At first glance, one could easily mistake the concrete floor in Mariah Burton and her husband Caleb’s Australian home for a sandy shore. It is a fitting sleight of hand for the couple, who first met at North Narrabeen Beach in 2010 and bought their 50-year-old apartment in the coastal Sydney suburb of Dee Why in 2017. The only problem? “It was trapped in the 1970s,” says Mariah, the cofounder of design firm Folk Studio, adding that its green walls and brown shag carpeting made the 800-square-foot space feel “dark and lifeless.” On the other hand, it boasted two skylights and a balcony off the kitchen. Plus the concrete floors underneath the carpet held potential. Eager to test their abilities, the pair dove in.
The bulk of the nine-month-long renovation found the couple tackling several DIYs (including patching the walls, slathering the home in white paint, and ripping out old carpet and tile) so they could dedicate their budget to heftier investments, like having the floor professionally sealed and polished, which set them back $4,500. Tensions could have easily flared with so much going on, but they kept the peace by playing to each other’s strengths: his being carpentry and hers being interior design.
They also gave themselves well-deserved breaks here and there to keep burnout at bay. For example, while a crew gussied up their floor, the couple recharged in Japan, where Mariah marveled at the fanciful shadows created by the country’s abundance of breeze blocks, a see-through member of the cinder block family that was popular in the ’50s and ’60s. Inspiration hit: When they got back to Sydney, Caleb happily spent two days building a screen with the utilitarian blocks to differentiate—but not divorce—the kitchen and living room. As the final coat of sealant dried, the couple stepped back to survey the results. Geometric shadows crept across their floor, bringing with them a flood of happy memories of their time overseas.
As construction wound down, Mariah sought out a collection of decorations that would fill their home with a laid-back vibe that matched the family’s beachy lifestyle. The final roster is a who’s who of the Australian design world: The kitchen plays host to an understated backsplash from Tiles by Kate; the bedroom’s unfussy linen sheets are by cult favorite In Bed; and the living room’s hand-stitched sofa from Koskela dares them to not kick back. Given the couple’s chill demeanor, they should have no problem doing just that.