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A light, bright coastal home inspired by Southern Italy

Four years of hands-on work paid off for a Sydney couple, whose passion for reviving an old beach house rewarded them with a family home that sets a new standard in laid-back luxury.
Mediterranean style courtyardBrigid Arnott

One week before she was due to give birth, Monique and her husband, Andrea, were sitting in her obstetrician’s waiting room when their solicitor called: their offer on a dilapidated 1950s home with a heavenly view on Sydney’s northern beaches had been accepted.

Buying a home had not been on the agenda for the expectant parents, who were about to start “a huge renovation” of their cottage in the eastern suburbs.

Mediterranean interior style

Pendant lights from Home With Grace spotlight a glorious place to dine, flowing out from the living room. Malawi Cane Traditional single chairs and seat pads in White set the scene for a long lunch, while pieces from Coastal Drift (the ‘Ilala’ woven mirror tray and ‘Buhera’ bowl) enhance the vista’s raw appeal. The previous owners’ use of a yellow-and-white awning inspired Monique to introduce yellow as a motif inside and outside the family home. Photography: Brigid Arnott / Styling: Lisa Hilton

“We were literally a week from putting bulldozers through,” says Monique who, with Andrea, had inspected the beach house on a whim.

Anchored by a Lifestyle Collective sofa adorned with a Beachwood chunky European linen throw and cushions including, second from left, the Walter G ‘Swazi Mud’, Coastal Drift ‘Zimbabwe Block White’ and Eadie Lifestyle ‘Simpatico’ in Mustard, the light-filled living space brims with cross-cultural mementos. Atop a Beachwood coffee table, a traditional parat (plate) and a coral, both from Home With Grace, draw the eye, while the tones of a rug from Home On Darley call to mind driftwood and a stormy sea. Photography: Brigid Arnott / Styling: Lisa Hilton

“We saw its previous glory years that had been left to ruin,” she recalls. “We had the vision to be able to return it to glory – and to take it to another level, as well.”

“My husband used to spend quite a bit of time in the south of Italy when he was a child, so I guess there’s that sort of rustic feel, and any of our interior decor has come from collections throughout our lives, and things that have meaning to both of us,” says Monique. Photography: Brigid Arnott / Styling: Lisa Hilton

The spectacular result, renamed ‘La Casa Bianca’ – in homage to Andrea’s Italian background – is testament to their unwavering commitment to that vision.

Custom-made doors (with hardware from Hepburn Hardware) are a focal point. Photography: Brigid Arnott / Styling: Lisa Hilton

of the kitchen island (above, by an Ikea stool) and conceal a surprise. “Our TV’s in there,” says Monique with a laugh. The island benchtop (left, showcasing crockery from Mud Australia) is restored Tasmanian oak with a dark stain treatment. “There are always neighbours popping over, or people visiting from the east, or people coming for weekends,” says Monique who, along with Andrea, regularly entertains.Nonetheless, the kitchen’s six-burner Ilve oven has been getting a rest lately. “We always used to be a big ‘roasts’ sort of family, and now everything’s pizza!” explains Monique, whose Mediterranean courtyard features a popular pizza oven.

Across four years, Monique – the founder and director of homewares company Malawi Cane and wholesaler Coastal Drift – and her husband transformed the rundown house with its green-and-violet walls into a luxurious four-bedroom, three-bathroom home that beckons all who step beyond the sunny yellow front door to kick their shoes off and unwind.

Custom built-in storage shelves allows the family to showcase their treasures. Photography: Brigid Arnott / Styling: Lisa Hilton

With its white walls and all-white floorboards enlivened by tactile rattan, wood and soft furnishings adorned with tribal prints that nod to Malawi-born Monique’s heritage, her signature style is “rustic luxe”, according to the chic homeowner.

The balcony beyond the couple’s bedroom offers a cleverly built-in couch on one end. A Malawi Cane Traditional open-weave table displays a Sondu ‘Iringa’ basket from Papaya (used as a plant holder) and is the ideal spot for a morning coffee. Photography: Brigid Arnott / Styling: Lisa Hilton

“It gives us permission to have our relaxed lifestyle, while still having an appreciation for beautiful design and finishes,” she says.

The star of this space, off Mati’s room and the guest bedroom, is Monique’s original design for the Malawi Cane single hanging chair. “It was the prototype that I brought in for the first trade show, so it’s the one that’s never going to leave us,” says Monique, who has accessorised this relaxing outdoor zone with a ‘Bamileke’ table sourced from Africanologie sitting atop a cotton rug from Home On Darley. Photography: Brigid Arnott / Styling: Lisa Hilton

The slow-and-steady transformation didn’t overwhelm Monique and Andrea, even in the early days when daughter Mati, now four, was a newborn and they were juggling the works on their original home in the east of Sydney (they moved into this house when Mati was six months old).

“It’s right outside my daughter’s bedroom, so it’s kind of become her swing. She jumps around on it every morning.” Photography: Brigid Arnott / Styling: Lisa Hilton

Yet, Monique laughs off any suggestion she’s a home-reno superhero, though she’s completed at least 10. “Renovations, construction and interiors is just in some people’s blood,” she says.

