Home Tours

This 1950s cottage in Melbourne is a sustainable sanctuary

More than just a sustainable home renovation, this Melbourne cottage delights in all things natural.
Sustainable timber kitchen with fluted timber island and clerestory windows.Photography: Marnie Hawson. Styling: Belle Hemming

This is now the sunniest of homes – filled with natural light and reclaimed timber, it embraces organic style and sustainability. But when Claire and Tim bought the 1950s weatherboard in Melbourne’s north-east 11 years ago, its most positive attributes were the large parcel of land and its easy proximity to the neighbourhood village.

“The house itself was pretty basic and poorly insulated,” says Claire. “It had very few north-facing windows to the back garden, so the house felt dark. And we were all sharing one very small bathroom directly opposite the front door, so there was zero privacy,” she laughs.

Reclaimed timber rear facade and pink garden flowers.
The rear facade of the home, clad in reclaimed southern blue gum timber from CERES Fair Wood and coated in Cutek oil, “nestles well into the garden”, says architect Nicola Dovey. A Victorian ash deck under a blackbutt pergola awaits the next item on the family’s wishlist – an outdoor dining setting. “We’re all looking forward to sitting out here over summer,” says Claire. (Photography: Marnie Hawson. Styling: Belle Hemming)
Sustainable timber entrance with timber sideboard.
An old timber family sideboard anchors the hall. Above it is the ‘Catch’ light by Melbourne-based Grazia & Co and a Robin Stephens artwork. The front door is painted Dulux Topelo Honey and the walls Dulux Natural White. In the main bedroom, a timber bed made by Tim is paired with a Zuster side table and a Cosh table lamp from Freedom. (Photography: Marnie Hawson. Styling: Belle Hemming)

Who lives here? Claire, a book designer, and Tim, a high-school principal, their children Gus, 11, and Lydia, nine, plus Tilly the cavoodle and two chickens.
Is this your forever home? Claire: “The kids will definitely see out their high school years here. I can’t imagine us leaving any time soon.”
What do you love most about the neighbourhood? “There’s a close-knit community with many like-minded families and a cute main street of shops.”
Tell us about the beautiful garden. “Our good friends run Green Living Landscapes and they put in a beautiful garden for us, with vegie beds and a mix of native and Mediterranean plants.”

Timber open plan living and dining area.
The living and dining areas are now filled with natural light, opening the space up to the leafy backyard. A Jardan sofa, which has been in the family for many years, is layered with custom-made cushions from The Upholstery House and a green throw from Macey & Moore. The armchair was a lucky roadside find that owners Tim and Claire reupholstered in fabric from Warwick. (Photography: Marnie Hawson. Styling: Belle Hemming)

For eight years, the couple lived in the home with their children, Gus, now 11, and Lydia, nine, until they were “bursting at the seams”. The best course of action, they agreed, was to renovate. Reaching out to architect Nicola Dovey, founder of Drawing Room Architecture, the couple were confident they were in the right hands.

“It felt like a natural fit with Nicola,” says Claire. “She’s very practical and down to earth. She got exactly what we wanted straight away. “The solution was obvious to all three of us – to maximise the northern light, and add a new kitchen and living space facing the back garden. Nicola also incorporated an ensuite off our bedroom at the front, a powder room, family bathroom and third bedroom.”

Living and dining

A boardroom table that once belonged to Tim’s grandfather is now the family’s dining table, teamed with classic Thonet ‘Erinna’ chairs. On the adjacent wall, a Spacecraft screen-print of an angel was a gift from Claire’s mother, interior designer Kerry Smith. The living and dining areas can be sealed off from one another by the sliding door, painted Dulux Sandgrass Green.

Sustainable timber dining room with family table.
The ceiling lights are the Richmond Lighting spotlights in White. (Photography: Marnie Hawson. Styling: Belle Hemming)
Sustainable timber and living and dining area.
Timber tones dominate the new kitchen and dining area. (Photography: Marnie Hawson. Styling: Belle Hemming)

Claire’s interior designer mother, Kerry Smith, also worked on the home. “I’d always hoped my mum would do the interiors when we renovated,” says Claire. “She has just retired, so we were lucky we were able to get it done in her last year of work. It was very special.”

From the outset, sustainability was a major focus. Key elements included an electric induction cooktop, reclaimed timber external cladding from CERES Fair Wood, double-glazed timber windows and doors, maximum insulation in the extension, and passive solar design and ventilation to keep the home cool in summer and warm in winter.


