I think the one thing that I really love about design is the problem solving aspect. Whether it be large or small, there is nothing more satisfying them finding a solution to a problem that is both logical and inexpensive.

After: The rejuvenated kitchen

On numerous occasions, part of my design work has been to look at an existing house, and find the best and most cost effective solution for my client to live in it more efficiently, and in a more modern way. Here in Australia we now prefer to live with a casual, open plan living area to the rear of a house. Usually this opens out to a back garden, courtyard or pool area. It's light and bright and suits an informal style of entertaining. Older houses, built prior to the mid 1970's, tend to have their best rooms at the front of the house, with the back of the house being served by small, boxy rooms and utility areas like a separate kitchen and laundry.

The temptation can be that you add on more space at the back to create the living environment that you want. But this can be not only expensive (as every square metre you add on obviously costs), but it can leave you with rooms at the front of your house that don't have a specific purpose anymore, and that become disused spaces. Formal rooms that are used once a year are not a good use of your space or your money.

A project I worked on in Sydney late last year is a great example of doing a few internal tweaks that suit modern living a little better. The house had sat on the market in a very good area of Sydney for a long time. Anyone that knows the market in Sydney will know that this was fairly unusual as property tends to move quite fast, but part of the reason for this was that the house had an unmodernised layout (it was a 1920's tudor style two storey house built on a sloping site). The kitchen was reasonably large, but did not face out over the back garden, and it was in a separate room. Overall the interior features of the whole house were a little dated and conservative with fairly lacklustre light fittings and muted paint colours more suited to an older buyer. In short, it put off the family market who would normally snap up such a property. It was "too good" to consider it a knock down/ full renovation/ bargain as things had been done well, but not wow enough to draw in the buyers that a property in this area would command. Additionally it had a few strange features that I think probably caused buyers to scratch their heads, but which were easy to change.

My clients have a very young family, and a small collection of good quality modern furniture and Art, they were upsizing from a previous cottage in Melbourne. I was charged with finding some simple make over solutions so that they could feel happy and comfortable for approximately 5 years before they embarked on some larger changes that would more substantially alter the layout of the house and a few of its glaring faults, and to also select and purchase furniture to fill their new larger spaces. They like things a little glam, and used the terms 'luxurious' a lot, but also 'budget' a lot too!

Before: the original kitchen - tiled floors, granite benchtops and timber cupboards

First thing was the kitchen. The existing kitchen was timber with granite benchtops, stainless steel appliances and tiled floors. As I mentioned, it was in a wholly separate room, however with a toddler at home, this didn't work well for my clients. The first step was to open up the wall between the kitchen and the adjacent formal dining room to give a larger casual living area. This was one of the more expensive changes in the overall makeover, as it required a steel beam to support the load from the second floor to join these two rooms up.

portion of the floor plan showing the separate kitchen and the adjacent formal dining

The floorboards throughout the house were a very thin width pine subfloor, which had been polished up and were a little yellowy and knotty. Floorboards were not always meant to be seen in old houses, and these were a good example of that. The 1920's saw the rise of the fitted carpet, and anyone with any means would have fitted carpet throughout their house. For this reason the subfloor was the cheapest structural timber that could be fitted, so polishing it up is a modern treatment to these types of floors. It's sort of the equivalent of polishing up modern particleboard sheets which is used now for our unseen subfloors.

Before: The formal dining room, which became informal living once knocked through to the kitchen

Additionally, it was running the wrong way - across ways in the hall. Usually you run floorboards down the longest axis, so front to back in a hall. So, with these two things in mind, and in an effort to quickly unify the kitchen and rest of the house with the tile and timber having a junction that was exposed by knocking through the wall, we laid a floating floor across the whole thing using a wide board oak in a neutral and natural light timber finish. The benefits of using a floor like this was that the whole thing was installed throughout the ground floor in a matter of a few days requiring no polishing etc, but the transformation was dramatic to the overall feel of the house. Suddenly the flooring lifted it into a modern and light feeling house.

During: Floorboards being installed in the sunroom that became the dining room

Back in the kitchen, the next biggest transformation was paint. The actual kitchen units themselves were very good quality, but the timber look was dated, and so we painted the cupboards in a semi gloss enamel in white, with a black for the island bench. New benchtops were added, as my clients absolutely loathed the existing granite, and a white Caesarstone was chosen. This was not the most cost effective option - I'd suggested using a laminate benchtop initially, as they are far, far cheaper, but in the end my client decided to stump up the extra for the caesarstone as the builder talked them out of the laminate. All the other items in the kitchen were kept the same - same appliances, handles, taps, sinks etc.

