Owner and renovation enthusiast, Yolanda Aarons, could hardly believe it when she came across a generous 650sqm parcel of land with a north facing rear in a little pocket of Northcote, called the Rucker’s Hill precinct back in 2018. The site immediately gave her tingles, because not only did it offers up city skyline views, it had a private park adjoining the rear. Join us as Yolanda shares her renovation journey on this beautiful home.
What original features did you retain with the renovation?
Unfortunately, the house had fallen into a state of disrepair after decades of neglect and certainly should have been earmarked for demolition. However, once we began the strip out the house, we unearthed details that had been hidden for years, including photos, old newspapers, original period features and the original façade and weatherboard shell. Demolition was put on hold and in consultation with the architect we made the unanimous decision to undertake a full restoration of a beautiful but barely recognisable 1920’s Edwardian hidden beneath an unfortunate, but typical, 1980’s mission brown renovation. Clarke street itself is a name synonymous with prestige and old money, with an abundance of heritage listed properties. This particular house sits proud on the site, with a strikingly large and thus unique single gable, unlike any other I’ve seen in the street or even the suburb. One by one the old wire cut mission brown bricks were removed, to reveal the original rough cast render which has since been restored based upon historical photos obtained through council and state library archives, ancestry and local photographer Mr. David Wadelton.
Walking through the original front section of the house, it’s proportions and soaring 3.3m ceilings are grand, and in fact one of the reasons we wanted to restore the house because you just don’t often see these heights in residential homes anymore. We retained and repurposed all of the rooms of the original house. Instead of the two bedrooms, two living spaces and tiny kitchen and bathroom that existed in this section when we purchased it, you will now find the master bedroom, complete with original ornamental fireplace, adjoining ensuite and full height custom curved joinery in the walk-in robe. On the other side of the hallway are the laundry and two other bedrooms along with a traditional main bathroom with an internal light court that provides light to the bathroom, ensuite and butler’s pantry also. I did feel a tinge of sadness saying goodbye to the original flocked wallpaper, which was replaced with sage greens and earthy white walls, but someday maybe I’ll be brave enough to conquer my wallpaper fears!
What were the biggest challenges in this project?
There were challenges aplenty during the course of the renovation! The land itself has a significant gradient of 5m of fall from front to back, which I knew would have implications both with respect to design and construction costs. But I often find the greatest risks often garner the greatest rewards, so I am partial to taking up a challenge rather than passing on one. What we ended up with is a stunning terraced design, where old meets new style home with a total of 4 bedrooms, three bathrooms and a large open plan living/dining/kitchen that connected seamlessly to the pool, undercover alfresco and garden
But we bought the house knowing all of those things. What we didn’t count on, along with all the other people who were building last year, we were severely impacted by a global pandemic. We encountered reduced workforce numbers, unavailability of labour, travel restrictions, delayed and cancelled orders, paucity of stock and materials, not to mention numerous shutdowns. But although this stretched budgets and timelines, it only strengthened my resolve to get to the finish line. In actual fact it made me appreciate the final outcome all the more. It brought the team and our family closer together, because nothing strengthens the sense of camaraderie quite like adversity.
If you could just pick one favourite element of your home what would it be?
Picking my favourite element of the house is like being asked to nominate your most loved child. Even if you do have one, you should never say it out loud! What I can say is that nothing beat the feeling of arriving home each day. The garage is flanked by a side entryway of timber battens and double steel doors that lead directly into the large open plan living/kitchen/dining area. Immediately your eyes are drawn downwards to the warm ivory coloured quartz/river pebble concrete slab that has been seeded with shell grit and sage green glass to give it all the masculinity of a polished concrete floor, but with a feminine aesthetic you don’t often achieve with polished concrete. That coupled with numerous solid brass inlays within the concrete, truly make this space a one of a kind. Moving into the kitchen, people are taken aback by the curved top marble island bench, which again has a brass shadow-line detail, echoed throughout the joinery. I often tell people that if the heart of the home is the kitchen island bench, then the staircase of this house would definitely have to be the soul. Serving as a room divider between the second entry and the living area, the folded steel stairs have been designed with a hidden stringer that’s structure is concealed within the wall and beyond the landing, so it appears to ‘float’ in midair. Ironically, despite it being suspended, it weighs just over half a tonne, so not something often seen in residential homes. This dining area has a triple height void, to create a sense of volume, which overlooks a unique triangular shaped in ground pool to mirror the angles of the architecture. It’s quite dramatic and a site to behold, and especially enjoy that we can still connect with the kids as they hang out in the mezzanine living area upstairs.
What inspired the aesthetic for this project?
I usually take inspiration from what’s fresh and currently trending, but also try to be slightly ahead of the design curve. I think this home would best be described as ‘family lux’. The goldilocks approach to design where things are not too vanilla, but not overly pretentious either. So, no surprise that curves factored into the equation along with a splash of colour. The colour I used in the bedrooms is from Dulux, a very organic shade of green called Sicily Sea. The other colour choice that seems to really resonate with people is the deep purple used on the façade, gable and fences. It’s a very deep inky indigo called Klavier, also from Dulux, and I’ve lost count of how many times people have gone out of their way to interrupt me while pottering in the garden to know what it’s called. The natural stone throughout the house is also a crowd favourite. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, you just cannot beat the look of natural stone, and you will find a lot of it in this house because I think there is nothing more luxurious than a stunning piece of marble atop custom joinery. I also like to add a little element of surprise to each house. A point of difference that resonates with a buyer, something that says, ‘good luck finding this level of detail elsewhere’. In this case, I had fun with the use of brass accents through the home. We used brass inlays through the polished concrete slab and at room thresholds, plumbing fixtures and open gantry shelving. We even hemmed it through all the custom joinery through. The biggest risk we took was in the kitchen, where we dropped the door to the butler’s pantry and instead did a large gilded entry archway. Not something often seen in residential homes, but again, suited the family lux aesthetic. I think paid dividends, catching the attention of Domain who made it the cover house and described it as the ‘home with a heart of gold’.
Can you share with us your top three tips for anyone embarking on a major renovation?
Every project is as unique and individual as a fingerprint, so it’s difficult to summarise top tips, especially from a technical perspective. But for major renovations, I would encourage people to remember a few of my favourite idioms
Building is definitely ‘a marathon, not a sprint’ so make sure you celebrate the wins and learn from the losses, as both are equally powerful lessons.
When it comes to dealing with conflict (and there will be many) you always ‘get more bees with honey’ so try wherever possible to approach issues pragmatically.
And just like ‘Rome wasn’t built in a day’, neither is a major renovation! To save time, you will often need to compromise on quality or blow the budget
Can you give us a brief overview of the timeline of the whole project?
This build has most definitely been the longest, most challenging of any I have ever completed, but I think the results are truly unique. I often think to myself what would have happened to this house, if I wasn’t in charge of its future. Would it have been knocked down to be replaced by a subdivision? Would it have remained as an eyesore in it’s less than ideal mission brown state for years to come? Who knows, it’s anyone’s guess really. All I know is that it takes a very special group of people the better part of 2 years to create the house known to people as 123_Clarke. A year to design and obtain permits, and the year or so to construct the house and landscape the gardens. And as far as the result goes, well, I thought I would let the audience be the judge.
Project | Yolanda Aarons @123_clarke
Architect | Bellemo & Cat
Builder | Belarte Building @belartebuilding
Collaboration | Buildher Collective @buildhercollective