Family means everything to mother of two Tess, and that is why she devoted two years of her life to building the home of their dreams. Nestled on a sprawling block just outside Toowoomba on Queensland’s Darling Downs, the design of Darlana House pays homage to both Tess’ heritage and the island home she left behind.
Originally from Papua New Guinea, Tess moved to Australia when her daughter Penny, then three, faced health challenges that called for specialist medical care. But Tess didn’t want to live in a busy capital city.
“I know Toowoomba and it’s a beautiful place to raise kids,” says Tess, who attended boarding school here.”The more I looked into it, the more I realised why my father chose it [for me] 23 years ago.”
Her plan was always to build the new family home from scratch – she had done the same in Papua New Guinea – which allowed her to incorporate personal touches into the design.
“This is meant to be a forever home, so everything had to tie into our family story and we wanted it to be as comfortable for us in our 70s as it is now,”
“I had to be firm here and there to refuse certain elements that I knew wouldn’t work. There’s nothing wrong with expanses of glossy white floors, wrought iron and marble, but I like a relaxed, casual look.”
Built in the American Craftsman style, the house is more than 700 square metres in size, with two main wings. The north wing includes the kitchen and the ‘great room’, while the south includes the laundry, kids’ bedrooms – Tess also has a son, Reuben, three – and the main bedroom. A central link contains the office and family room, plus there is a guest wing comprising a garage, mud room and guest suite.
The home was designed by Sydney architect John Simpson. Now in his 70s and semi-retired, John was recommended by Tess’ builder, Jeff Bubeck of Downs Designer Homes.
“John added some personal touches that were based on my ideas but had connections to his own childhood, which I thought was really sweet, especially for an architect who has worked for that long,” says Tess.
As a tribute to her electrician father, the home is named after a light fitting that Tess adores, the ‘Darlana’ lantern by Visual Comfort.”The lantern’s beauty is in its perfect proportions, and correct proportion is the secret ingredient of Darlana House,” says Tess.
“I couldn’t think of a name that carried enough meaning for me, but naming it after a light seemed, after a bit of thought, quite perfect.”
Other architectural elements reflect her family history, which includes an English father and Tuvaluan mother. Both families had the name of Rose, so roses feature prominently in both the garden and decorative details.
Tess sourced most of the furniture and design elements, scouring websites for the classic American aesthetic and having it delivered to Toowoomba.”Everything’s got a story,”she says.
Everything should have a connection – who you are, where you’ve been. Most of this details that connection to the family. I think that’s what makes a home inviting to anybody. They can walk in and sense that story.”
And it’s the warmth of Darlana that people remember.”Every visitor has the same reaction,”says Tess.” At first they’re wowed by the high ceilings and big spaces, but then they start to say things like, ‘it just feels like home.’
“That’s what I aimed for. I wanted people to walk in and be amazed, but also to feel completely welcome.”
“I wanted to make sure anybody could feel comfortable. So it’s just walking that line between relaxed and casual, sophisticated and elegant.” ~ Tess
“My bedroom is a nice place to hang out. I can be on my own. I’m an introvert and need that ‘alone’ time.” ~ Tess
“Relaxed elegance was what I was aiming for.” ~ Tess
Lynne Testoni is a writer, editor and content creator in the food and design space. With a background in interior magazines, she has worked on more than 20 titles including Home Beautiful and Better Homes & Gardens. She lives in a Victorian Italianate terrace in inner city Sydney that is constantly being renovated and restyled.
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