CONTEMPORARY MEETS COZY IN THIS RENOVATED COTTAGE
WRITTEN BY VICTORIA HITTNER / PHOTOGRAPHY BY ROBERT WALSH
The inviting veranda of this Federation-era cottage, located in Glebe, Australia, hints at its colorful history. Glebe, a Sydney suburb, is home to many heritage-protected buildings and landmarks—making this project a natural fit for architect Kate Mountstephens. Her Sydney-based practice, Kate Mountstephens Architecture+Heritage, specializes in historic renovations. With an extensive background in heritage conservation, Mountstephens masterfully maintains the tricky balance between preserving an old building’s character and modernizing it for practical use.
Architect Kate Mountstephens maximized both space and function in this living room. The balcony allows for easy kid-to-parent conversation and keeps the space feeling airy. Even the stylish slots above the fireplace provide ventilation.
The homeowners were very involved in the design process of the renovation. They did much of the veranda restoration and landscaping themselves and picked out many of the paint colors and finishes. It was important that the additions still fit the character of their home, built in 1910, and the historic suburb in which it sits. “It’s a pretty, leafy suburb filled with detached houses like this one, as well as terrace houses,” says Mountstephens. “It’s one of the oldest areas of inner-city Sydney.”
This cottage features many elements characteristic of the Australian Federation architectural style, popular around Sydney at the turn of the twentieth century. It was important to the homeowners that they preserve some of these hallmark features—like the veranda and Canary Island palm tree—while adding family-friendly elements such as a playroom and pool.
“Keeping the palm tree was very important and we talked about it from day one,” says the architect. “We had to design the structure to span over some of the roots so that it wouldn’t be damaged. The view to the tree and up to the fronds was important—that’s partly why we have the big windows, slit skylights, and the pop-out window in the back elevation.”
Quick access to the back garden was also top of list for the homeowners. “It is a pretty indoor-outdoor lifestyle in Sydney,” notes Mountstephens. To accommodate this vision, she added an attic story to the back of the house and built a detached garage and studio for extra storage and guests. In homage to the home’s original architectural style, the renovation features beautiful joinery on the interior and multicolored brick on the exterior.
A set of natural wood finish stairs sits at the junction between the old and new sections of the home, leading to a balcony overlooking the living room. Upstairs, the kids’ bedrooms, bathroom, playroom, and study area offer plenty of space for the whole family.
“The old part of the house had wood floors, which we retained,” explains Mountstephens. “We then used the engineered oak flooring for the new part [of the house]. Oak isn’t so traditional in Australia, but it is now very popular.”
To increase levels of natural light and keep the addition feeling spacious, Mountstephens opted for a double-height living room. The steel-framed set of glass doors takes up much of the exterior wall of the living room, serving as both a stunning focal point and easy access to the revamped garden and pool.
In the kitchen, bright-teal cabinetry makes a statement against the quieter shades of the living room, bringing a splash of the garden’s colors inside. Steel-framed pop-out windows keep things airy and provide glimpses of the greenery outside. “It’s just a fence beyond the kitchen, but the client put plants on it,” explains Mountstephens. “Really whatever window you’re looking out, there’s greenery.”
The homeowners intentionally kept their new living room and kitchen casual to encourage use of the table and chairs on the terrace as much as possible. Shaded by a steel-framed, translucent cover, the outdoor living area creates the perfect space for repose and entertainment. Nearby, the in-ground, tiled pool beckons splashing kiddos and relaxing guests alike. A glass retainer helps separate the pool area without sacrificing any of the view.
“The most tricky things were working out how to heat it and [how to] get past the environmental requirements,” says Mountstephens. She and her team had to get clever to maximize space and protect the large palm tree.
To achieve the seamless indoor-outdoor transition the clients requested, the architect kept the living room as level to the ground as possible, with only a small step down to the garden. Mimicked materials—from the timber beams and cladding to the bagged brick inside and faced brick outside—provide additional visual harmony. Mountstephens sourced the reclaimed brick from a local brickyard but laid it in unexpected patterns; it was important to echo the feel of the original exterior without simply copying it.
The key to melding old and new? “Using traditional materials in a contemporary way,” says the architect. “For example, [we used] bricks on some of the interior walls, but [gave] them a ‘bagged’ finish, and for the fireplace, we created ventilation slots.”
Mountstephens describes the clients’ design style as a “really cool, slightly boho taste.” The more relaxed aesthetic works well in this renovated cottage, with its expansive views and enviable outdoor living. The result is an everyday retreat, packed with historic charm and modern, polished finishes.
An original fireplace and midcentury pieces make even the more formal spaces feel cozy. “For a bit of drama and more light,” Mountstephens dropped the windowsills to floor level.
using recycled materials
Looking to source secondhand for your next renovation project? It’s easier than it looks!
Neighborhood watch. Turn to a local brickyard or salvage yard if you’re trying to match existing materials. Neighborhoods are often developed in a particular style, meaning nearby demolitions could yield the exact items you’re looking for.
Digital deals. Pop online for salvage steals via Craigslist, Facebook Marketplace, Nextdoor, or Freecycle.
Household goods. Some of the most common household items can make uncommonly good building materials. Think wine corks transformed into panels and flooring or discarded bark given new life as rustic siding. Recycling company Knowaste even turns diapers and other hygiene products into roofing tiles!