A blog that explores Australian houses. If you love architecture, design, interiors and interesting buildings of all types, The House Hunter is for you.

Ormond Road, Ascot Vale


I’m a sucker for Victorian renovators, so when I was contacted about this house in Melbourne I had to feature it, even though I didn’t get a chance to fly down there and scope it out. Fortunately, the owners were willing to do an interview with me, and their words pair well with the images in presenting the from-heritage-to-modern story of this abode.


It’s a pretty, renovated place that has a bit of a Sydney vibe to it (or is that just my Sydney bias coming into the frame?). The void in the living area, seen above, draws me in – light and airiness are essential elements of spaces, for me. It has a dash of Victorian charm with some contemporary-industrial sleekness from a new extension.


My favourite space in the house.


The owners, Cathy and Matt De Carolis (a builder who managed the extension himself), were keen to shape the property to their young family without detracting from its character. The house was built in the nineteenth century and still has some awesome original features, including servants’ quarters (major lust!). It was bought unrenovated in 2006. “The house was very rundown when we bought it and it was in need of much TLC,” the couple say.


“The first challenge came when … the whole back of the house had fallen in!”


Due perhaps to their expertise in the construction industry, the couple has the presence of mind to preserve what they could of the house’s charm, while still adapting it to their present-day needs. “Although we wanted to keep as much of the original house as possible, we also wanted room to grow and therefore decided to put a very modern extension on the back, only taking out the original kitchen and bathrooms, and putting the children’s  living area up in the roof.” This fits in nicely with the current trend of building into roof spaces, which seems to be a pretty happening idea in apartment blocks and terraces where the owners are seeking more room to breathe.



The extension took twelve months – which, in the scheme of things, and given how complex renovations can be, seems like a good timeline. “The first challenge came when Matt sent me away for a week with the children to knock out the kitchen … only to ring me to let me know that I needed to find a rental quick as the whole back of the house had fallen in!” Cathy says.


The couple were very selective in the materials chosen, which is crucial to a good quality renovation; too many renovators try to save cash by using cheap materials, with the result often being that the end result looks poorly executed and kind of pointless. Their search for materials included sourcing marble from Ottario De Carolis’ village in Rome.


The couple capture one of the most rewarding aspects of renovating a stately, historic home; “I think the most satisfying part of the renovation is seeing the house come to life again … since renovating the house, there is a real sense of old meets new.”


But there’s always more to do. Thankfully, Cathy only has one small remaining niggle; “The laundry! At the time the house [extension] was designed I had just had baby number four and was not paying too much attention to the interiors of the house. Our laundry cupboards are very narrow so to fold up a sheet and fit it in there is a nightmare. I would actually like to totally gut the laundry in a couple of years and put really big, deep floor-to-ceiling cupboards in there.”



Various, Rose Bay


Unfortunately, I didn’t get a chance to venture out to Rouse Hill house and farm, which was the property I wanted to scope out this week. I was in Rose Bay recently, though, and thought I’d take some snaps of the houses there. I wasn’t in Rose Bay’s most ridiculously salubrious precinct (although everywhere in Rose Bay is salubrious), which enabled me to capture the diversity of housing that is in the eastern suburb.



Aside from its old-school prestige, Rose Bay is coveted for a number of reasons – its bay, the fact it has a beach, the ferry commute to the city (and the proximity to the CBD – it’s seven kilometres away) and its closeness to equally high-end suburbs Double Bay, Dover Heights, Vaucluse and Point Piper. It sits in one of Sydney’s richest spots, which is evident in the top twenty most expensive sales in the last twelve months dating back from April. Rose Bay took out the top spot on that list with a $21.5 million deal.


Pretty brickwork.


Around Rose Bay’s New South Head Road village is an assortment of housing styles, as can be seen here – art deco apartment blocks, sizeable Victorians, family-sized federations, and lots of semis, many of which have been vertically extended.



Love the vintage green and white chair on the porch.


Excellent colour.



Love these old school pathway signs in the east and north.

Architect Stephanie Skyring’s tips for eco-fying your home



Skyring Architects director Stephanie Skyring was the creative mind behind the stunning Brisbane property I featured on the blog last week (and there some additional photos of the lovely house on this post). Here, she provides her top ten methods to make your home more comfortable, cost effective and environmentally sustainable. 