During: Opening up the wall between the kitchen and old dining room and beginning the painting

After: The finished kitchen open to the old dining room which is now a casual sitting area, apologies for the artificial light which is casting a very yellow glow

The other major area of improvement in the house was the lighting. Every fitting was changed, and they ranged in price from fairly inexpensive fabric drum pendants in bedrooms and halls, to a couple of showstoppers in the formal living and dining rooms. These pendants can be reused if and when my clients renovate, so spending money on some fittings now was a good expenditure to give a little bit of wow.

Before: The original Sunroom, which became the dining room

After: Sunroom with a new light fitting, new floorboards and paint, and the existing dining furniture my client's already had. No, there is no lean in the floor! Just a bad camera angle. You can just see the wall of the dark formal sitting room, so the light fitting and chairs links the spaces

Rejigging the floorplan on the ground floor meant that we pushed the dining room into the former Sunroom just off the formal living room. This is not very close to the kitchen, which made me a little reluctant to do this, however my clients said that they were more likely to sit at the island bench in the kitchen to eat meals during the week, and that the dining room would be more likely to be used for weekend lunches and dinners with friends and family. At any rate, the one room that was left slightly purposeless, and possibly a pass through was the formal living room. It had some lovely features with the original fireplace and little stained glass in the windows, but it was a traffic thoroughfare to the sunroom and the outside garden access, and was fairly gloomy being a reasonably internally focussed room with small windows.

Before: The Formal Sitting Room

It might seem counterintuitive to therefore paint this room near black, and it took a little convincing of my clients, but they bravely decided to go for it, and now say it's their favourite room in the house. Funnily enough, the painter had queried the colour when he opened the tin and had added to their doubt, but after it was done, everyone loved it so much that the painter was considering doing a black room at his house as well!

In progress: New seating, coffee table, light fitting and the artwork in place. Still to come additional tables, new large rug and lamps and the cushions

Dark colours really set off modern artwork well, and this has been a great base for this room. We used a light fitting that was 1920's inspired with foxed mirrored glass to give a little glamour to the room, and which you can partially see in the fairly poor photograph above. The new sofa and armchairs are upholstered in white child proof indoor/ outdoor fabric, and we've done a mix of furniture with some existing Hay denmark side tray tables that they had, a West Elm coffee table, and since this photo was taken, a Ligne Roset side table between the two armchairs. Some lamps and cushions have also arrived, and hopefully I'll get over to Sydney soon to see how it's all progressing and to photograph it - the next major purchase is a rug.

Unfortunately I haven't photographed more rooms. While the majority of the furniture and cosmetic changes were finished for Christmas last year, this year we have slowly added in other finishing items as budget allows, and it's almost at a point where I can get in to photograph it properly.

All up, this was a satisfying project due to the quick turnaround and the dramatic transformation. My clients are thrilled with the changes, which essentially amounted to new flooring throughout (new carpet upstairs, floorboards downstairs), the kitchen benchtops, lighting and a very, very big painting job. The yellowed oak-coloured timber trim throughout the house was painted out. I realise a lot of people are against painting over wood at any cost, but it looked pretty shabby and worn, and again, my client hated how dated it made everything look. Painting woodwork does lighten up spaces, so the changes to the stairs and upstairs hall were dramatic where there were areas of panelling.

I hope you enjoyed this very brief before and after, and I apologise for the poor quality unprofessional iphone photos! I've sat on this for almost the entire year thinking I'd get over there and photograph things properly, but this year has sped by, and I thought it better to show a little glimpse of this interesting project, poor quality photos and all.


  1. you are so clever! I agree so much that dark wall colour lend themselves to modern art. I love how ours looks on dark walls.

    Stay fabulous x

    1. You've set your art off so well at your place. I always think that art galleries have coloured walls... White is modern and art really does shine against coloured walls xx

  2. You need very LARGE rooms, Heidi, to cope well with a dark colour otherwise it feels rather oppressive after a while.

    Happy Birthday ..older but so much wiser...I'm sure!


    1. Not sure about wiser but definitely older! Thank you for the birthday wishes Mel :)
      I find balancing out dark colours with light (such as with the white upholstery and light floorboards) tends to keep them from feeling oppressive - generally dark colours recede, so it can often have the opposite effect you'd think and make a room feel more spacious. X

  3. So beuautiful! the dark tones are my fave ones, so elegant and stylish! Merry Christmas!!!

    1. Thank you so much! Hoping you have a great Christmas too x

  4. This looks fantastic Heidi... the kitchen transformation is remarkable! The whole place looks so much more fresh and modern. How fantastic that you are able to do it all remotely. Do you plan it all out roughly and then look for specific items? X

    1. I put together electronic mood/sample boards with my clients furniture art etc also on it and the colors, finishes and furniture I'd selected to compliment it. They were tweaked a little as things evolved, but stayed pretty true to those first boards. Once we'd agreed on a direction with the scheme I did a couple of options for various things like sofas or lights, with a high/low mix and they picked! Xx

  5. What a transformation! It is beautiful. Fantastic job. Just re the childproof indoor-outdoor material on the white sofa. What is the comfort factor when you sit on it is it sticky/hard, and can I purchase it in Melbourne? Sorry don't mean to be rude.
    Again, this is one fantastic make-over. Thank you for sharing.
    Linda C.

