A backyard cottage becomes a charming Northern Beaches retreat

Far from your average granny flat, Merrilyn's beautifully renovated backyard cottage is a magnet for family, friends and far-flung guests.
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Set foot in this wonderful sun-drenched weatherboard on Sydney’s northern beaches and try to resist unleashing your smartphone. There’s a pastel-pink front door just begging to be snapped; a perfectly positioned hanging chair swaying gently on the deck; statement bathroom floor tiles that read more like graphic artwork; and a luxurious outdoor shower framed by a baby frangipani tree.

Merrilyn and her dog, Ruby, live in the main house on the property, while her guesthouse plays host to a revolving door of family members and very lucky visitors.

And yet for all its obvious aesthetic appeal, there’s more to this cottage than a series of carefully constructed photo opportunities.

The exterior is equally enticing, decked out with a Fenton & Fenton ‘The Palm’ rattan hanging chair, handmade marine ply bunting painted in Dulux Soft Satin, and a generous stretch of lawn.

Homeowner Merrilyn’s parents, John and Barbara, first bought the property 20 years ago, lured by its location just five minutes from the beach and its crowd-pleasing credentials; the block of land boasted a main two-storey house at the front, plus a two- bedroom granny flat out the back.

The north-facing home is blessed with gorgeous incoming sun, and Merrilyn and Simone capitalised on that with smart light-enhancing surfaces: walls in Dulux Vivid White and Woodcut engineered European oak flooring in Voss. Beyond the home’s bones though, it’s the little touches that bring panache, such as the pretty-in- pink front door, painted Dulux Soft Satin, and the bunch of pussy willow on the Trit House marble dining table (joined by cane chairs, also from Trit House). “A woman at the local market does beautiful native flowers – I always get some when guests are coming,” says Merrilyn. The ‘Rust Confetti’ artwork by Rachel Castle reflects the room’s warm palette.

“My dad was all about looking after family,” explains Merrilyn. “He purchased this place so my grandmother would have somewhere to live.”

With its denim ‘Hugo’ sofa from Lounge Lovers, sandy-hued Kira & Kira ‘The Iconic’ sideboard and sunshine-yellow Smithmade cushion, the lounge room takes colour cues from its seaside locale.

Over the decades, the main house has enjoyed various refurbs and renovations (including a memorable one that was featured in the August 2015 issue of Home Beautiful), but only recently did attention turn to the cottage.

“The scheme is pulled from nature, but it happened quite organically,” says Simone, who also chose the Fenton & Fenton leather sling chair.

“I moved into the main house after both my parents passed, but I wanted to continue their legacy and keep the cottage for our family,” says Merrilyn. With grown-up daughters – including one who lives in New York – visiting regularly, plus a sister in Queensland and friends dotted across the country, it seemed only fitting that she convert the flat into a full- time guest quarters.

A flourishing fiddle leaf fig adds a homely touch, while a handcrafted wooden surfboard hints at the wonders outside.

And, Merrilyn decided, should there be a gap in the calendar, she would throw open the doors to Airbnb visitors. A new purpose for the home called for a new look – and a top- to-toe transformation led by Merrilyn’s daughter Simone, an interior designer who works in sustainability.

House guests wondering how to while away their days need only glance to a corner of the living room; a customisable Letter Display by New Zealand label George & Willy provides inspiration in spades. Below, treasured trinkets and cool curios form a display worthy of your Pinterest board – which is no coincidence. “Simone and I just couldn’t get that shelf right,” says Merrilyn. “Then one of our guests – a stylist and Instagrammer called Tara Wokulski (@ Coco.Camellia_), who was visiting with her family – offered to organise it.” The result is an exquisite composition of earthy textures, chalky whites and whispers of blue – and a sweet story for the guestbook.

Over nine months, the duo revived and reworked each space in the 1998-built cottage. “It was definitely of that era,” says Simone, recalling the carpeted floors and terracotta kitchen tiles.

Merrilyn’s chic Sydney guesthouse surprises and delights visitors at every turn.

The layout remained largely unchanged, but rickety interior walls were rebuilt and clad in Weathertex weatherboard, usually reserved for exteriors but chosen here for their noise-cancelling thickness and visual texture and depth.

The kitchen, once clad in tired terracotta and monochrome, now pops thanks to cabinetry in deep blue Dulux Vipere, a ‘Triple Kick’ pendant light by Melbourne designer Volker Haug, Phoenix ‘Lexi’ tapware in brushed gold, and ‘Transit’ bar stools from Curious Grace.

Style-wise, “I just knew I wanted the home to be contemporary and coastal – an updated version of a traditional beach house,” Simone explains. Honest materials and locally made pieces became a recurring theme, along with sublime, often unexpected colour.

“Don’t be scared of colour,” says Simone. “You’ll end up loving it. It adds an extra touch.”

The kitchen cabinetry pops in a dreamy deep turquoise, while palm- printed pink wallpaper in one of the bedrooms is as sophisticated as it is sweet. “I never play it safe,” says Simone simply. “And we wanted to create lots of Instagrammable moments.”

Striking azure tiles give new meaning to “floor show” in the bathroom (above left & right). “I walked into the shop [Tiles By Kate] and immediately knew they were ‘the ones’,” says Simone. Their undeniable dazzle is tempered by softer textures and rounded edges: white Penny tiles on the walls; a Mark Tuckey ‘Hoop’ mirror; and a lab sink and recycled oregon timber vanity unit, also by Mark Tuckey.

Above all, the focus was on creating spaces too lovely to leave (save for the very inviting sparkling blue sea just down the road). “The cottage used to have that typical granny look,” reflects Merrilyn. “We’ve kept it homely but completely modernised it.”

“The wood gets a bit marked by water, but we don’t mind,” says Simone. “It makes the space feel less stark.” And there’s the freestanding Caroma tub; this wall originally housed laundry appliances, but they were relocated to the garage to give priority to a sumptuous soak.

“This may be a beach house but we still wanted it to feel cosy” ~ Simone, Interior designer.

Most of the pieces in this room – and home – were crafted by Australian designers, including the porcelain pendant light by Mud Australia and Mark Tuckey timber stool.

“My family was in the timber industry for many years, so it was important to keep that connection.” ~ Merrilyn, Homeowner.

“If a piece is made locally it’s more likely to be sustainably sourced and ethically produced,” says Simone of her decorating ethos. “And when we have guests visiting from overseas it’s nice for them to experience Australian design.” Anna Spiro ‘Higgledy Piggledy Stripe’ wallpaper, Porter’s Paints.

“This may be a beach house but we still wanted it to feel cosy.” ~ Simone, Interior designer.

“I enjoy the company” says Merrilyn. “I’ve met interesting people from all over the world and everyone’s been absolutely lovely. At the moment I have a couple from Austin [Texas, USA] here and they say it’s the most beautiful rental they’ve ever stayed in.”

A fitting finale for this seaside sanctuary? Reece’s Milli Inox overhead rail outdoor shower, for rinsing off sandy feet and bodies after a day at the beach.

The home’s exterior, painted in Dulux Silkwort with Vivid White trims, provides a neutral backdrop to the growing garden (designed by Formed Gardens and planted by DC Landscapes), which will soon thrive with lush greenery and fragrant pink blooms.

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