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Although they’re the epitome of good taste to some, white walls are to others the antithesis of warmth. “I just find them so stark and uninviting,” says homeowner Sarah, whose holiday house just south of Sydney wraps you in a warm embrace of subtle earth tones. “When we bought it, it was a bleak, industrial warehouse. Everything echoed, everything was white; there was white leather, gloss tables, and a big glass garage door. It felt like a car showroom.”
Sarah's husband Craig had quite a different reaction. “The first time we saw it, Craig charged up the driveway and waited for me to catch up. He knew right away that it would be the house we would buy. And sure enough, we bought it two weeks later.”
As luck would have it, Sarah and Craig’s friend Brett Mickan, who had done the interior design work on their Sydney home, also happened to be in the Southern Highlands the weekend they saw their future home, and could instantly see the potential for transforming the modern glass box into a warm and welcoming getaway. “Brett had the vision,” says Sarah. "The day we settled, he picked up the keys with paintbrushes in hand. He was so enthusiastic!”
Brett set to work, using seven different paint shades on the walls throughout the house – not that one really notices, as the hues are so subtle that the overall impression is one of softness rather than colour. “You can’t really tell there are so many colours because the tones match,” says Brett. “It still seems modern and light, but where it was stark before, it now feels cosy and warm.”
Sarah and Craig are both fans of colour; the tones were almost too subdued for their taste, which in their city house runs to bold greens, reds and blues, but they realised it was important not to overwhelm the spectacular, panoramic views of rolling hills and distant ocean. Recognising the couple’s willingness for a gutsy gesture, Brett used deeper tones from the same natural palette in the den and in a feature wall in the living room. For added zing, he introduced surprising pops of yellow and turquoise in small-scale accessories, which he’s matched to the vibrant colours of a photograph on the living room wall.
For a house that was brand-spanking new when Sarah and Craig started holidaying here with their three small children, it feels surprisingly rich in character, as if generations of the same family had been coming here for decades. It’s an effect Brett deliberately set out to achieve by sourcing many old photographs and vintage objects to mix in with the new. Best of all, he achieved it without great expense. “The biggest restriction we put on him was the budget,” says Sarah.
As it happens, Brett worked their modest budget so cleverly that they even bought a luxury B&B Italia sofa (spotted on sale by Brett) without blowing it. “There are key pieces you shouldn’t compromise on,” advises Brett, “like sofas, dining chairs and mattresses. With the rest, you can get the look for less – I used a ton of inexpensive and vintage pieces.”
The result is a holiday home that has become the hub of this family’s social world. “We have almost stopped having people over at our city home,” Sarah laughs. “This house works so well with friends. I love having people here. It’s a place where you can really relax. It’s magic.”
Photo by Craig Wall Oct 12, 2012