When Australian designer Rachel Castle decided to relocate with her husband and two young children from Melbourne to Sydney, she had one major requirement: silence. The family had been living in a converted church hall that they renovated from afar while living in the U.K., and the incompatibility with their lifestyle was beginning to show. “The architects were left to pretty much make all of the decisions without us,” she says. “Living in a big house with a little family was challenging for me.” The open floor plan made it harder to keep track of her kids.
“The ceilings were super-high and the rooms were enormous, so the noise carried through the whole house. I think the simple act of closing a door for peace and quiet and a sense of coziness was what I missed,” explains Castle. She found it in a 1930s bungalow with a significantly smaller footprint in Sydney’s suburban lower North Shore neighborhood, where her children could bike to school but otherwise always be in sight. “It felt like we were just closer physically, for sure, but also as a family,” she notes. Of course, that didn’t mean the house wasn’t without its flaws.
Castle and her kin lived in the home for three years before working with designer Tina de Salis on renovations that united the kitchen and family rooms into an open main living space. They tore down the exterior elevation to create a wall of windows, connecting it with an outdoor pool patio shaded by a stately frangipani tree, and replaced the floors with European oak parquetry. There are still doors that lead to a separate area of the main room for her now-teenage children to goof off in—only now they’re the ones doing the closing. Here’s how Castle made the smaller space work for her family:
Let There Be Light
While the open floor plan helped increase square footage on a practical level, flooding the rooms with natural sunlight was key in achieving an airy look. In addition to replacing the exterior elevation with a wall of windows, a round skylight was installed above the dining area to add “organic shape and break up the boxiness of the room,” says Castle.
Hold Onto Things That Feel Like Home
Look for areas that can serve a variety of functions without a lot of clutter. “A key to everywhere we’ve lived is our big dining table,” says Castle of the custom table made by local woodworker Ben Sibley. “I’m a bit sentimental about it. We’ve all become used to this big place to eat and meet and do homework.”
Embrace Your Inner Maximalist
Colorful pieces with a distinct point of view, like the Ligne Roset sofas and self-made artwork from Castle’s decor line, go a long way to make a space feel warm and welcoming without taking up a lot of real estate. “Our style is quite hectic and organic,” says Castle. “I just keep adding the things I like, but somehow it all works.”
Take Time to Learn How the Space Works
It’s a good idea to live in any space before renovating it, but also pausing afterward to understand the nuances of your lifestyle there, especially in a small home, where efficiency is paramount. “We retrofitted the bookshelf behind the dining table because I didn’t want to commit to too much cabinetry before we lived in the new reno for a bit,” Castle says. “We put all our old stuff into the new space and replaced it as we went along.” Even in a world where everything can be done remotely, it pays off to get intimate with your house to really make it feel like home.
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