Trust an architect and a carpenter to transform a tiny, dated place into a spacious family home in just three weeks. Read on to find out how they made it happen…



Who lives here: Architect Rachel Hudson; her husband, Brad Wood, a joiner and carpenter; and their children, Lola, 5, and Jethro, 3.

Style of house: A sunlit two-bedroom apartment with New York loft-style appeal on Sydney’s Northern Beaches.

Timeline: Rachel and Brad started planning the renovation before settlement. “By the time we got the keys, all the finishes, fittings and fixtures were purchased,” says Rachel. The entire project was completed in three weeks flat. “We didn’t require a DA as all works were internal.”

Cost: “We were careful to keep the budget within 15 per cent of the purchase price,” says Rachel.




There were plenty of reasons for Rachel and Brad not to buy this poky, dated apartment in Sydney’s Northern Beaches: a cramped layout, dark rooms and old-fashioned decor. And with two kids under five, the couple knew they’d need to have their A-game ready if they were to revamp the space into a family-friendly home. “We wanted to change everything,” says Rachel. “At the first open for inspection, we started planning.” With her architect’s eye and Brad’s building know-how, the couple knew the property with its double-brick foundations, 2.75-metre-high ceilings and pretty outlook had potential for open-plan living in an area they knew and loved. By the time they’d made an offer and settled, the family were ready for a high-speed three-week renovation blitz. “We would have been homeless if we hadn’t completed the project within our schedule, so we made it happen,” says Rachel.



Rachel started the process by identifying the look she wanted for her home. Her trademark aesthetic is soft minimalism – a look that incorporates all the serenity of a pared-back home, minus the stiff austerity and coldness that often accompanies the understated look. Adding warmth through textures and tones saves the style from being too clinical. “The soft-minimalistic architectural approach of a restrained palette, clean elongated lines and lack of clutter creates a sense of calm and evokes creativity,” says Rachel. “I’m inspired by the timeless work of Norm architects in Copenhagen and British architect John Pawson.” Rachel also wanted to add a light-filled New-York-loft vibe to the apartment and rework the small, gloomy rooms into an open-plan space to suit the family’s lifestyle.



  • Oak floors Soft underfoot, and will add tactile tones to the space
  • Concrete benchtops They’re unparalleled in aesthetic and function
  • Smart storage solutions By going open-plan, all storage needs to be hardworking and easy to use. Floor-to-ceiling cabinetry may be the way to go
  • Striking pendant lights Emphasising the apartment’s high ceilings
  • Hide-away appliances In a sparse space, an integrated fridge and dishwasher are key



The beauty of being an architect is that you get to apply your ideas and experience to your own design. “I was able to do this project in-house,” says Rachel. “But we established the brief and aesthetic direction as a family. Brad was very involved during the design process and provided the ‘client’ voice. It’s certainly a challenge working for yourself,” says Rachel.

The couple started the home’s makeover plans in the living/dining area, where the biggest transformations would take place. “We wanted to maximise the social areas of the home,” says Rachel. Turning ‘poky’ into ‘generous’ involved removing non-load-bearing walls in the kitchen and laundry. Rachel and Brad also had to consider how the room would be used and how that would impact the design. “Due to the overall size of the living room, we had to choose between an island bench or a dining table,” says Rachel, who ended up deciding to go with a more standard dining table and chairs set-up.

Being a young family had an impact on the design decisions, too. “We considered retaining the internal laundry,” says Rachel. But the move would have compromised the home’s open feel. Consolidating a stacked washer/dryer within the joinery at the end of the kitchen turned out to be a clever solution. “It was a total game-changer,” says Rachel. “Removing the laundry walls afforded the living area a surprisingly generous sense of space for an apartment.”



As a joiner and carpenter, Brad took charge of the construction work. Plans were drawn up well before settlement, trades booked and the entire process was ready to roll. “The whole place was completely gutted within the first three days of the build – we were back to bare bones,” says Rachel. The family stayed at Brad’s parents’ place during construction – “It would have been a squeeze if the project ran over time!” says Rachel – but both she and Brad were on site every day of the three-week project. “It was really exciting seeing the place evolve into our vision,” she says. Despite the joy of watching their dreams take shape, the tight schedule was certainly intense. “It was our biggest challenge,” says Rachel. “Brad worked crazy hours. Fortunately, we had no delays in overlapping trades.”

There were cost-cutting tricks at every turn, such as saving on labour costs by pouring and forming the concrete benchtops on site. But there were splurges, too, especially when it came to the joinery. Flat-packed floor-to-ceiling cabinetry, concrete benches and integrated appliance nooks in the kitchen were installed by Brad to ensure the home is as functional as it is beautiful.

With such a considered process, there’s not a lot of room for regret. Except when it comes to the bathroom – the concrete floor is elegant but come winter, it can be a little chilly. “We regret not putting underfloor heating in – that’s something we know for next time,” says Rachel.



  • Going open plan “We can all be together as a family even when working independently – the kids love to draw at the dining table while I’m cooking dinner. It’s a homey space and we’re connected with one another,” says Rachel.
  • Adding textures “We chipped the render off some of
    the brickwork and painted it white for added texture
    – I love the urban feel of painted brickwork.”
  • Letting the light in “One key element of the home is the quality of the natural light – it’s always uplifting.”


For more information on Rachel’s work, visit


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