Comfortable bedlinen from In The Sac and a white ‘Fringe’ rectangular cushion from West Elm create a cloud effect in the home’s main suite. Photography: Brigid Arnott / Styling: Lisa Hilton

Since downing tools last July, the couple has been savouring the fruits of their hard work.

A bench from Home With Grace echoes the natural tones in a Coastal Drift planter basket and keeps essentials within reach, while a striking pair of old African doors bookend the room. “They’ve lived different lives for different purposes,” says Monique. “Here, they’re parted as if they’re the doors into the ensuite bathroom.” Photography: Brigid Arnott / Styling: Lisa Hilton

“One of my favourite times of day is when it’s us as a family all up in the master suite,” says Monique, painting a picture of how they greet the new day from the gently swaying balcony chair.

Leilah cushions mirror the moody sky in an Africanologie print above the bed (which is strewn with a Portia cotton throw and ‘Lila’ linen bathrobe, both from Papaya). Photography: Brigid Arnott / Styling: Lisa Hilton

“We all – dogs, cats, humans – hang out here every morning, coffees and milk in hand, enjoying the sunrise from the ocean horizon year-round and spotting whales.

In the dedicated guests’ area that lies on the lower level, visitors step up to a raised sleeping space, where they can nod off amid the sounds of the ocean in calming white and spare surrounds. “The rusticness definitely comes from both our childhoods,”says Monique of the home’s style. “You know, if you put the current house in a field in Tuscany it would be a farmhouse. It’s just coastal because of the location, really.” Zara Home linen and decorative cushions from Coastal Drift amp up the comfort levels, while a round mirror (seek similar from Horgans) enhances the ample sense of light and space. Photography: Brigid Arnott / Styling: Lisa Hilton

It’s a tranquil and private family space where we share our first hour of every morning and where only we create the memories,” she says.

Mati’s bedroom is perfectly in tune with the laid-back feel of the entire house. Photography: Brigid Arnott / Styling: Lisa Hilton

“Every home we’ve lived in has represented who we are and what we like.” ~ Monique

“We jackhammered three layers of tiles away from the floor in here,” recalls Monique, who designed the stunning concrete vanity, which has Brodware tapware in Weathered Brass Organic and a Nero Stone sink accessorised with Coastal Drift’s ‘Tiffin’ basket, against a Beaumont Tiles splashback. A pendant by Home With Grace completes the starkly beautiful space. Photography: Brigid Arnott / Styling: Lisa Hilton

“Don’t be afraid of white,” is Monique’s mantra. Her interior walls are painted in a custom blend, while the white floorboards “are the easiest thing to look after,” she exclaims. “Everyone’s like, ‘How do you do it? You’ve got so many animals, and a child.’ But yes, it’s straight white concrete paint. Really simple.”

In the dreamy space that Monique calls “the heart of the home”, a Moroccan-tile table from Doug Up On Bourke, Malawi Cane Traditional single chairs and seatpads, cushions and throw from Eadie Lifestyle all work together to invite guests to take a seat, relax a little and forget their cares. Photography: Brigid Arnott / Styling: Lisa Hilton

“It’s where everyone congregates,” she says. As well as a place to soak up the sun in winter, this versatile outdoor zone “is just a really lovely setting for evening,” sums up Monique. Photography: Brigid Arnott / Styling: Lisa Hilton

“We call it a den,” says Monique of the home office, where Mati is pictured holding court from a Malawi chair in Dark Brown that’s paired with an Ikea desk (the cute seat outside is the children’s Malawi chair from Malawi Cane). As with the rest of the home, this is a multi-purpose area that can mould itself to the user’s needs. “It’s an escape room for anyone wanting peace, or time alone for either work, catching up on a book or watching a few episodes!” adds Monique. Photography: Brigid Arnott / Styling: Lisa Hilton

During the lengthy renovation, Monique and Andrea worked just as hard outdoors as in. “We got rid of a whole layer of jungle in one whole level of the garden – we re-turfed all three levels in the garden, built the cubby house and put in fencing,” says Monique, whose exterior renovation included landscaping, building planter beds in the courtyard, and replacing aged weatherboards. Photography: Brigid Arnott / Styling: Lisa Hilton

The steps down to the Mediterranean courtyard are covered in bougainvillea vines. Photography: Brigid Arnott / Styling: Lisa Hilton

Bringing Mati’s storybook- pretty cubby house to life was a true family affair: Monique designed and painted it (in Dulux Lexicon 15 per cent with Dulux Dandelion Yellow barn-style door, mimicking the family home) and Andrea constructed the 4m x 2.5m structure, with help from Mati. The cubby even had its own house-warming party! “All the neighbours came because they’d watched us do this eight-month construction,” says Monique, adding a neighbour made the bunting as a cubby-warming gift. Photography: Brigid Arnott / Styling: Lisa Hilton

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