Looking into a Zoom call, British expat Rachel has her two worlds reflected back in side-by-side mode. Her old life in England is in one screen: nostalgic and warm. The other shows the way she lives now with her family-of-five in an updated Federation-era home on Sydney’s Lower North Shore.
The scene is breezy and bright with cameo appearances from her Australian-born husband Rolf and daughters Issey, Tilly and Henrietta.
It’s 12 years since part-time interior decorator Rachel immigrated and almost 15 months since the Australian government closed its borders, cutting off face-to-face contact with her family back in England. With Christmas get-togethers cancelled last year and the next up in the air, home is a complicated concept for Rachel.
“When I moved to Australia, I’d always say I was ‘only ever 24 hours away’. That’s not the case anymore,”she says. “My heart is in both places.” In that spirit, the renovation weaves together the best of both countries; England’s timeworn character and Australia’s beautiful openness and our passion for indoor-outdoor entertaining.
The property came into Rachel and Rolf’s lives 10 years ago when Issey and Tilly were tiny and Henrietta (whose nickname is Henry) was yet to arrive. After two years of renting, the opportunity to carve out her own place in Australia was compelling.
She says, “Coming from overseas, I wanted to feel settled and to create a space that would be inviting for our visitors,” she says.
The original three-bedroom home served the family well, even with a ’60s extension, which was freezing in winter and blazing hot in summer – “Our builder looked at the glass and said they wouldn’t put it in a picture frame now,” she recalls.
As two kids became three, renovation plans began to stir. As someone who spends a lot of time cooking, Rachel was quick to spot the opportunity to move the kitchen to the playroom at the back, which had the best garden views.
Working with Sydney’s Cadence & Co on the design and build, this led to a new L-shape extension, with a dining area and living room along the side and an open staircase at the junction between the old part of the house and the new.
Upstairs, a new master bedroom with a walk-in robe and ensuite turns the house into a 4-bedroom haven. More than an extension, the redesign has been an act of placemaking. Rachel took her cues from the original parts of the home by selecting colonial-style windows and shaker-style joinery.
She also chose new engineered boards to visually connect with the Feast Watson Black Japan-stained pine floors in the front rooms. The interiors are filled with nods to English brands such as Cath Kidston, The White Company and Fired Earth. “Every time we get back, I become more and more patriotic,” Rachel says.
The three-metre-high ceilings and connection to the outdoors, though, are pure Australia. “Now, when we get back from holidays, I feel all the space and light around me and think ‘Gee, I love our house’.”
“The house is made to be relaxing. We wanted to have family here and entertain.” ~ Rachel
“Home is really important to me. I wanted to buy something and make it our own.” ~ Rachel
Anna McCooe has the world’s best gig. She spends her days interviewing inspiring people, travelling to amazing places, looking at beautiful things and eating great food. Then she writes about it all for her favourite magazines, websites and newspapers. Seriously, she gets paid for this.
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