‘Nelson House’, located in Townsville, Australia, was a neglected 115-year old homestead in desperate need of resurrection. Working in a depressed housing market where new large family homes sell for average 225,000 GBP, we had a challenge on our hands! With a minuscule budget, the interior design solution had to deliver a modern family home that celebrated a tropical relaxed vibe. However, working with the oldest homestead in the suburb, we also needed to celebrate the history and original beauty ‘Nelson House’ offered. This is the Eliza Doolittle story of home renovations and today She is a new woman, and we are delighted with the result.
Nelson House was in such a state of disrepair and neglect we didn’t know what we faced on initial inspection. Numerous alterations had taken place over the past century, obvious areas of asbestos probably added in the 1970’s, and evidence of historic termite damage potentially could have blown the entire budget - leaving very little for the Interior Design finishes. In the end we had 320,000GBP budget for the restoration work which was very challenging.
The brief was potentially daunting as nothing in the home could be salvaged. ‘Nelson House’ had been a rental property for decades, which only lead to Her demise from a former beauty queen, now hardly recognisable, patched and uninhabitable.
This comprehensive renovation project had to deliver a modern family home, with various accommodation requirements to suit every member of this young family. The tropical North Queensland lifestyle was to be celebrated and enhanced through open-plan living areas, an entertainer's kitchen, walk-in pantry, full laundry, and every bedroom sizeable. The interior design was to compliment all of the above through modern resort style.
Considering the restoration commenced with removing the roof and all walls (internal and external) we were left with a skeleton, and the rebuild started from there. The only certainty I had for the interior design brief was that the original features would be retained and restored wherever possible.
The challenge of a minute budget actually liberated my creative process to celebrate what I had to work with in the original features of ‘Nelson House’. Steering clear of complexity, which in my experience only increases budgets, I focused on the simplicity of tropical living, whilst ensuring the altered and enhanced floor-plan was complimentary to modern way of living and ticked all the boxes of the client brief.
Despite the poor state of the home, there were so many elements I saw potential in and wanted to preserve through the renovation project. The original fret-work features along with the original Australian hardwood throughout the home (including windows and framework) ensured it was definitely originally a high-quality homestead. High ceilings throughout the home create space and volume. The very large & long rooms could easily be split to double the physical number of rooms thus meeting client brief to increase accommodation. Non-Existent winters in Townsville enabled the creation of outdoor rooms to increase usable floor space for outdoor dining and a bbq area that could be used year-round.
Along with the positive, there were many elements that needed to be updated for the modern homeowner. Historically, homes had free-standing dressers and wardrobes so a lack of space was something I had to rectify with built-in wardrobes and a spacious laundry with tons of storage. The original floor plan did not have a dining area which meant I had to create one somewhere. The solution was to put 36m2 outdoor dining entertaining area on top of the new garage.
As I was working with a historical home that had been altered several times over the past century, I had to be precise with new layout. Starting with the original floor plan which needed to be maximized to increase physical accommodation. I utilized the original verandas that would have been open to allow for sea breezes (19th century air conditioning). I enclosed large portions which then provided the internal square meterage needed to design three full-size bedrooms, galley kitchen with walk-in pantry, separate laundry, and a spectacular Master Suite which included large walk-through robe, sitting area, and master ensuite complete with double vanity, large shower and soaking bathtub ready for champagne and a good book.
The home also needed a large double garage to be constructed, which I designed to be semi-submerged behind the original home, thus capitalizing on an additional outdoor living/dining area (36m2) on top of the new garage using a flat roof - accessed from the rear balcony and kitchen. Because it was constructed semi-submerged meant it was only a few steps up to the area instead of a full flight of stairs had it been built at ground level. This not only increased the overall physical size of the home (thus increasing its value), but provided a solution to the requested designated dining area, taking advantage of sea breezes for this tropical part of the world which could be used year-round.
For the interior finishes I had to deliver key items without the high price tags. To add texture throughout, I had pdf VJ board installed on all internal walls to compliment the original feel of the home. PDF VJ boards are heavily insulated to ensure the home was economical to run, and cool 12 months a year. This part of the world averages 27 degrees Celsius in winter, so despite not seeing all the insulation (and added cost) it was imperative to make this home liveable!
I used budget brands such as Ikea for built-in bathroom, laundry and kitchen cabinets, however complimenting them with solid stone countertops to dress them as upmarket. Marble pendant beside lights in the Master Suite had a spectacular 3-metre drop highlighting the phenomenal high ceilings evident throughout the original Homestead. There were a few key furniture items such as the Balinese Teak root feature table in the lounge which was imported for this job as it anchored the entry area and set the holiday vibe for the rest of the home. Importance was placed on using natural fabrics such as linen, sisal, leather, with vibrant velvet pops in the kids bedrooms to add colour. Use of tropical plants, and modern art personalised this home,
Importance was placed on making this a home. Designer pieces were not important - it was all about changing the floor plan and maximising rooms to enhance liveability.
Taking inspiration from tropical 5-star resorts in the Caribbean and Asia, I embraced Minimalist and Coastal influences which suited the Clients, who are well-traveled executives working in the city centre, only 2km away. The Client wanted to feel as though it was a holiday retreat to come home to every night after work.
Remembering in Australia, any building over 20-years is normally destined for the bulldozers because the value and admiration of historic properties is not celebrated. Developers normally choose to start again, as new construction is deemed to be cheaper, simpler and budgets can be calculated exactly. I am determined to change that one project at a time, and through delivering such a stunning result as seen here at ‘Nelson House’, my Client base and reputation is growing.
‘Nelson House’ project clearly demonstrates a comprehensive understanding of architectural philosophy's, building techniques and interior design elements. I adopted an unapologetic appreciation of re-designing a historic home for modern family requirements, and happily the Client considers the brief was executed and fulfilled beautifully. Countless elements of this design process were challenging and well out-with ‘normal’ levels of tolerances, compared to less complex interior design jobs I have completed in the past. The key to delivering an extraordinary result was to think laterally, dig deeper and utilise my contacts and suppliers like never before.
Working with such a historic home, everything was an unknown. You take out one wall, and it could potentially open a whole can of additional jobs (and expenses) that you couldn’t afford time nor money.
When such restrictions are placed on the normal design process, it highlights strengths and weaknesses in a Designers’ ability; and in my opinion, I exceeded the client brief. I consider the ‘Nelson House’ project showcases my ability to work within tight parameters, and tested my knowledge and experience to the max.
Over the years I have worked on personal projects in the UK, Italy and studied in the USA - all focus on renovation projects which is my passion. I hope to continue this work in Australia, and save as many remaining historic properties I can.