Take the five-minute stroll from Watsons Bay, with its views of the Sydney Harbour Bridge, and you will spot this curious home, built in 1969 by Peter Muller.
Brilliantly different from its more modern neighbours, the pavilion-like property is a mid-century gem, but decades of ill-judged additions had turned it into what Gillian Khaw, co-founder of interior design brand Handelsmann + Khaw, lovingly describes as ‘a bit of a barnacle’.
Her challenge was to reconcile all of these architectural missteps while providing the new owners, an ex-pat family who had been living in Singapore for years, with the luxury holiday-inspired interior of their dreams. First job was to level the ground floor, getting rid of the steps that led between the different extensions to create a more open, fluid flow between the living, kitchen and dining spaces.
Next, in a step that took a little convincing of the clients, glazed sliding doors to the terrace were removed and replaced by smaller French doors edged in pistachio paintwork.
‘It’s perhaps the opposite of what you want when you pay a lot of money for a harbour view,’ admits Gillian, ‘but we were convinced it’s also about what you don’t see. The first instinct is to bring the outside in, but we played with that idea; made it less obvious.’
Without that expanse of glass and 180-degree view, this home is naturally more shaded than most Sydney homes which, Gillian remarks, can be so white and bright ‘you almost have to wear sunglasses on the inside’.
Offering respite from the heat, the interior favours pastels, touches of buttery yellow and dusty, chalky finishes – from the limestone flooring to the plaster finish on the walls. ‘When you spend time in 1950s-style Mediterranean resorts they appear shadowy at first, and then you walk outdoors and can feel the sun glaring down at you. We wanted to create that same contrast,’ explains Gillian.
Her choice of furnishings is eclectic and delicate, but selected with a minimalist’s restraint. The fantasy element of this home’s architecture offered a certain freedom, so you’ll find a bespoke dining table inspired by a piece from 17th-century Spain alongside wall lights intended to reference the 1940s look of French designer Jean Royère and seats with ruffled skirts that speak to 1980s British excess.
‘We wanted the furniture to look like it could come from a beach house in some colonial outpost,’ says Gillian.
‘Heritage buildings are rare in Sydney,’ she adds. ‘They can throw you more challenges, but ultimately they are more satisfying to live in; more humble.’ Welcoming without being showy, this home is no longer an architectural barnacle. Instead, it’s a place that celebrates its uniqueness. handelsmannkhaw.com
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