What a spectacle to come home to. For the owners of this four-level house in Sydney’s eastern suburbs while a year living in Europe was transformative perhaps their return was even more so. Their harbourside home had experienced its own sea change, partly steered by the watercolour panorama that spreads out before it like an ever-changing artwork.
Leaving in January 2019, the owners entrusted the keys to their long-term interior designer, Thomas Hamel, and returned 12 months later to find their home miraculously altered. “I rarely get to do an unveiling like that. It was very exciting,” says Thomas. “They hadn’t seen the house for a year. Everything was picture perfect – many people feel sad when they return from overseas, but for them it was a whole new chapter.”
This renovation in absentia reflected the faith they had in Thomas, who had tweaked the home in the years since they bought it in 2006 – the main attractions being the “gun-barrel view” and the secluded beach below, ideal at the time for the owners and their three young children. While little has changed structurally since then, the interior furnishings and fittings have been a work in progress, with Thomas steadily refurbishing them as the ensuing years and the children’s rough and tumble left their mark.
In a 2015 makeover, he reshuffled the sleeping areas. While the children were young, they occupied a bunk room beside the main bedroom on the third level. Then they decamped to the back of the house and the top level, while the former main bedroom became the walk-in robe and the bunk room morphed into the generous main bedroom of today. So five bedrooms became four.
Then, with the couple’s more recent continental sojourn, came the opportunity to remodel the living areas on the second, living room level. “The decision to renovate then was a no-brainer,” say the owners. The children had grown into teens so it was time for the interior to be updated and the family would be far away from the dust and debris. “We waited for them to go overseas and then we pressed the button,” says Thomas.
Central to Thomas’s plan was to shift the kitchen from its grandstand position, bagging the views, which it shared with a breakfast room at the front of the house. He placed the kitchen to the northern side, where he extended the footprint to accommodate it, also including an informal eating area beside it.
There were two issues to remedy, he says. First, the second level squandered the spectacular vista laid out before it. “It was crazy that as you walked up the stairs at the top, instead of the view, you looked at the kitchen with its row of cabinets and a long corridor. Then you had to walk past the cabinets to reach the living room.” The cramped dining room was undernourished for the family of five and the friends and relatives who regularly visit.
Meanwhile, in their place at the front was a living room where the family could soak up harbour views from the comfort of their armchairs. He added a fireplace as a focal point. He also swapped over the family room and dining room, so the former is now at the rear while the latter sits at the front of the house connected to the living room and that gobsmacking view by a bank of sliding doors.
While Thomas says the changes are more planning rather than cosmetic, his trademarks are there, such as neutral palettes invigorated with splashes of colour, tactile texture and tailored furnishings, with much of the latter bought on shopping excursions to the US. “Thomas’s look is so inviting and calming,” say the owners. While the decorating palette picks up hues of the harbour, Thomas has added hints of pink and green, too, so nothing is predictable, “but grey-blues still give it sophistication”.
Texture as always takes a front seat – shared with that view! – in the refurbished living areas as it does throughout the house. Patterned marble floor tiles replaced ceramic on this level, complemented by a concrete-rendered fireplace and textured tribal-inspired wallpaper. Meanwhile, he re-covered the sofa and extended the existing wool and silk rug in the living area. Because the rooms at the front are sun-drenched, Thomas used indoor-outdoor fabrics for durability and to prevent fading.
As the owners are keen art lovers, curated pieces have been collected from the US, Europe and locally, with sculptures concentrated in the bright, sunny living areas at the front, while paintings – a precaution against fading – enhance the more shaded areas towards the back. And a whimsical piece at the top of the stairs remains an instant reminder that this is a family home with fun and timeless style cohabiting under the one roof. “That bubble console table from Portugal is a bit of playfulness as you come up the stairs,” says Thomas. “We have used playful, light materials with sophistication.”
As the home is equipped with a lift, the couple hope to live there after the children leave home. “We are in it for the long haul,” they say. “And, when we go away, we can just lock it up and go.” Next time, though, Thomas won’t be taking it over in their absence. But he will be always keen to visit. “Now there’s a real sense of wow as you walk up the staircase,” he enthuses. “You feel as if you are in a penthouse suite or on the bridge of a luxury yacht.” thomashamel.com