Basking in the joy of poolside living, cocooned by palm trees and elephant ears, there’s no need for homeowners Matthew, Emma and daughters Willow and Isla to close their eyes and imagine their dream holiday. A feeling that you could be anywhere in the world exudes from their coastal cottage on Sydney’s Northern Beaches – and that’s exactly the vibe architect Matthew was after when he redesigned the “charming but underutilised” property. “I wanted to create a private tropical retreat, where you wake up at the weekend and feel like you don’t need, or want, to leave,” he says of the beautifully renovated house.
WHO LIVES HERE? Emma, a cosmetic nurse, and Matthew, an architect, with their daughters Willow, 10, Isla, eight, and Flossy the cavoodle.
WHAT’S ON YOUR CHRISTMAS MENU? Emma: “We spend Christmas with the same friends each year. They arrive at 10am for a buck’s fizz and then we have a traditional turkey lunch with all the trimmings. On Boxing Day I make bubble and squeak, a tradition inherited from my parents, and we make pizzas with leftover turkey.”
WHAT’S YOUR PLAN FOR THE DAY? Matthew: “We’ll swim and play Christmas songs on our outdoor sound system, plus we have a cricket match on the terrace. We like to have a Christmas quiz and, to end the night, there’s always a game of darts.”
Emma found the cottage back in 2014, when they were looking for a bigger block. “It was in an area we loved – close to the ocean with a village-like atmosphere – and it had so much character,” says English expat Emma, who found it reminiscent of cottages back home. “I fell in love with the front verandah, picturing myself up there relaxing in the treetops, but I didn’t mention it to Matthew because I thought the steep garden would put him off.”
However, when the property curiously disappeared from a real-estate website then came back again, she decided he should go and see it for himself. He instantly envisioned extending the small house and turning the ‘challenging’ garden into an entertainer’s dream, with a series of functional terraces and home-office cabins at its top. Four days later, the home was theirs.
“I didn’t think we needed to do much,” admits Emma. “I was happy to have a beautiful house with a big garden… although it did have the tiniest bathroom in the world and a toilet in the laundry.” However, she is married to an architect! “Once I saw how it could evolve as the girls grow up, I let Matthew get on with it.” He was keen to retain the character of the cottage: “Knocking down and rebuilding can make a home feel soulless, so the old cottage is here but I designed a renovation that complements it.”
“Standing in the garden for the first time, I was blown away. It was a blank canvas and I could see so many possibilities” ~ Homeowner and architect Matthew.
With small children and a limited budget, the couple renovated the cottage over several years, starting with new bathrooms and moving the laundry outside. The backyard, offices and pool followed in 2018, when they also renovated the kitchen, which opens on to an alfresco haven, where friends and family are invited for woodfired pizzas and parties, while the kids play in the pool.
Custom joinery brings an original and polished look to any room and a cohesive style to your home. Matthew designed the beautiful oak and rattan joinery in the cottage, including a bedhead-cum-partition with a built-in bedside table. Hidden behind sliding doors are reading lights, books, phone chargers, master light switches and a pull-out shelf for a morning cuppa. Seek out bespoke furniture makers or find retailers, such as Domayne, who offer a range of options so you can tailor pieces to your taste.
Last year, they began the stunning first floor parents’ retreat and renovated the rest of the five-bedroom home. “We’d planned to build a double garage and guest studio under the house in the future,” says Matthew, “but when we couldn’t travel because of Covid we pressed go on that, too.” The home mixes Aussie open plan with a more English sensibility. “English houses have multiple small rooms and, while I love large spaces, I also like having areas you can go to and close off,” says Emma. The classic white-and-neutral interiors retain a coastal-cottage vibe and are taken to another level with bespoke joinery, designed by Matthew, throughout.
This Christmas, the holiday-style home will come into its own, with lots of entertaining and poolside fun. “Christmas is my favourite time of year,” enthuses Emma, who starts planning in October and puts the tree up extra early. “We’ll be making up for last year, when we were in isolation and a friend left our turkey in the driveway. I can’t wait to have a traditional Christmas lunch with our friends and to enjoy our beautiful garden.”
The family loves entertaining, and the garden is never short of guests, with its bar and barbecue areas, pizza station and pool. A crowd-pleasing Eco Outdoor table and bench ensemble echoes the tallowwood around the pool, while a Freedom sofa styled with Kelly Wearstler cushions from Manyara Home and a Country Road throw offers family-sized comfort. “It was inspired by a holiday in Bali,” recalls Matthew, “where we had a daybed big enough for us all.” Wide landscaped terraces host games of cricket and outdoor movie nights while two cute cabins – his ‘n’ hers offices – sit at the top.
ARCHITECT: Matthew Power, SketchArc, sketcharc.com.au
KITCHEN: Trevor Bailey, Delta Design Joinery, [email protected]
JOINERY: Cabarita Designs, cabaritadesigns.com.au | Uneek Interior Solutions, u-neekinteriors.com.au
DOORS & WINDOWS: H2 Custom Joinery, @h2customjoinery