Leah and her husband Ash had been looking for a holiday home on the Mornington Peninsula south of Melbourne but couldn’t find what they wanted in well-known tourist destinations such as Sorrento and Portsea. What they did discover was the small coastal town of Balnarring on the south-eastern end of the peninsula and “a truly hidden gem” nestled among overgrown gardens.
After a year-long renovation, the original cottage has been redesigned and enlarged to cater for family getaways and entertaining. A favourite spot is the outdoor area, with its four-metre-high ceilings and reclaimed teak dining setting from Early Settler. “It was a priority to make the most of spring and summer entertaining so we got one of the biggest outdoor tables we could find and added a pizza oven, which is fun to fire up,” says Leah of the Tuscan-inspired addition from Pizza Ovens R Us.
“We instantly fell in love with the quaint little 1980s three-bedroom mudbrick cottage,” says Leah. “You could tell it had been really loved and it was full of character and potential.”
The quiet beachside area also suited the couple. They found that with their children Brooklyn and Riley, now five and three respectively, plus baby Josh, born in August, it was the escape they were after – and just an hour’s drive from their Melbourne home.
Who stays here? Leah; her husband Ash, an electrician; and their children, Brooklyn, five, Riley, three, and Josh, two months.
What was the biggest improvement? Leah: “The kitchen/dining/living extension has completely opened up the once-small, dark cottage and created a spacious, light-filled home.”
How do you unwind here? “With a glass of local wine by the fire pit or while soaking in the outdoor bath.”
Favourite thing about the area? “Balnarring has such a beautiful community feel, with many of the people in the area residing here permanently. It is also just a stone’s throw away from all the incredible Mornington Peninsula wineries and an array of fresh, local produce.”
As owner-builders, their plan was a total renovation and extension utilising Ash’s trade as a sparkie and all-round handyman skills. “We’d renovated to flip houses before, but not a project of this size,” says Leah, “and as we were keeping it, this was more emotional, a labour of love.”
The new hub is an open-plan living, dining and kitchen, with doors by All Timber Windows & Doors allowing in plenty of light and garden views to the north. “I love to cook so I wanted two ovens and a dual cooktop with gas and induction,” says Leah of the new kitchen. Cabinetry in ‘Duropal’ veneer in Natural Lancelot Oak by LI Surfaces provides abundant storage and envelops an island topped in ‘Taj Mahal’ Quartzite by CDK Stone. A ‘Chester’ fireclay butler sink from Turner Hastings channels the farmhouse feel the family wanted.
A large ‘Parquet’ dining table from Interiors Online is paired with ‘Cristo’ oak chairs from Oz Design Furniture to seat a crowd here, too. In the background hallway is a Jai Vasicek artwork titled India Rose. ‘Light Country’ travertine tiles from The Marble Merchant flow throughout the house and extend out to the dining area too.
A ‘Salsie’ modular fabric sofa in Dalton Natural from Freedom is layered with cushions from House of Orange, Eadie Lifestyle and Weave Home, and provides room to stretch out alongside a vintage Indian coffee table from Alabaster Trader. The rug is from Pottery Barn.
Enlisting interior designer Judy Parkin of Interior Blank, who they’d worked with previously, the brief involved lightening and brightening the dark interior, heroing some of the mudbrick walls and significantly increasing the home’s size with a new kitchen, living area, laundry, big outdoor entertaining area and three additional bedrooms. “My extended family lives in Queensland and we’d always found it difficult to find a place where we could all stay together, so our plan was to make this the place where we could get away and enjoy time together,” says Leah.
A feature of the rumpus room is the architectural solid Oregon beams. “They were originally quite dark and had too much colour variation, so we painted them white to complement the light, bright theme we were trying to achieve,” says interior designer Judy of the beams, which were updated with hardwood lining boards in a satin ash finish (try Wood Solutions). The original hearth area was also updated, with surrounds clad in natural fossil stone from The Marble Merchant. “We used the raw side as it had more texture,” says Judy.
“This was in keeping with the room’s original mudbrick, which was painted in Dulux Natural White.” For added comfort underfoot, a ‘Whittaker’ hand-knotted rug from Pottery Barn grounds a Lounge Lovers ‘Bronte’ sofa. Eye-catching additions also include a Bright Sea Lighting ‘Gold Decaro’ chandelier from Temple & Webster and an ‘Arena’ fossil limestone coffee fable from En Gold.
Demolition and gutting began in December 2020 and the project was completed in time for Christmas last year. The home was christened just as the couple had envisaged, too, with extended family on both sides staying throughout the festive season.
“We feel a sense of instant relaxation as soon as we set foot inside the house”Leah
Texture abounds, with inspiration drawn from the home’s original mud-brick walls and coastal location. “If we used minimal flat finishes, it would have looked bland and lifeless next to the texture of the mudbrick,” says interior designer Judy Parkin, “so we used natural, neutral elements like travertine floor tiles, oak veneer kitchen cabinetry and blackbutt-framed window and doors, to complement the brick but not compete with it.” Visit lisurfaces.com.au and alltimberwindows.com.au.
Almost tripling in size, the old house is unrecognisable. However, by incorporating the original mudbrick walls and Oregon timber gable beams, it retains a sense of the past, which helps make it feel unique.
“We wanted this home to feel warm, textural and a change from our everyday life”Leah
Ash’s handiwork features in the main bedroom, where Tadelakt Venetian plaster (try venetianplastershop.com.au) was used to create a subtle textural backdrop. “It really is our retreat,” says Leah. “It’s so spacious and sits at the opposite end of the house to the other bedrooms, so it’s lovely and quiet and looks out onto the garden.” Alongside the bed dressed in Target linen and L&M Home cushions, a ‘Kalise’ reclaimed timber plinth bedside table from Early Settler holds a collection of ceramics, and a ‘Crochet Wire Oblong’ pendant light by Lighting Collective adds a sculptural touch. The main bedroom’s make-up vanity is styled with a ‘Trent’ iron sconce and mirror from Temple & Webster.
Inspired by the mudbrick, the interior palette is a mix of natural, neutral finishes brimming with texture, from the travertine-tiled floors and handmade Moroccan clay tiles to warm oak furnishings. Ash even completed a course in Venetian plastering to master the art form used in all the bathrooms and on several feature walls, while Leah recruited her brother Jonathon, who works in interior design, to source furniture that evokes a Mediterranean farmhouse feel. “Everything had to work for us as a family with young kids and also for holiday rentals, so we opted for durable surfaces and sofas with washable covers,” she says.
All the bathrooms remained in the same spot but were gutted and reimagined. The guest zone now has a generous vanity and open shower below a skylight, as well as perfectly imperfect handmade Moroccan clay Zellige tiles from Lifestiles Design Studio. “I love them,” says Leah. “They have wonderful character and catch the light so beautifully.” The vanity is wrapped in ‘Troia Walnut’ veneer by LI Surfaces, topped with ‘Arctic White’ Neolith from CDK Stone and is teamed with tapware from Par Tapware.
With the hard work done, the family loves to head here whenever they can – and this year, they’re looking forward to hosting Christmas once again. “I love cooking and spending time with all the family, so I think it will definitely become a tradition to celebrate Christmas here,” says Leah. And what a place to make memories.
Interior design: Judy Parkin, Interior Blank, interiorblank.com.au
Joinery: Seaview Cabinets, (03) 8726 0606, seaviewcabinets.com.au
Landscaping: Mode Landscaping, modelandscaping.com.au
Mudbrick restoration: Jorge Peña, 0432 234 478
Booking details: Mudbrick House, luxico.com.au, @mudbrick.house