While I can’t claim to have much environmental nous, the below tips are great ways to ensure your home complements your lifestyle, which is instrumental to effective home design. Best of all, they show how you can lock out the cold without turning to the heater – tips I should heed, given my teeth seem to start chattering as soon as the temperature falls below 20 degrees celcius.


1. Increase insulation

Have a look in the ceiling and see if there is any insulation.  Look for reflective foil under the roof battens and bulk insulation sitting above the ceiling.  Using bulk insulation with an ‘R value’ of 3.5 or more will make your house naturally more comfortable and cut down your air conditioning costs.


Renovators: Install bulk insulation with an ‘R Value’ of 1.5 in any external walls where internal or external wall sheeting is removed to make changes.  Pay particular attention to east and west walls that get direct sun. You will feel the difference.


2. Better breezes and sun

Make the most of your home site.  Open up your house to the north, east and south, while closing down to the west.  If renovating, consider putting in a new window or door on the north or south to provide direct breeze paths through the house and increase your natural ventilation.


Open up your house to the north, east and south, while closing down to the west.


3. More shading

Add awnings to your windows – they control the sun and allow you to keep the windows open when it’s raining.  Make sure the awnings are the right size and shape to suit the orientation and still let sun in during winter.  If they are too wide you will have a cold house in winter.  As a rule of thumb, try a 500 millimetre wide overhang. 


4. Install ceiling fans

Ceiling fans in bedrooms and living areas provide effective cooling and use very little energy. (HH: I am happy to say I have these at the moment! Although they don’t get a lot of use currently given how freezing it’s been since April.)


Design note: Avoid fans with integrated lighting.  The fan prevents the light from washing across the ceiling, making the room quite dark.  For a more architectural effect use wall lights that light up the ceiling to provide a soft wash of light across the room.  Locate them away from the fan. (HH: This is a great tip – light is one of the essential elements of a pretty room.)


5. Minimise maintenance

Choose materials and finishes that will require minimal maintenance.  Try coloured bricks and blocks with no finish, or quality environmental paint finishes such as Resene on timber boards or other wall sheeting.  Try lime wash for a long lasting natural finish on block work.


Avoid the fashion for timber battens with an oil finish, particularly where they are on the west or east wall, as the oil will have to be reapplied every six to 12 months to keep the timber from ageing.  Avoid very dark paint finishes painted on timber on sunny west or east walls as the dark colour absorbs a lot of heat, causing the timber to expand and contract. This damages the paint finish and ages the timber.






6. Indoor air quality

Keep your family healthy by selecting interior finishes that don’t emit toxic chemicals.  Toxic chemicals emit a ‘new’ smell; your home shouldn’t smell at all when the building is finished.  Always use water based finishes (avoid solvent based finishes) for paints and floors.


Use hard floors like timber, bamboo, linoleum, polished concrete or tiles where possible because they are easier to keep clean.  Use woollen rugs to add softness, improve acoustics and create focus areas.  Rugs improve flexibility, because it’s easy to change a rug to give your house a makeover. 


7. High-level glazing and skylights

High-level windows and skylights provide natural light of far greater quality and quantity than windows in the wall.  Install skylights in dark internal rooms to improve the light quality as well as reduce energy costs.  If you are building or renovating, install high-level glazing to the north or south for loads of natural light and a beautiful sky view. (I despise dark rooms – they make me feel depressed and claustrophobic, and they don’t look as good as their lighter equivalents - so I love this tip.)


8. Energy efficient water heating

Hot water systems are the largest source of household greenhouse emissions.  If you haven’t already, install a solar hot water system to heat your water for free.  Put the tank on the roof to avoid using energy to pump the water and put the override switch on manual so you can choose when you want to use your electric backup.  Alternatively, consider a heat pump or instantaneous gas as a secondary option. (My own hot water is solar, but unfortunately is an old system that never seems to work well - if the installer had put in a secondary option, I mightn’t feel as aggrieved as I do!)


9. Investigate solar power

Solar power is becoming increasingly affordable.  However, you will need to make sure you have room on the roof for the panels to face north in a location that is not shaded between 10 am and 3 pm.  Make sure you purchase quality solar panels to optimise energy creation.


10. Get smart with lighting

Install lighting control devices on your lights to make them more efficient, such as dimmers and movement sensors and timers.  If you have loads of ‘energy eating’ low voltage down lights in your house, investigate some lighting alternatives.  Find a specialist lighting shop and talk to them about lighting and bulb options that are more efficient. There are loads of options to improve the ambiance and lighting quality and save energy.





