Good things come to those who wait, as Sara and Darren, owners of this four-bedroom home on Sydney’s Northern Beaches, discovered. In 2015, months after buying it, the couple, with twin daughters Gemma and Elyssa, now 17, were posted to London with Sara’s job. But this cloud had a silver lining – during that three-year stint, Sara amassed vintage treasures now peppered throughout the home. “I spent hours scouring shops and markets in London for pieces,” she says.
Who lives here? Sara, a company executive, and her husband Darren, with their twin daughters, Gemma and Elyssa, 17, and Rhodesian ridgeback Jed, who is three.
What are your favourite features? Darren: “The intricate cornices, stained glass and wood panelling all sing. Plus, as soon as you walk in the front door, you can see all the way out to the pool.”
How do you use the house now? “There are so many components in this house. Sara may sit in the front room, looking at the ocean, while I light the fire and sit at the back, even when it’s raining. There’s something for everyone.”
Home is… “Somewhere to relax, be yourself and have quality family time.”
When the couple bought the 1920s bungalow, they were smitten by its Art-Deco features, all intact. “That craftsmanship can’t be replicated today,” says Darren. One asset lay delectably hidden until they moved in. “We hadn’t realised the stained-glass sliding doors in the lounge room were there, as they were flush with the wall cavity and must not have been pulled out for years,” says Sara. But a 1990s French-provincial style extension had served up a warren of rooms poorly connected to the garden, while the whole house was in desperate need of a refresh. Dark walls and floorboards were gloomy and unwelcoming.
The couple approached interior designer Alanna Smit to update the two-storey home. “I was searching for someone whose style would suit the house perfectly,” says Sara. “I discovered Alanna’s plantation style and by chance she knew one of my best friends, who recommended her.” Adds Alanna.
“My brief was to make it function like a beach house, for a young family and for entertaining.”Alanna Smit, Interior designer
“We had to balance original features with contemporary finishes and Sara’s furniture and art,” says Alanna. “The house lends itself to classic plantation style, with sisal rugs, V-groove panelling, cane furniture and greenery.” Contemporary finishes include black oak ensuite joinery, while the main bathroom has “cocoa-stained” oak with Carrara marble. The kitchen sports a teal tiled splashback.
Key to that was to turn the extension into a generous open plan. Meanwhile, the couple wanted to swap the bedrooms so the main bedroom was downstairs and two children’s bedrooms upstairs. This would also give Sara and Darren an ensuite. The changes had to embrace the period features that had wooed the couple.
“We wanted this to function as a huge, welcoming entertaining space, as the hero of the house and to reflect the style and personalities of Sara and Darren,” explains interior designer Alanna Smit.
“The ‘X’ detail on the island anchors the space and connects it to the shelves and the coastal vibe”Alanna Smit, Interior designer
With Sara’s passion for demijohns, Alanna looked in vain for some to repurpose as pendants and chanced upon chunky ‘Celeste’ pendants from Emac & Lawton, which look the part. “They are big and oversized without being overbearing and blocking the space,” she says.
“The oversize island is just so practical,” says Darren. “I can be preparing dinner while the girls are on the stools and chatting to Sara.” There’s a similarly oversized gap between the island and the bench, so it’s not cramped. “I like the oak ‘X’ at the end,” adds Darren. “Waterfall ends are a bit cookie-cutter, so Alanna came up with this. It’s unique and we love it.”
“My favourite colour is rich teal,” says Sara. “It goes well with the mustard and tan of the original tiles and the furniture.” Vintage pieces flow from room to room. “They lend so much character – tortoiseshell cane fits so well.” While in the UK, she had “a funny obsession” with demijohns, asking a dealer to source them from French markets. All these elements mingle to make a dream home on this side of the world.
“I love this house,” says Sara. “There is a special warm and safe feeling when you walk down the hallway at night that I can’t describe. And I love sitting in the lounge room on a rainy day in front of the fire. The panelling and floorboards make it such a beautiful room.”
This original Art-Deco space has its perfect companion in Alanna’s plantation style, expressed in the furniture – a ‘Clara’ linen-covered sofa and ‘Bermuda’ armchairs and table, all from Alfresco Emporium – and indoor plants. “We restored the room by keeping what we could and bringing it into the 21st century with lighting and fresh white walls,” says Alanna. “We went back and forth about painting the wainscoting, but you can never go back once you paint it. Now it has a cigar-lounge feel.”
“We kept the living room original. We went with white walls to lighten the dark timber, while the white linen sofa was a no-brainer”Alana Smit, Interior designer
Sara and Darren didn’t want downlights so Alanna used existing electricals for the ‘Prescot’ chandelier from Emac & Lawton. “The sconce is original,” says Darren. “It’s part of the house’s story. It’s important to respect the historical elements.”
Main bedroom, dressing room and ensuite
A lush Catherine Martin ‘La Palma’ print in Coral from Mokum Textiles sets the tone – it’s used as a wallpaper on the walk-in robe’s curved wall and as upholstery for a refurbished blanket chest at the foot of the bed. A Theresa Hunt artwork complements the tan leather chair and cane side table, both found in London.
“I wanted Hollywood glam and specified these taps in chrome,” says Alanna of the family bathroom. “I love old-style tapware in modern finishes.” Old and modern blend seamlessly, including a ‘Seed’ basin from Parisi, tapware from Brodware and a ‘Bistro’ light from Montauk Lighting. Oak and rattan joinery by Creative Space refers to the plantation style, while sage terrazzo floor tiles and glazed Italian wall tiles from Tiles By Kate lend calm.
The outdoor area beside the pool has a Santa Fe ambience, highlighted by rendered brickwork and ethnic cushions and throw from Pony Rider. “It’s the first fireplace I designed and I am proud of it,” says Alanna. The Spanish-colonial vibe is offset by a versatile ‘Cascade’ outdoor setting from Freedom and ‘Garonne’ limestone pavers from Eco Outdoor.
Sara and Darren love throwing open the doors and enjoying their lush garden. “The doors are nearly always open and we cook a lot on the barbecue,” says Darren. “And we just had to have that aloe vera tree. It’s thriving.” While the coffee table was bought in London, the leather lounge and retro armchairs were sourced closer to home, from Freedom. “Because of our dog Jed’s propensity to jump on the couch, we chose something relatively inexpensive.”
The Slim Aarons photographic print from Fine Print Co. celebrates Sara’s favourite colour, rich teal, as do the ‘New Paradise’ kitchen tiles in Deep Sea from Di Lorenzo. Dulux White On White walls, ‘Garonne’ limestone tiles from Eco Outdoor and wicker chairs from Naturally Cane all lend a light touch.
Interior architect: Alanna Smit Structural Interiors, @alannasmitdesigns, alannasmit.com.au
Builder: Mike Smit, MS Constructions, 0425 265 596, msconstructions.com.au
Joinery: Creative Space, 0404 789 704, creativespace.net.au