An awkward cottage becomes a gracious Hamptons-style home

A decade ago, when homeowners Kristie and John bought their tiny cottage overlooking the bay in a covetable pocket of Sydney’s north, it was a classic case of the worst house in the best street. Back then, they had one small child – three more followed – and one big dream for what their family home could become.

Who lives here? Kristie, a homewares buyer; her husband John, a technology consultant; their children, Isabella, 14, Lachlan, 12, Olivia, nine, and Hamish, seven; Lilli, a miniature labradoodle, Cloud the rabbit and Ruby the guinea pig.

The plus of living in the house before renovating? John: “Living there helped us understand how the sun moves in winter and we’ve now got four of our five bedrooms that get sun in the morning and everyone wakes up feeling good with a bit of vitamin D.”

Anything you’d do differently with the renovation? Kristie: “In retrospect, the only regret is not putting underfloor heating in the downstairs laundry. We did that in both bathrooms upstairs that were brand new and it’s fantastic.”

Favourite spot for entertaining? “When we have friends over, we’ll go from the upstairs balcony to the downstairs balcony and the pool level is in between so we can see the children swimming.”

An awkward floor plan, a block with limited access and no redeeming architectural elements highlighted the need for an overhaul, but that turned out to be a huge challenge. One architect designed their perfect house at three times their budget (“He broke my heart,” recalls Kristie); another advised them to knock it down; a third suggested selling up. Undeterred, she started researching her perfect home – mood boarding, planning and buying special pieces. Her heart was set on a Hamptons look (she has every copy of Home Beautiful’s Hamptons special issues) and she wanted to get every detail right.
Eventually, the couple found their perfect match in builders Cape Cod Australia and their designer Barbara Szymanski, who came up with practical solutions to create their dream home without knocking down the original. “The foundations were amazing,” explains the owner. “In the 10 years that we lived here we didn’t even get a crack in it. We knew that they were really solid double-brick walls.” The family rented a house down the street and monitored the build over the 12 months it took to complete.
Key changes included the existing top floor, which was extended and reworked to include an open-plan kitchen and living area, along with a master suite and a second bedroom. The ground floor contains three more bedrooms for the children, along with a laundry and main bathroom. “I was there constantly,” says Kristie. “I just quite liked going and thanking everybody. I think having a positive attitude is contagious.” Her presence ensured a smooth build and kept things organised. “Most things were chosen a good six to 12 months in advance,” she recalls. “I didn’t leave it to chance.”
The couple sourced most of the pieces for the new house, from the front door (custom-made by a company in the NSW Southern Highlands), to furniture, taps and tiles. “The reality is that we worked every weekend for a year,” recalls John. “We would get stuff delivered on Friday and we would haul it up ourselves on Saturday and Sunday so that it was ready for the builders on Monday.”

Their dedication paid off – the build was finished on budget and the family moved in earlier than expected. And it didn’t take long for them to savour the sunny results. “We only lived here for about three or four days before John had an overseas trip and I was here with the kids,” recalls Kristie. “I kept waking up and walking into our beautiful living area with the sunshine and I just couldn’t believe it was our house. There are so many mornings like that.”

The family spends most of its time on the top floor, which features a combined living and dining area plus kitchen. Kristie and John made a last-minute decision to include a cathedral ceiling here, which helps make the space even more grand and light-filled.
The casual lounge is a welcoming retreat is tucked away behind the main entertaining space on the top floor. “I call it the TV room because I didn’t want a TV in the main area of the home,” says Kristie. “It’s another room where we have the beautiful raked cathedral ceilings and it’s cosy, but feels really luxurious.”

“We’re a really busy family, everyone’s got all their activities, but sometimes, like on a Sunday afternoon, we’ll do something really daggy such as watch a David Attenborough doco, or a movie with popcorn, if it’s raining.”

The wainscoting was a last-minute decision and Kristie spent six months hand-painting it in Dulux Lexicon quarter throughout the house. “The guys who did the timber carpentry work did an awesome job of it,” says John. “But then the painters were going to cost some ridiculous amount in paint, so Kristie did it instead.” She adds, “It really was a labour of love.”
The navy-blue paint colour in Hamish’s room was hard to choose. “We went through nine million paint samples,” says Kristie with a laugh. “I kept driving around to every possible paint supplier in Sydney, and John kept saying, ‘No that’s not the one, too purple, too dark’. So we came up with Sydney Harbour by Porter’s Paints, which we just loved. The fact that it’s called Sydney Harbour meant we were sold.”

In Olivia’s room added personal layers come care of a Winnie-the-Pooh print that belonged to Kristie as a child, a mouse artwork (artist unknown) that originally belonged to Lachlan and a chair that was bought when Isabella was born, 14 years ago.

“I took the project on like a job and I would go out and visit showrooms every single day” ~ Kristie.

The front porch was reworked into a casual poolside dining area and is now John’s gin-and-tonic spot, says Kristie. Kristie sourced all the exterior lights from Pottery Barn in the US, and had them shipped over.