Cate lives with her husband John and their two adult children, along with one cat and one dog, in a 1905 stone fronted villa located in the inner western suburbs of Adelaide. It is possibly one of my top dream homes ever and is perfectly situated just 10 minutes from the city and 10 minutes from the beach. Adelaide is like that but to find a beautiful home in such a spot is a dream come true. “We are surrounded by homes of the same era, and love the heritage look and feel of our little suburb” says Cate. “We bought this renovator’s delight in 2003 and immediately saw the “renovator’s” part, but took a little longer to find the “delight!”. Cate told me that she thinks it may have been hidden under the bright floral carpet and multiple layers of vinyl flooring. Or under the blocked drain in the kitchen. Or behind the damp, flaky bedroom wall. Or… You get the drift..
The house had been owned by the same family for three generations, and had been empty for 8 years when the family moved in. The downside was that it had not really been upgraded much and needed rewiring and replumbing. The upside, says Cate, was that it still had some untouched original features – including beautiful leadlight around the front door, high ceilings, lovely doors, floorboards, and a couple of gorgeous fireplaces. “We didn’t have to redo someone else’s botched, dodgy, dated or ugly renovation. It was our ‘blank page’, and we could draw whatever we wanted. Or, I should say, whatever we could afford!” explains Cate.
What was the house like when you moved in?
It was your basic villa of five square rooms (3 bedrooms, lounge, dining room) with a tiny galley kitchen (even too tiny for a fridge – that had to sit in the dining room) and you had to walk through the kitchen to get to the “ohh, isn’t that…colourful” pink and green bathroom. There was a handmade-by-the-original-owner corrugated iron lean-to attached to the back of the house which housed the laundry and toilet, and beyond was an outside dunny, lots of concrete and weeds, dead fruit trees, and several sheds.
We lived with it as we found it for a while – I think that was essential for us. I think you need to see where the sun travels – which rooms are light or dark, warm or cold. How do you “live” in the space, where do you all gravitate. What do you really need from a renovation vs what is just a luxurious “wish list”. And how much will it all cost?!
What drew you to an older home and your wonderful vintage decor?
Our love for vintage, antiques, collecting and recycling had started in our previous home (a 1928 bungalow) and we knew we wanted to continue with that style of renovating and decorating, whilst modernising and extending. Firstly, we just restored the front four rooms; polished the floorboards, new cornices, stripped and stained mantelpieces, and put much needed colour on the walls. Once we had our lounge room and bedrooms as sanctuaries from any building work, we turned our thoughts to more messy stuff.
Can you tell us about some specific areas of the house you worked on using recycled materials?
We built a new kitchen in what was the old dining room in 2005; two years of the tiny galley for a family of four was long enough! A good proportion of the kitchen is made of recycled timber; the door and drawer fronts and open shelving – essentially most of the visible parts. The larger side panels are new timber, all stained to match and it blends well. I would’ve loved to go 100% recycled, but we saved some money by mixing it up – getting hold of good quality recycled timber was expensive back then. When we renovated the original bathroom, we had a vanity custom made of recycled timber which matched the kitchen, and had a vintage 1919 cast iron claw foot bathtub (gifted to us by friends – it was sitting untouched in their back yard) resurfaced.
Recent additions of a family room and utility wing (study nook, laundry and main bathroom) were built with recycled bricks; the family room includes secondhand floorboards, a salvaged leadlight window and my one “must-have”, a faux fireplace with a salvage yard mantelpiece and cast iron insert we bought from some neighbours. I wanted the room, despite its newness, to look as if it could’ve been there from the very beginning. When the outside dunny had to come down (sadly, it was too close to the house and stood in the way of the family room!), we did it carefully, and reused the bricks to pave a path from our front gate to our verandah. In fact, all of our garden edging and paving is recycled bricks. A couple of fireplaces in the bedrooms had been bricked up, so we restored them with more salvage yard finds and used those bricks elsewhere too.
What are some of your favourite vintage pieces?
The interior is filled with an eclectic mix of hand-me-downs, vintage store or garage sale finds, and new pieces; I’ve always believed you don’t have to choose between new or old, you can mix them successfully and still have a stylish and tasteful home. We have inherited so many things from both sides of the family. From small things like old photographs, tools and memorabilia, to knicknacks, glassware, crockery and kitchenalia; furniture like assorted rustic chairs, wooden trunks which travelled out here from Ireland with my great great grandmother, washstands and leadlight cabinets, to a beautifully elegant chiffonier originally belonging to my husband’s grandmother. I collect a variety of things; teapots, jugs and old books. Even my friends know not to throw out any of their grandparents’ or parents’ belongings until they check with me first!
Outside, we have many cane chairs, rustic items and vintage pots scattered throughout the garden, and use an old wooden cable reel as a casual table. Whilst we have had to buy a LOT of new plants over the years to fill our very large garden (helloooo, Bunnings and Virginia Nursery), many have come from cuttings I have nurtured.
What has the biggest challenge been?
The biggest challenge of renovating our old girl has probably been money. These homes can be money pits, but we’ve done it in stages as we could afford it, always keeping our eyes open for bargains. We were lucky enough to have found some great tradies along the way who were sympathetic to a home with history; not once did anyone try to talk us out of preserving what already existed, restoring what could be saved, or using recycled materials, despite it possibly being more difficult for them. (“This window isn’t square…neither is this wall … nothing old is square..” may have been muttered quietly a few times though…!)
Are you done now?
We are pretty much finished now (but never say never!) and apart from tweaking a few things and ongoing maintenance, we are learning to sit back, relax, and enjoy being custodians of our lovely home. I find comfort in the old things; treasures which have a history, a story… whether I know the story or not. I love colour, clutter, and a sense of heritage, and most of our home reflects this in abundance. People compliment us on what we’ve achieved here, and I think they feel comfortable in our home. I know we do! We love it here. This is it for us. Forever home.