Building her beach house from the ground up was a return to the source for Alex McCabe. Although the cofounder of Australian design brand Kip & Co. grew up in the Mornington Peninsula’s bucolic wine country just south of Melbourne, she escaped to the city as soon as she was old enough to leave the nest. She found her happy place in vibrant St. Kilda, a waterfront neighborhood peppered with cafés and shops. Many years and two kids later—her youngest, Pearl, is 1 month old—she was ready for a change of pace.
“My mom was a winemaker and had this property, which she managed herself for nearly 30 years,” says McCabe. When her father fell ill, the land became too big a responsibility for her parents—so she decided to buy it from them. “It was a really sentimental place for us,” she remembers. The 12-acre lot was covered in rolling vineyard hills that stretched almost to the ocean. One hilltop, which overlooked the whole property, was deemed the ideal spot for a weekend getaway home for McCabe’s growing family. Not only did it have the best views, but it was also the only flat stretch of land, which would make construction there less expensive.
For this cozy coastal escape, she didn’t want to use the bright pops of color found in her home in St. Kilda; she wished to ground the place in the local landscape. As it so happens, the neighbor’s soil was bright red—the hue that inspired the entire palette. Working with the same architect she collaborated with on her previous home, McCabe started sourcing materials that would give the building a sense of history: wood beams reclaimed from an old rail bridge and oxidized panels the color of rusty metal.
But her pride and joy is the kitchen island, made from poured colored concrete, layered to have an ombré effect. “I had been saving this idea for years before finding the right place where I could try it out,” says McCabe.
The dining stools in front were a happy accident. “I had bought these big chairs that were handmade in Bali and had them shipped over and stored for months while the house was being built,” she remembers. When she unpacked them, they were just too bulky. McCabe’s boyfriend, seeing her feeling a bit defeated, drove to a local store and purchased the replacement seats on a whim. They were a bit short for the table, so the couple topped them with Kip & Co. pillows that serendipitously coordinate with the counter colors.
They finished the space with a marble inlaid table, discovered in India, that took a year to become reality. “I was at a shop in Jaipur that specializes in marble-work and saw a much smaller table and asked if they could make a bigger one for me,” she recalls. Across the room is yet another statement: a rounded white-brick bench that runs the length of the window and also serves as a pedestal for the wood-burning stove. “It’s probably my favorite seat in the entire house,” says McCabe.
Double bunk beds in the kids’ room especially remind McCabe of family holidays growing up. “I think of when my sisters and I slept in the same room—there’s this immediate sense of mischief,” she says. The wine-red railings were inspired by a lampshade McCabe had purchased in Indonesia years before: “It has this little tiny strip of red in it, so I said to the steelmaker, ‘Match it exactly.’”
The bathrooms boast similarly earthy hues: terracotta tile in one and a soft rose swath of glazed zellige in the other. (The latter is a nod to a restaurant in Bali, where a bar was covered in the same tile in different shades of blue.) McCabe got the idea for her textured master bedroom wall covering on a different trip, this time to Palm Springs: “I went to the bathroom at the Parker, and they had seagrass wallpaper.”
Now the couple rents the vineyard to a local wine producer. “It’s nice to be able to sit back on the porch and watch them work, rather than being dragged by my mom to prune or whatever,” says McCabe, laughing. The property’s draw is so strong that she and her boyfriend are thinking of expanding the house and relocating there permanently to raise their children. “Once you’ve been in the city for a couple of decades, all you want is more space,” she ponders. “It’s come full circle.”
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