    1. Thank you Linda! The indoor/outdoor fabrics are not the same of old. Almost every furnishing fabric on the market now has some synthetic content to it - it can be tricky to find them without (they keep colour fast, stop faults etc). Every fabric company now has indoor/outdoor ranges, and they vary from company to company in terms of feel, but overall they feel like normal fabric. This one feels like a reasonably stiff (because it is upholstery weight) cotton like fabric, and has a texture similar to cotton on it. It's a Kravet one so is to the trade but easily available. If you're interested in pricing and would like a sample, feel free to email me. x

  6. I think this is amazing! You've somehow managed to take the words "luxurious" and "budget" and make them work together ;) I think these clients are very fortunate to have found you. Your choice of light fixtures is so perfect too, and the black sitting room, really a terrific way to make this room stand out and be noticed rather than have it be a pass-through. Love the pop of art against those black walls.
    Thanks for sharing this Heidi, it's so interesting to see your work in action. xx

    1. Thanks Dani! I'm so glad you enjoyed the tour. I always hesitate to put my client work up on the blog, for one because I still haven't had any of it professionally photographed, and that does make a difference to my iPhone snaps! But I know from searches that people love seeing the more budget makeovers (even if this one has more designer furniture on the whole, and good art) so thought it might be interesting to people. My new years resolution will be to get a few more of the projects up on the blog maybe! xx

  7. Hi Heidi,
    Gosh, I loved this post. So interesting. I love your work.
    All the best to you and your family for Christmas and the New Year.

    1. Thank you so much Josephine, and I'm so glad you enjoyed the post. Hope you have a wonderful Christmas and New Year too x

  8. I laughed at the bit that the client like most repeated luxurious and budget! That's what we all want hehe! The tweaks are so effective and so suitable for real life. Over here space don't get wasted so much but the syndrome of the non used good rooms seem common and I've seen in many Aussie homes. It's good to use all the space you have access to for sure. Love seeing the pics H x

    1. Oh yes - we all want luxury on a budget!
      I think that there isn't so much of a building culture in the UK, whereas here everyone is used to the luxury of space, and the ability to add on how you like so renovating is on a much grander scale. It's probably why the decorating culture is so much more advanced in the UK than here - everyone here blows their budget on the structure, and has nothing left over for the decoration/ furniture etc, where as you don't have that so much in the UK. This was a great job to work on, as the client was focussed on cheaper fixes for the structure, and was more interested in investing in good quality furniture/ decorative pieces for the long haul. x

    2. Hi Naomi and Heidi
      Have stayed in a few very large English houses with unused spaces in the winter. The large formal dining and sitting rooms almost never used. The family in each case tended to spend most of their time in a smallish family room off the huge kitchens, nicely warmed by a big AGA.
      Those big English country houses can be very cold, eg the Mitfords and the famous Hons' Cupboard - the only warm place in their house.
      Your clients must have been thrilled, Heidi, with the transformation!! Happy Christmas to you both and families. Pammie x

    3. Hello Pammie, yes agree with you about large houses and the fact that modern families inhabiting them tend to end up where the servants used to be once upon a time. Happy Christmas to you and G, and hope you have a wonderful celebration with the family xx

  9. Thank you for such an instructive post. I really enjoyed it. I'm sure I'd also enjoy hearing what the builder has to say, he seems to have a lot of opinions.

    1. Glad you enjoyed it Tracy! The builders, on all projects, seem to be pretty free with opinions... Not all builders are so doubtful though, I have worked with great builders and trades who enjoy doing different things from the norm. Sometimes if a client is unsure, and they're taking a leap of faith in the design, it's just not helpful when someone says "really, are you sure you want to do this??" to sew the seed of doubt. But the brave decisions are often the ones that people love the most at the end of a project.

  10. I love this renovation, so clever and beautifully finished. My home has exactly the same design problem.

  11. Well done Heidi and client! Looks fabulous. I love the dark room. Really looking forward to see more photos. So lucky to have had nice cabinets in the kitchen to start with.

  12. I read this before Christmas but missed commenting somehow. This is so beautiful! It's funny because I sooooooo rarely feel like I'd want to work with an interior designer (for all the fuss I like on a table I like unfussy but not stark interiors) but I'm always struck by how much I'd love to work with you. Your eye is so laser sharp.


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Architect & Interior Designer. Mother of three. A sometimes Cook, Baker, Reader, Gardener, Fashion Lover, Renovator, Writer of random things in South Australia email me on anadelaidevilla@bigpond.com
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