Returning to their native Tasmania has allowed one family to create their ideal house.

Cheat sheet:

Who lives here: Sophie Burbury, a graphic designer turned infant swimming teacher; her husband James, an engineer; and their children Louis, 9; Jemima, 7; and Posy, 4; plus Dolly the dalmatian.

Style of home: A 1950s brick cottage with a weatherboard extension in Hobart.

Timing: The renovation took eight months to complete.

Budget: The renovation cost less than $500k.

Sophie and James Burbury were always going to return to their home state of Tasmania when they decided to start a family. It made sense in so many ways. They had enjoyed life in Melbourne for seven years but had felt a strong pull towards Hobart. There were family, friends and the convenience of living in a small city, plus, the beautiful coastline and natural surrounds. But perhaps more than anything, there was an opportunity to create a home just as they wanted it.

It took time to work out what that was, though. While living in Melbourne, Sophie and James purchased a house in Hobart with amazing views overlooking the Derwent River. But after having two children, Louis and Jemima, they had outgrown the house and the couple wanted a flat backyard for the kids to play in.

It took six months before the right place appeared. Sophie and James were down the channel on a boat when they saw an email alert about a home in Hobart’s bay area. They called the agent immediately and were the first people to inspect the house. Despite viewing it in pouring rain, they made an offer the next day.

“We were looking for a ‘renovator’s delight’, so even though the day of the open home was torrentially raining and we couldn’t really see the backyard, we saw potential,” says Sophie. “The four sheds we found when we got the keys were a surprise!”

The house was a 1950s brick cottage. Extensions had been made to the back of the house in the 1990s, a balcony had been enclosed, and various rooms had been added. While it was in worse condition than other places they had viewed, it also had more potential, with room to open up the back of the house to create flow between indoor and outdoor living.

“But the garden was so overgrown that we had no idea where the boundary fences were,” says Sophie. “Every room was a different colour of the rainbow, from pistachio green to fluoro pink. We kept a strip of original pink paint on an exterior wall next to the new extension as a reminder of our rainbow house.”

Rainbow colours, however, are easy to remedy. Before moving in, Sophie and James painted the interior white, added blinds, sanded the floorboards and installed new carpet in the bedrooms. The plan was to live in the home for two years before renovating to properly plan their next move, and they stuck to that.

Using an architect was always going to be part of the process. “As an engineer and consultant, James works with architects and with my fine art and graphic design background, I’ve always held architects in high regard,” says Sophie. “We had a good idea of how we wanted the space to work and our architect came up with concepts we couldn’t have dreamt of.”

The couple worked with local firm Preston Lane Architects. “They brought their expertise to the project and considered natural light, angles and materials, which all brought unique elements to the extension,” says Sophie. “I think choosing an architect is quite a personal thing – you need to be heading in the same direction and obviously have a similar design aesthetic.”

“We had our third child while renovating, which wasn’t in the grand plan, and there were hurdles to overcome,” says Sophie. Overall, the process was a good one. James created the structural drawings and carried out engineering work for the extension, working closely with the architect and builder Mark Young. Sophie’s creative background helped her liaise with the builder and architect on aesthetics, appliances and finishes. “When we stuck to what we enjoyed, things went smoothly,” she says.

The couple spent time imagining themselves in the new space and thought about how they would use it, which led them to minimise the home’s footprint to allow for a larger backyard. “Now that the children are older and playing with friends, we know we made the right choice,” says Sophie. The couple plans to start the process all over again, but this time, they’ll be building a modular prefabricated holiday cabin on the east coast of Tasmania.

Follow Sophie and James’ new project on Instagram at

Visit, and find Mark Young at

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