The generous proportions and lavish original detailing in this 1840s house in Sydney’s eastern suburbs is a reminder of times past when living was more genteel and romantic. In need of revitalising when the current owners bought it in 2018, four years later it is nothing short of a masterpiece, restored to its former grandeur while showcasing a new contemporary character.
With its enviable north-east harbourside location and 820sqm block the home has had a wealth of notable owners since its foundations were laid by convicts. From furniture retailing family the Waltons to Rupert Murdoch, the house has changed hands many times, with the previous owners in residence for 55 years.
For interior designer Kate Nixon of Studio Kate who was brought on board by architects Gina Geritis and Mariana Lorena of LiveinDesign it was an amazing project. Undaunted by the scale of work to be tackled in the three-storey home, Kate set to work on the interior architecture, referencing the Beaux-Arts style by reinstating symmetry, restoring the classic architectural detailing and creating new arched openings.
A hierarchy of spaces was established from the grand entrance through to the more functional rooms, connected by new French doors that admit an abundance of natural light and highlight the impressive vista of the sparkling harbour. Linking the formal living room with the front courtyard gardens and the formal dining room and kitchen with the covered balcony also created a better flow, and enhanced the indoor-outdoor feel.
Crafting a contemporary and practical home for a family that includes three adult offspring while retaining a sophisticated European sensibility required an assured response and a deft hand. From the oak parquetry and stone flooring, ornate wall and ceiling mouldings, brass, glass and alabaster light fixtures, marble bathrooms, stone fireplaces and sumptuous bespoke furnishings, elegance is the byword throughout.
Diana Vreeland’s oft-quoted comment that the eye has to travel is apt here where absolute beauty and an incredible level of detail vie for attention at every turn.
The comprehensive refresh has resulted in a six-bedroom eight-bathroom home with three kitchens, a bar and cellar, grand formal living and dining rooms, a library, entertainment and TV room, pool, poolhouse and outdoor entertaining area set in lush gardens.
With the architectural details restored and beautified, the rooms were ready to welcome a magnificent rollcall of furniture, elegant window treatments, art and objets. Local and international artisans and suppliers yielded a refined selection of furniture, rugs, upholstery and decorative lighting that effortlessly melds new and antique.
“A sophisticated palette of linen, leather, stone, brass, iron and cane sits lightly in the spaces with earthy accents complementing collected art and ceramics,” says Kate.
The tone is set at the entrance where classic black-and-grey chequerboard tiles give way to oak chevron parquetry in the grand entry foyer with its sweeping restored marble and curved brass-railed staircase.
Sleek, black steel-framed doors and a classic white background lend an au courant note to the surroundings, and the living spaces are personalised with open shelving to display books and treasured items.
While the setting is sophisticated and lends itself to fabulous entertaining, it also sits comfortably with everyday family life. Window seats with harbour views offer the opportunity for quiet contemplation, and chairs grouped around sandstone fireplaces cater to more convivial engagement.
The decorative details add finesse and polish. In the dining room, the drama of a Designers Guild mural wallpaper framed in mouldings is complemented by a spectacular Murano chandelier suspended over the custom marble and brass dining table, giving even everyday dining a sense of occasion.
It is just one of the spaces in the home the owner describes as “more than beautiful and beyond our expectations”. The dining room is separated by new steel-framed fluted glass doors from the kitchen, another favourite space with its hand-painted biscuit-hued joinery and horn handles, arched steel windows and backlit onyx slab in the wet bar.
Bedrooms are sanctuaries of calm, swathed in lavish Italian linens, velvets and cashmere, hand-spun wool rugs and kilims, and complemented by study areas and luxurious marble bathrooms and, in the case of the main, a walk-in robe with glamorous shoe display and make-up table.
Other significant bespoke details include the Axolotl Florentine brass joinery set against original sandstone walls in the lower ground floor entertainment room, the double onyx-clad vanity in the main bathroom, and the floating marble bench seat with velvet upholstery in the library.
Vestiges of the magnificence of the heritage home remain, such as the exposed sandstone walls that were cleaned and retained, and the original tiling that is referenced in the new material selection.
Walls were replastered, floors replaced, internal timber doors custom designed and new hardware introduced. Where privacy was required sheer window treatments were selected to maintain views. Kate describes the transformation as “epic – delivering the elusive juxtaposition of classic and contemporary, the best of old and new for luxurious everyday living”.
The owners say they are “extremely grateful” for the design team and builder, JMichael Constructions. “It was very important to us to support original design and to create a European sensibility and authenticity in our home. We absolutely love the outcome.”
There’s no doubt the home is a complete triumph, offering its inhabitants the best of both worlds – practical and beautiful contemporary living spaces within the surrounds of a romantic and lavishly detailed past.