Sometimes a house and its owners are lucky to find each other. This home, on Sydney’s Lower North Shore, was built in 1958 and had only changed hands twice before interior designer Siobhann Roberts-Thomson and her husband purchased it in 2013. And, for its third chapter, it couldn’t have found more suitable occupants.
Somewhat of a modern-day Renaissance woman, Siobhann is one of those people with innate creative flair. Her rather unconventional career has included touring the world with a girl group at the age of 16, designing children’s clothing and even a brief stint in the financial sector. However, it was the opportunity to be heavily involved in the renovation of the couple’s first family home that inspired her to return to study and develop her passion for interiors. Now, she runs her own eponymous design practice, Siobhann Studio.
Siobhann, her husband and their two children Finn, now 11, and Ailish, 10, moved here from a semi-detached home nearby. “Our family was expanding, the kids were getting bigger and we wanted a yard and a pool,” says Siobhann. “The first weekend that I went out to look at houses I saw this one. I knew that it had nine out of the 10 things I wanted and it was just too good to pass up.”
When they bought it, the house was a typical postwar suburban bungalow: four bedrooms and two living areas on a single level behind a red-brick frontage. “We lived in it for quite a while trying to work out whether to knock it all down or renovate,” says Siobhann. “We opted for the latter because I really wanted to work with the existing floor plan.” Collaborating with architectural firm Sanctum Design, Siobhann and her husband planned to add two additional levels and open up the rear living zone.
Inside, the decor was dated and in need of serious attention. The home’s heritage was never far from Siobhann’s mind, however. “When I was looking at finishes and colours I wanted to reference what was here originally,” she says. Peach hues in the powder room and laundry allude to the “gorgeous pink Mid-Century tiles” that once adorned the bathroom walls. Elsewhere, American-oak flooring references the colour of the original cypress-pine boards they discovered under carpet.
There’s a strong sense that the door is always open here. This openness carries throughout the house and is embodied in what Siobhann refers to as the “great, great room”. “It was important to make the most of the northern light and open up the back of the house so we could enjoy an indoor-outdoor lifestyle,” she explains. “A great room-style space was the perfect solution: it works as both a family zone and a place for entertaining.”
The ceiling height of the great room was raised to accommodate the kitchen, living and dining zones without the space feeling cramped. Two of the walls feature glass doors and louvres, flooding the area with natural light and creating framed views of the lush garden. “I was really conscious of having good airflow. Louvres on both sides of the room create a lovely cross-breeze,” says Siobhann.
Sunlight bounces off the surface of the pool and into the kitchen, highlighting details such as the sweeping Arabescato Corchia marble splashback. “To me, marble is like art and using it in little touches is just beautiful.”
The first floor is the ultimate parents’ retreat: main bedroom, his-and-hers walk-in wardrobes and a luxurious ensuite. On the ground floor are two bedrooms, bathroom, that fabulous great room and a separate sitting room. A guestroom and wine cellar in the undercroft round out the floor plan.
The success of the design lies in the way in which the layout has been configured to facilitate together time as well as zones for sanctuary. Siobhann is confident the house will continue to function smoothly through to the children’s teenage years. “We wanted it to work for the family but also for entertaining by using materials that we’re not going to be too precious about, that are easy to clean and that age well.”
The end product is a sophisticated, beautiful space that encourages movement between inside and out, is perfect for entertaining and will continue to serve the family for many years to come. The only thing Siobhann would have done differently? “I would have remembered to put a doorbell in!” sanctumdesign.com.au