‘Tanderra’, Floating House, Pearl Bay, Mosman


This week, I’m taking a look through one of Mosman’s floating houses, and (I think) it’s a real treat. The home is one of three floating houses in Pearl Bay at Mosman, and one of four still extant in Sydney Harbour (the fourth being in Clontarf). It is considered derelict by the Roads Maritime Service Authority (RMS), but there are plans to overhaul it (which the RMS appears to be all for). My friend Marion sent some photos through of its neighbours a few months ago, and I spoke about the potential for floating houses to form a viable solution to housing stress (as well as offering the opportunity to live in a place that is simply amazingly cool). This time, I was able to enter one of the houses myself, and I fell in love a little bit.



I am thankful to the home’s lovely owner, Maureen Young, who took me through the house’s history. People started building houses on the water in the area during times of economic depression (including the Great Depression) – it was an innovative form of accommodation for those who were left without alternatives. This is unsurprising to me as my grandad’s family, who suffered a riches-to-rags downfall for a brief period after the passing of his grandfather, was relocated from a Strathfield estate to a makeshift place in Sutherland that he and his brother constructed out of a shipping container; the early-to-mid twentieth century saw a range of living arrangements pursued by those who had to think outside the box due to their financial situation. The homes on the water now are those that were permitted by the government to stay (as Mosman Daily has documented).



The most fantastic aspect of the house is obviously the fact that it’s located on the water (literally). Seriously, have you ever seen anything like it (other than in a tropical resort…or a slum city)? The uniqueness and appeal of this cannot be expressed without standing in the house and feeling its connection with the water. It’s a special, and exclusive, community.



It was a bit nerve-wracking walking up the wooden plank to the home’s patchy balcony – not because it felt shaky, because it didn’t, but because it looked haphazard. This is part of the house’s immense charm, though – it’s hotch-potch, with layers having been added over the years. The interior has water stains and the window frames have been warped by the salt water. The house slouches on a slant, and the bottom level is half-submerged. It’s currently the size of a one bedroom apartment, although it has a pretty awesome rooftop deck.



Maureen is confident that government rulings in the ’40s prohibiting further building of floating houses east of the Gladesville Bridge make the homes in Pearl Bay the last of their kind. So, this is it – celebrate them, preserve them, and hopefully we won’t lose them.




724 Sherwood Road, Sherwood


Normally, I ‘hunt’ down and photograph the properties featured here myself (it’s a labour-intensive blog!). But this very, very pretty house was sent through to me and I’m extremely excited to feature it. It’s located in Brisbane, a city I haven’t properly visited (but am keen to). Stephanie Skyring, the architect, specialises in sustainable design, and has also shared her top ten tips for environmental sustainability with us – our next post will feature those, so look out for it.



By way of (short) contextual background, my research has informed me that Sherwood is within ten kilometres of Brisbane’s CBD, borders the Brisbane River and is next to an awesome-sounding suburb called Fig Tree Pocket.


The house was a beautiful Queensland character property that needed a contemporary update. Stephanie focused on opening spaces to external areas, making the house seem roomier without having to increase its environmental footprint by extending it. Similarly to Rose Seidler House, large windows are used to bring in light and connect the house with its lush, rainforest-like surroundings. The living room nails the brief – the slanted wood-pannelled ceiling paired with a wallpapered feature inlet and angular glass window pane is, firstly, insanely attractive, and, secondly, completely complementary to the home’s bushland habitat.



My favourite rooms, though, are the powder room and bathroom. They. Are. Amazing.



Powder room: I have to note that nothing strikes me as more luxurious than a powder room, and I must have one myself. But I digress. Fish wallpaper (need I go on? This alone seals the deal) and a gilded ornate mirror set off against white cornices, black flooring and an oversized hanging light – decadent, inspired, eccentric.



Bathroom: you see the wide, white, brick-style tiles (apparently known as ‘metro tiles’, as they resemble those used in the subway)? I love these things. They’re classically stylish but still jump off the wall at you in an edgy way due to their dark borders. Here, they are set off against the silver finishings, tiny green plant (cute! Also essential in adding some colour goodness) and symmetrical lighting to great effect.



Again, the bedroom has the slanted roof/wallpaper combination that I adore – it makes a room pop without the need for many furnishings (in fact, such a style looks better with a minimalist layout, as is shown here). The fans were employed by Stephanie as an environmentally-friendly way of combating the Queensland heat. The louvre windows are also great at regulating temperature, and they’re a delightful aesthetic addition.