Who lives here? Katie Graham, creator and managing director of homewares store The Family Love Tree; husband Jason Byrne, who runs film production brand Guilty; daughter Billee, 11; and sons Angus, 8 and Wolfe, 5; plus Cherry Pie the cat
Style of house: A spacious 1970s flat-roofed villa that was gutted and renovated in seven weeks
Cost: The reno cost $150k for the house and $100k for the pool
Three years ago, Katie and her husband Jason faced a dilemma. Although they loved their Elsternwick mid-century home – designed by celebrated Melbourne modernist architect Dr Ernest Fooks and featured on interior blogs worldwide – it was in need of a renovation. Should they invest the money needed to knock out walls – “I just didn’t love the layout,” says Katie – build a second bathroom, and reconfigure the interior to better suit the couple and their three growing children? Or look for another house that required less work? After much thought, they plumped for the latter. “It was the more cost-effective option,” says Katie, a former fashion stylist and costume designer who now runs homewares store The Family Love Tree.
Not that the Caulfield house they eventually bought bore any resemblance to the stylish space the family now call home. In fairly original condition, with a marble entrance, patterned wallpaper and gold chandeliers, the 1970s single-level brick bungalow was “quite Liberace,” says Katie with a laugh. “We needed to tone it down.”
But the couple could see the potential behind the dated glitz and, after a cosmetic renovation that took just seven weeks, have now created the home of their dreams. “When I walk through the front door, I feel a sense of comfort because I am in my space, one I’ve created for me and my family,” says Katie.
Katie, what attracted you to this house?
We love mid-century design and were originally looking for another Ernest Fooks house – nearly buying one around the corner. Then we found this house and, though it’s built in 1972, it still has the ’60s style we like. I loved the flat roof and the high ceilings, its ‘squareness’ and all the light that flooded in. It also had a pool and a great layout that didn’t need any structural changes.
In your previous house, you kept a lot of original features such as the kitchen’s yellow tiles. Did you preserve anything here? Unfortunately, the kitchen in this house didn’t have the same appeal, it was electric blue and white, so it all had to go! The wallpaper was also in very bad condition. But we’ve kept the beautiful parquetry floors, some of the original light fittings, the marble entry and most of the timber cabinetry, which is just stunning. I’d love to know who the cabinetmaker was.
Why did you decide to renovate in seven weeks?
We were keen to avoid the double-cheese sandwich of two mortgages, and wanted to be able to move straight from our previous house into this one. But while I enjoyed the creative side of pulling the house together – I find aesthetic decisions easy – dealing with tradesmen and getting it done quickly was quite stressful. If we ever did it again, I wouldn’t do it in such a short time. It was like an episode of The Block – I wouldn’t recommend it!
What were your aims when it came to the interior?
The parquetry floors and the view of the gardens from every room dictated the colour palette to an extent. I wanted to make it warm and earthy, so I used teal, olive green and tobacco tones, mixed with a bit of gold. We have a lot of brightly coloured art, so I kept everything tonal so it pops out.
How would you describe your aesthetic?
It’s fairly eclectic; I like mixing old and new things. I don’t really look at interiors magazines or blogs for inspiration – I’d much rather do my own thing. I love collecting art, vintage furniture and pottery.
Did you have to balance your love of design with the need to create a child-friendly home?
Not really. It’s still a very cosy home and there’s nothing here that is too precious that they can’t touch. The kids also have their ‘wing’ with bedrooms and a second living area which is colourful and family friendly.
What’s your favourite thing to do in the house?
We’re all very busy during the week, so at weekends we like to relax at home, either as a family or with friends. We often have big Sunday lunches and pool parties in the summer. We’re very house proud and welcome friends and family into our home.
“If I do it again, I’ll employ a builder to manage the whole build” – Katie Graham, owner.
Biggest mistake: “Choosing the wrong tradesmen. As an owner-builder, I sourced my own tradies, but a couple weren’t up to scratch. If I ever do it again, I’ll employ a builder to manage the whole build: he would have his own team of tradies and would have to fix something if it went wrong.”
Best surprise: “I was told using wallpaper under a glass splashback was impossible but, after a lot of perseverance, we found a fantastic glass installer who was able to fit glass over the wallpaper without compromising the print. I love it – it’s so different.”
What I regret: “We had trouble sealing the kitchen and bathroom tiles after they’d been laid, as the black grout stained some white areas. They needed to be cleaned and then resealed. The first attempt of sealing them didn’t work, so they were scrubbed and cleaned again, before being sealed correctly.”