Crayola Colors, Warm Wood, and Lush Greenery Make This Aussie Home a Wild Oasis
Plus the family’s tips on nature-led learning.
Published Mar 15, 2021 1:00 AM
A Crayola palette, food-themed furniture, and a coopful of happy, clucking chickens—what more could a kid ask for in a childhood home? “It’s all a heap of fun,” says Kate Heppell of the seaside property she shares with her husband, Mal, and their three young sons—Zig (9), Fern (5), and Viv (3). The cofounder of popular Australian homewares brand Kip&Co has made her exuberant flair for bright colors and playful layers a family affair.
When Kate and Mal first laid eyes on the house in 2006, they were living and working in Melbourne, making the hour-and-a-half drive south along the coast to the Bellarine Peninsula to take ocean dips and dolphin-watch on weekends. Feeling priced out of city real estate, the couple began to look for something more in their budget range in the commuter-friendly area of Point Lonsdale. “We decided to rent in the city and buy in the country instead of the other way around,” says Kate.
They fell in love with the land and the building’s potential—even though it was cut and sealed, ready to be torn down. “I loved all the natural light,” says Kate of what hooked her on the project. “It felt incredibly grounding.” The pair tapped a local architect to kick-start a top-to-bottom renovation, keeping original details like the Victorian ash floorboards and interior cladding and doing the construction themselves. “Even when the house was a wreck, we would snuggle upstairs in front of the fire,” Kate recalls. “Now we can enjoy the room without a breeze coming through the frames.”
In 2011 they welcomed Zig, who was born in the living room, just as his younger brothers would be a few years later. And while life was suddenly very different, the family approach to decorating stayed steady. “We’ve always believed in color and its ability to shift moods, so once the boys arrived, we just upped the ante a bit,” says Kate, referencing the saturated paint colors (mango, bubblegum pink, banana leaf green, navy) that predate the kids. “I think all the time about repainting, but I don’t know if I would get it right again,” she admits. “It suits our energy.”
As the family grew, the couple decided to sacrifice their studio (which had originally been the carport) so that Fern and Viv would have a room big enough to share. Skipping a standard door, they built an open arch and finished it in bluestone to make the space feel connected to the rest of the house—where “their wacky little personalities” can be found in every corner.
Now, like the maximalist style celebrated by Kate’s company, it’s all about the mix—a mid-century modern–meets–Pop Art sensibility, featuring cool chrome pendant lights; neon banana art; a hot pink rug in the shape of lips; and lots of warm, rustic wood to balance out the whole (a material that makes the place feel “a bit like being on a boat”). Against that expressive backdrop, sheer breezy curtains and vibrant cushions are layered in with an eclectic collection of vintage furniture—including the piano Kate was given as an 8-year-old and has hauled around ever since. It doubles as a display shelf for art and found objects, as well as a creative outlet of sorts. “Everyone just bashes around on it,” she says of the (very) well-loved piece.
Another cherished element: The walls are covered in drawings by the boys and pieces by contemporary artists picked up to mark special occasions or memorable vacations. “For us art is deeply uplifting. We hope it inspires the kids to be creative, critical thinkers,” she says. “And at a minimum gives them something nice to smile at while eating their breakfast.”
As lush as the indoors may be, life outside is thriving, as well. A landscape designer by trade, Mal set to task terracing the property. Looking to the existing mature moonah trees and an ancient eucalyptus to anchor the yard, he then brought in native plants like coast banksia and black sheoak to add character. And to complement the large patio where Kate says they are always “watching the kids muck about,” he put in a hot tub, wood-fired oven, and outdoor kitchen, and designated a grassy patch for everyone to laze around on together.
But possibly the star of the backyard is tucked among the citrus trees and edible gardens planted with herbs, lettuces, and hearty green veggies: the family’s chicken coop—another Mal design. Zig, Fern, and Viv tend to their feathered friends daily, giving them scraps, water, and grain. “When the chickens are allowed to roam the whole property, the kids are great at finding them and shooing them back into the coop,” notes Kate. Until another day of adventure begins.
The outdoors plays a central role in the Heppells’ approach to parenting. Here, Kate shares her tips on nature-led learning.
The Sky’s the Limit “Nothing is out of bounds or forbidden on the property. We let them climb trees. We let them fall off. It doesn’t always seem like a good idea, but we figure they will learn from experience,” explains Kate. “It encourages independence and problem-solving skills.”
Table Talk As a self-proclaimed “keen veggie patcher,” Kate makes sure her kids understand where their food comes from. “We eat mostly plant-based, so when we do have fish or meat, we encourage conversation around it. We don’t hide anything from them,” she says.
Creature Comforts All the time the brothers spend caring for Snoopy Groovy (a beagle–Cavalier King Charles spaniel mix); Sobby (a miniature Murray River short-neck turtle); and Ramsay, Turbo, Fred, Speedy, and Fredrica (their chickens) helps build nonverbal communication and trusting relationships with humans, too.
Keep Things Fresh As the boys grow out of digging in the garden and collecting bugs, Kate and Mal have created new challenges to capture their interests, such as rocks to scale and a cubby house to call their own.
Play to Grow “The kids are really adventurous with how they play,” says Kate. “They can push themselves, try things, fail, and develop resilience—mentally and physically. The benefits that come from their inquisitiveness are wonderful.”
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