Most people who move to Byron Bay for a year’s sabbatical tend to simplify their lives – filling each day with leisurely pursuits such as swimming at the beach, yoga sessions and lattes. But ex-Sydneysiders Kimberly Amos and Stephen Eakin tried a different angle. They decided to spend their year living in the popular town on the NSW North Coast, buying and renovating a house, instead.
“We’re busy people who just love a challenge,” says Kimberly of their decision to take on the project of returning an old beachside weatherboard to what it once was. “We’ve always loved renovating but, what’s more important is that we felt having a purpose for our time away would really help us blend into local life, make friends and feel as though we were a part of the community, rather than just visitors.”
Whether it was this connection with the local way of life or the success of the reno, Kimberly and Stephen found themselves hooked on the idea of staying up north and tackling further restoration work. Suddenly the prospect of Stephen hanging up his surfboard and returning to corporate life as a city banker just didn’t cut it. The couple, (along with their three children: Noah, Hunter and Arlo), set about finding another property venture – as a justification for prolonging their stay in paradise.
The perfect project presented itself in the heart of Byron Bay – a tired old guesthouse development in need of imagination and energy.
“Finding a business we could attach a vision to gave me the confidence to stay,” says Stephen.
Although it had been on the market for a while, with plans approved for demolition and replacement with several townhouses, Kimberly and Stephen still saw potential in the exisiting buildings and so set to work on a series of renovations on the business buildings and the adjoining home that has since become their full-time residence. Their efforts and accrued expertise resulted in the launch of the Atlantic Guesthouses and Little Palm, the family’s two-storey Caribbean-inspired home tucked in between the guesthouses and a nature reserve beyond.
Although now fresh and open-plan with plenty of modern conveniences, the new-look Little Palm hides a history of neglect. Before Kimberly and Stephen’s inspired intervention, the old weatherboard cottage was in such a state, the general consensus was that it was beyond repair. “A lot of people told us to tear the house down, but we wanted to keep it, and it has been very rewarding for us,” says Kimberly, in a tone usually reserved for loved ones, not inanimate objects.
“In fact, we’ve never knocked a house down, partly because we like the challenge of working with what is there. But it’s also a matter of respect for what came before us. A lot of work went into these old cottages, and the detailing – such as the fretwork – is just breathtaking. We feel a great sense of satisfaction being involved in their preservation.”
The couple’s chosen renovation style is a beautiful melange of their love for sunny Caribbean style, surf culture and Kimberly’s keen eye for detail. What they have done with the weatherboard house – including the addition of air-circulating shutters, wide bi-fold doors and three-metre-deep verandahs – encourages the indoor/outdoor lifestyle that this energetic family needs, comfortably allowing them to inhabit every corner of the building regardless of what the tropical Byron Bay weather dishes up.
The decoration throughout is casually simple – a mix of key Danish designs and relaxed beach-house style to fit perfectly with the family’s lifestyle.
Beyond aesthetics, the design priority was function; each room has been remodelled with practicality in mind. “I don’t think you can have too many drawers,” says Kimberly of her decision to integrate storage into the beds, walls and seating. “An organised house means a happy mother, after all!”
It is the fretwork with its palm-tree detailing, however, that really supported the architecture’s true character and ultimately gave the house its name. “The builders nicknamed the house ‘Little Palm’, because of the tree’s carving in the fretwork. And it stuck!” says Kimberly. “Including the palm was a lot of extra work at the time, but it was worth it, as it is the ‘little palm’ fretwork motif that people remember most.”
With the Atlantic Guesthouses and Little Palm completed, what’s next on the agenda for this dynamic duo? “I think the time has come for us to sit back and enjoy what we’ve created for a while. Although, I do have an idea for renovating one of the back cottages!” says Kimberly, shooting Stephen a warning glance, to prepare him for what work and planning lies ahead.