Real Estate

how an architect renovated her old california bungalow

Written by The ReReport

The classic home is picture perfect. Pictures: Chris Groenhout

WHEN Sally Holbrook decided to save a crumbling California bungalow in Coburg and transform it into her first home with her partner, little did she know how many happy memories she was saving along with it.
“While we were renovating, we had a visit from an elderly couple and the lady explained that her father had built the house in the 1920s and she had grown up in it as one of eight children,” said Ms Holbrook, adding the pair had travelled all the way from Altona on public transport to see it.
“She was afraid it would be knocked down so you can imagine her delight when she found we were fully renovating her childhood home.”

Home Style shoot of Sally HolbrookSally Holbrook in her beautifully renovated home.

By all accounts, the house was lucky to have been saved. It was so dilapidated, Ms Holbrook and her fiance, Mark Hlawaty, dubbed it the haunted house months before they bought it.
“It was a knockdown. You couldn’t even call it a renovator’s delight. It was in terrible condition,” she said.
Ms Holbrook, an architect and director of Northbourne Architecture + Design, was looking for a project that would not only offer historic charm, but also give her the scope to put her stamp on it.
“Even though half of it was falling down, I could clearly see the potential in the house,” she said. “It had gorgeous proportions and the character was clear.”
The couple had the house restumped, rewired and replastered, but one of the biggest impacts was adding windows, including large glass doors at the rear, which brought in lots of natural light.

Home Style shoot of Sally HolbrookGlass doors fill the living area with light. Artwork: Matt Ellis

Another big transformation was the bathroom. It was reconfigured, scoring a freestanding bath, a shower and a large window that gives it an indoor-outdoor feel — much more luxurious than the previous outhouse.

Home Style shoot of Sally HolbrookThe bathroom is white and bright.

Home Style shoot of Sally HolbrookA large window gives the room an indoor-outdoor feel.

Ms Holbrook said her own home was quite different to the designs she did for clients. And, she added, her interior-design taste didn’t have one particular style.
“I don’t really put myself in a box,” she said, adding she had a number of mid-century-inspired pieces she had collected over the years and enjoyed mixing them with more contemporary items and special pieces with a story.
“Over your life, you collect things that have meaning to you, that tell a story and are very individual, but to make them all work harmoniously within your home can be difficult,” she said. “But I think we’ve managed to make it work.”

Home Style shoot of Sally HolbrookThe decor is a mix of items that still work together. Artwork: Pat Hillcoat

The sleek, modern kitchen is perfect for entertaining, and Ms Holbrook said she was especially taken with the butler’s pantry, which made it easy to hide appliances and keep the main kitchen clutter-free.

Home Style shoot of Sally HolbrookThe sleek, clutter-free kitchen.

Another joy in her house is the greenery, by way of a rear garden and lots of indoor plants, which grow well thanks to the eastern sun.
“My partner says I’m addicted to pots!” Ms Holbrook said, adding she had loved plants and gardening since regularly visiting nurseries as a child with her father.
“Having access to a garden is so visually important, and if you can’t have a garden, then pot plants really soften the house. There is something very calming about plants in your living space.”
While Ms Holbrook was proud of what they had accomplished — bringing a home that was nearing its end back to life — she felt especially pleased knowing how important the home was to so many people.
“We loved the house, so we were going to take care of it regardless, but it added that additional sense of love for it.”

Home Style shoot of Sally HolbrookPot plants add a softening effect right through the home.

Postscript with Sally Holbrook

What do people comment on the most when they first visit?

The lush garden. When visitors walk into the L-shaped open-plan space, the extensive glass doors provide an immediate connection to the garden and natural light.

Best renovation tip?

Renovating can be incredibly risky and costs can get out of control. To reduce the number of things that can go wrong, including budget blowouts, I would recommend hiring a professional to help you plan your project properly — this will give your project the best chance of success.

Your favourite piece?

Probably our artwork by Pat Hillcoat. I picked up the artwork from the street after the artist had a clean-out of her studio about 12 years ago. It reminds me of a wonderful time living in a share house while completing my master’s at the University of Melbourne. Great people, great memories.

Home Style shoot of Sally HolbrookPat Hillcoat artworks (including this piece on the right) are a favourite.

Coburg’s best-kept secret?

The incredibly rich birdlife. Birds are constantly chirping away, so much so, I thought our neighbour had an aviary. That and the Coburg Velodrome.

How do you enjoy entertaining?

Winter entertaining is probably my favourite because I love cooking hearty winter-style roasts. Also, given it’s cold outside, we spend the time inside and I find the flow and layout of the house makes this very easy.

Biggest luxury in your home?

Our freestanding bath with views to the garden. It’s just delightful.

What does home mean to you?

Our home is almost 100 years old and we are only the third owners. It is such a delightful place to live. We just love it. We feel very proud to have restored this little piece of history and privileged to be the current custodians of the home.

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