Sometimes it takes an expert eye to spot a diamond in the rough. Case in point is this once-dilapidated Federation cottage, which attracted just one bidder when it went to auction seven years ago – its current owner, Mei.
“It was a hovel before!” the former architect and mother-of-two admits. “There was mould on the walls, the floor creaked, the bathroom was leaking – everything needed to be gutted.” But Mei, who along with her husband, Thai, shares a passion for repurposing the old and handmaking the new, could see the rundown home had promise, and couldn’t resist its sprawling backyard for her growing family.
A year leasing out the property gave them time to meticulously plan a full-scale renovation, which they completed across a record two months – not bad considering their builder went MIA before they had barely begun. But what could have been a major roadblock didn’t faze Mei and Thai, who together own a glazing construction company, and they took on the remainder of the renovation themselves.
“I look at the foundation of a room, such as light, size and defining features such as plasterwork, before decorating.” ~ Mei
The pair lived in the house for a month without a bathroom while they managed the replastering, rewiring, painting, floorboard installation – they even found time to make pieces of furniture, such as the European oak dining table, themselves.
Despite the relatively recent renovation, the home is imbued with a distinct old-world ambience, thanks to Mei’s love of naturally worn materials and pieces with history. Buttery leather, linen and timber create an earthy colour palette brimming with cosy appeal, and timeworn treasures hark back to eras gone by, be they artfully clustered on ironbark shelves built by Mei and Thai, or fashioned into a vignette atop rustic timber stools.
“We make things when we can; we Gumtree it when we can – I love looking through op shops and antique stores,” shares Mei. “There’s no defining theme because I’ve bought things from different cultures, but the materials and colours tie it all together.”
The abundance of beautifully aged materials gives the house a wonderfully lived-in look that means nothing is too precious (a necessity when decorating with her two boisterous boys in mind, Kobi, eight, and Kaiden, three). “We wanted it to feel like home,” explains Mei. “If you ding something, it doesn’t matter. There are styles I enjoy looking at, where the houses are pristine and pattern-mixed to the end, but if you damage something, it shows.”
Bespoke touches throughout perfectly cater to the young family’s way of life: take the glorious custom-made rosewood barn door by Brookvale Doors & Screens, which connects the living area to the backyard. “I wanted a barn door so I can leave the top half open, yell to the kids, and keep an eye on them from the kitchen,” reasons Mei.
In the bedroom, a rustic Oishi Furniture solid teak bed continues the home’s timber theme, while a formerly flourishing bonsai makes a sculptural statement in the corner of the room. “We let it get too much sun, so now it’s an ornament!” she admits. Cleverly, a quick coating of hairspray keeps its leaves in place.
It’s just one of the hand-wrought timber elements that creates the cosy feel of a log cabin in winter, an effect enhanced by Mei’s penchant for layering tactile sheepskins, neutral-toned velvets and woollen throws. “Before we moved here, we were out a lot, but now we’re much more home-based,” reflects Mei of the sanctuary she has carefully created for her loved ones. One look around her cosy home and it makes perfect sense: why would you want to be anywhere else?
“We wanted something earthy, something that reflected our lifestyle and what we’ve collected over the years.” ~ Mei
“All the pieces we have tell a story.” ~ Mei