An old home revived with a maximalist interior

What would you do in your home if you had no fear of commitment? Choosing to design entirely for herself and her family, this interior designer dials up the drama to eleven.

Here inside Sarah’s fabulously fancy home on Sydney’s north shore, the interior designer is “living the life”. The founder and head designer at Mi Designer does glitz gorgeously. Her style is exotic and luxurious, classic and unpredictable, with pattern, texture and lustrous finishes raising the atmosphere to fever pitch. More maximalist than minimalist, she is drawn to tailored ornamentation, with brass, velvet and wallpaper her weapons of choice.

To Sarah, the idea of resale does not factor into her process. Instead, she is steadfast in the courage of her exuberant convictions. “I’ve always been a strong believer in not settling for ordinary when you can have extraordinary,” she says. “Why decorate for future owners? You wouldn’t buy shoes to sell on to someone else.”

In the formal lounge, Kelly Wearstler ‘Agate’ wallpaper sets the mood. “This is an adult space most of the time, used in the evenings, so I wanted a dimly lit feel,” says the mother of two teens.

Sarah and her husband Ben bought their 110-year-old house in 2004 for their family, which includes Baxter, 16, and Eliza, 13. The four-bedroom building was in a state, with peeling wallpaper and an overgrown garden. “But it had pressed metal ceilings, amber cut-glass doorknobs and there was an amazing 80-year-old wisteria bush out back,” recalls Sarah. According to the building inspection it was in excellent structural condition, so the couple were called to action.

A brass ABI Interiors sink, Brodware tapware in brass, along with the custom Qasair brass rangehood give the kitchen a glam feel.

In the dining room, the designer chose a replica Saarinen table from Replica Furniture, and paired it with velvet dining chairs from Coco Republic that are more spill resistant than they seem, thanks to an Eco Shield treatment, which guarantees a long, stain-free future.

The pair did some initial work before moving in – and a few upgrades as the years went on – but bided their time for a major renovation, which took place over 12 months. New plans were drawn up with the help of friends at Sissons Architects, who usually do big commercial projects, but made an exception for the designer.

An opulent ‘Lulu’ bedhead from Darcy & Duke and a Kelly Wearstler lamp from Circa Lighting in the USA enhance the air of glamour in this covetable retreat, where a soft wash of grey (Dulux Grey Baron) calms the mood.

“Having this space to ourselves is like living in a hotel room,” says Sarah of her bedroom, robe and ensuite.

Post-renovation, the house still has four bedrooms and sits on much the same footprint, but there’s now a luxurious suite for the couple. Other additions include two extra bathrooms, a study and a terrace. “All I ever wanted in life growing up was a covered outdoor space and an Insinkerator,” says Sarah. “It took me till my mid-40s, but I got there.”

Part of the master suite, behind the walk-in robe, the ensuite is Sarah’s breathing space. “Walking into our ensuite is the thing I smile about most daily,” she says of its soothing quality.

“When you have kids, the washing is the one job you never finish so the laundry should be a beautiful space,” says Sarah. The mosaic floor tiles are from Di Lorenzo and the walls are painted in Dulux Precious Pink Quarter.

Across the new threshold, the home’s bold, brave, tongue-in-cheek personality is established from the get-go, thanks to the Catherine Martin ‘La Palma’ wallpaper. “I wanted to set the tone of a [happy house] and a relaxed house – quirky but not too quirky,” she says. “There’s bananas at our front door so it’s hard to take anything too seriously.”

On the terrace, a ‘Butterfly’ chair from Kmart and stool from India stand out against the Besser blocks.

The Beefeater barbecue was one of the only pieces the owner couldn’t source in brass, but was worth the compromise. An 80-year-old wisteria grows along the wall, which was a feature that drew the couple to this house.

The wallpaper also serves as a guiding light, setting the scheme for the rest of the home. For Sarah, its tones are more liberating than limiting. “You can be as brave as you like with your design when you have a palette in place. Everything comes back to those colours.”

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