First, there was the ‘speed updating’ to make what was unlivable comfortable in a home left in its original condition for 80 years. Peeling linoleum, mouldy carpets, broken windows and cracked walls were subjected to an intensive four-week fix by owners Robbie Wells and Kymm Henson (and eight-year-old daughter Riki) immediately after buying their home in North Bondi. “That part was easy and gratifying – ripping up all that old lino fixed to the floor with tacks,” Kymm says.
Then it was time to turn their renovation attention to more serious matters. The home’s proximity to the world-famous waters of Bondi may have countless attractions, but it also meant it was built on sand, and one corner of the structure was slowly sinking in its soft foundations. There was nothing for it but to install new footings.
And before the fun of furnishing the finished house, there were also layout alterations to attend to. “We were going to open it all up,” says Robbie, an industrial designer and founder of the company 4Design. “Then we realised that would mean losing the third bedroom. So I came up with the idea of adding a couple of ‘boxes’.
Inspired in part by the book 50/60/70 Iconic Australian Houses (written by former-editor of Inside Out Karen McCartney), Robbie conceived the idea of simple box-shaped additions – a six-metre-square design to be placed on top of the kitchen as a parents’ bedroom and retreat, and another smaller rectangular version to be attached to the guest bedroom to create a dining and living area. With the idea in place, Robbie’s ‘box’ solution was then developed by architect friend Mike Hannah, owner of Curve9. And this masterful renovation plan came with a built-in bonus. “The changes to the home are barely visible from the street, which helped get council approval in a record time of five weeks.”
Design priorities were to introduce light and convert the existing street-facing master bedroom into a lounge. A facelift for the kitchen and main bathroom gave Robbie the chance to flex his industrial-design muscles. Continuing on the box theme, he streamlined the once-poky kitchen into an open linear design. “The bench is actually designed as a big piece of furniture – one large box in spotted gum,” he says.
Further evidence of Robbie’s professional eye can be found throughout. Pegboard is used as a wallcovering, while plain white kitchen laminate is injected with style and humour courtesy of a bright-orange wine rack.
In the course of the three-month renovation, the family house-sat seven different homes. “We just kept a lot of suitcases in the car,” says stylist Kymm, half wincing, half smiling at the recollection.
As project manager, working with Paul Osborne, of Atlanta Building, Robbie was regularly on site. “During the days, I contacted the various subcontractors and suppliers to ensure commitments were being met. At night, I sourced materials and worked on the interior-design plans,” Robbie says. “Weekends were spent demolishing or chipping bricks – doing anything we could to keep the site organised and rubbish-free.”
A drab under-house wall was decorated with painted rings in grey and orange, the mural concept of which was inspired by Rose Seidler House. This artistic flourish is the punctuation point that topped off the renovation – a decorative finale to a creatively reworked family home.