lisa). She thinks Betty would be thrilled that Nicola and her boyfriend Nathan have made the place their home. “Being a Depression-era child, Betty wasn’t very good at spending money, and I don’t think she could have imagined this sort of renovation to her house. But in saying that, she would have loved it,” says Lisa.
The same goes for granddaughter Nicola, who sums it all up by saying, “Sometimes I have to pinch myself over how fortunate I’ve been, and how lucky I am to live here.”
Alexandra Marrotte is the director of Amarot. See more of her spatial design work at amarot.com.au or @amarot.designs