Organic texture reigns in this space. The benchtops are low-silica-content Silestone in Nolita from Cosentino, the splashback is terrazzo from Acropolis Marble and the overhead cabinetry is Tasmanian oak veneer while the front of the island bench is clad in Porta Contours Tasmanian oak. The pendant above the island is the striking UV Fold by South Drawn.

Sustainable timber kitchen with fluted timber island and clerestory windows.
The Bobby barstools are from DesignByThem. A photograph of Mawson’s Huts in Antarctica hangs above the island, while an artwork by Dylan Martorell on the opposite wall was an engagement gift to Claire and Tim.(Photography: Marnie Hawson. Styling: Belle Hemming)
Sustainable timber kitchen with clerestory windows.
“This is such a great space to cook in,” says Claire of the new light-filled kitchen. (Photography: Marnie Hawson. Styling: Belle Hemming)

“My decorating style is a bit pared back but obviously I love natural materials and surfaces,” says Claire. A range of earthy, environmentally conscious finishes are showcased in the home, including the spotted gum flooring from Havwoods, which grounds the new wing while adding beauty and warmth. Go to havwoods.com/au to book a virtual or in-showroom visit.

We love… organic style

Meanwhile, with David Alexandrakis from Cassilis Constructions taking charge of the works, the family moved out in December 2021 into an even pokier pad. “We have a fibro shack at the back of our property, so we all – Tilly the dog included! – lived there to save rent,” says Claire. “It’s tiny with no heating – and there were possums!”

Ten months later, the family settled back into their reimagined home. Understated and beautifully earthy in style and finishes, it heroes its raw materials. From the raked plywood ceilings and spotted gum flooring in the new wing to the terrazzo kitchen splashback, organic textures abound. Best of all, this is a light-drenched, environmentally conscious home that revels in its leafy surrounds.

The combined pantry and laundry off the kitchen is a space saver. (Photography: Marnie Hawson. Styling: Belle Hemming)
Timber built-in study desk and shelving.
Claire’s workspace off the kitchen, complete with built-in desk and shelving, can be completely closed off and concealed at the end of the day. “We wanted lots of bookshelves, as Tim is an avid book collector and I work in publishing,” says Claire. (Photography: Marnie Hawson. Styling: Belle Hemming)

Family bathroom

Light pours into the bathroom through a skylight. “The room feels really bright, even though there are no windows as it’s in the centre of the house,” says Claire.

Timber and grey tile family bathroom with skylight.
Mizu ‘Drift’ shower rose in brushed nickel and Posh Domaine ceramic vanity with Tasmanian oak finish cabinet, both from Reece. Sorrento wall tiles in Avario from Classic Ceramics. (Photography: Marnie Hawson. Styling: Belle Hemming)

“This is such a light and bright house, so it’s always a wonderful place for us all to come home to.”


Back garden deck

The whole family loves the new Victorian ash outdoor deck, including their two chickens. “The back living room that has so much natural light and looks out to the garden is definitely my favourite space in the house. We all love hanging out here,” says Claire. “The home is so lovely to live in all year round because of all the sustainable features.”

Outdoor deck with reclaimed timber cladding and pergola.
A blackbutt pergola and reclaimed southern blue gum cladding from CERES Fair Wood are a perfect match for the timber dining table and chairs indoors. (Photography: Marnie Hawson. Styling: Belle Hemming)
Outdoor deck with timber cladding and chicken.
The backyard is home to two chickens. (Photography: Marnie Hawson. Styling: Belle Hemming)

“I wanted the home to be warm and inviting, with lots of timber and other natural materials.”

Outdoor deck with reclaimed timber cladding.
The recycled timber-clad new exterior. (Photography: Marnie Hawson. Styling: Belle Hemming)

Nicola is also thrilled. “It’s now a sunny, warm home with easy access to the garden,” she says. “All the elements were leaning in the right direction. The home and the site just needed to find their synergy.”

Timber kitchen with owner Claire and a cavoodle.
Claire in the kitchen with Tilly the family cavoodle. (Photography: Marnie Hawson. Styling: Belle Hemming)

Architect: Nicola Dovey, Drawing Room Architecture, drawingroomarchitecture.com.au, @drawingroomarchitecture.
Builder: David Alexandrakis, Cassilis Constructions, cassilis.com.au.
Interior design: Kerry Smith.
Reclaimed timber cladding: CERES Fair Wood, ceresfairwood.org.au.
Cutek timber oil: cutek.com.au.


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