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

Ross Street, Toorak


Hassell is an international design agency that’s been doing some amazing stuff in the region (in both commercial and residential spaces), so when they got in touch and let me know I could choose a property they’ve worked on to feature, I was excited. So here it is – the Ross Street Residence, which is located in one of Melbourne’s most salubrious suburbs, Toorak. Scott Walker, head of interior design at Hassell, takes us through the home’s design features.


As an aside, my favourite elements of the home are the oh-so-cool modernist-abstract living area (and otherworldy feature staircase) and the thin, streamlined pool that fits neatly in the house’s flowing indoor/outdoor space. I have always had a thing for narrow pools – there is something I find inexplicably attractive about them.


What were the principal design elements you sought to include in the home’s interiors?

The critical element in the design of the house was that it felt as though it was a retreat from the outside world. Externally, it is closed off from the street while internally it is largely open. Through using classic proportions and materials, the calm interior reflects the client’s desire that the spaces behave like a haven; a sanctuary from the outside world. In essence, we tried to achieve interiors that appear easy and uncomplicated. Of course, simple is never easy. It often means distilling complex issues down to their most basic elements.


How did the collaboration process with Robert Mills Architects work?

The collaboration with Robert Mills was not extensive as our scope was largely focused on interiors and its connection to the pool, the landscaping and the expression of the interiors externally. For example, the front door is a critical element that defines the interior entry experience. Therefore, we designed the door and its hardware. Of course, integration with architecture is important but what became more important was how the interior defined the architecture.



Of course, simple is never easy.”

How involved was the owner in the process?

The clients were integral to the design process and outcome. Nobody knows more about how they live than the owners of a residence. They add nuance to the entire design from planning arrangements to detailing. We are very happy to work with any clients that want to strive for the very best outcomes for their projects, and are happy to test design in terms of not being limited by their own knowledge but rather learn about design.


Were there any challenges?

The detailing and refinement of the detailing were critical in achieving the overall aesthetic of the various spaces. This commitment to refined detailing meant that we continued to resolve design during the construction process, which of course meant that we needed to work hand in hand with the builder (John Morley – Morcon) to get the best possible results.


Were any cost savings made?

Although there wasn’t an unlimited budget, cost was not a driver for the project. The determiner for all of the design was asking ourselves how this detail, material or element connected to the broader aspiration of the residence. We didn’t spend money for the sake of it, nor did we save money to cut corners.


Do you have any recommendations for people seeking a similar minimalist aesthetic on a budget?

Be clear about your own vision and also be realistic about how you live. This house was designed for our clients, and therefore fits their needs. This house is not for all people but rather people who are committed to a way of living that works within and around the design.


Amazing interplay of light.


How was the unique spiral staircase decided upon?

Given that the living area is largely open, it was decided that an element was needed to divide up the space – from the lounge, to the kitchen and to the living area. As an open space, the spiral stair worked well as a sculptural element that sits freestanding as an object in the space. It is as much a sculptural element as it is a vertical circulation path.


How were the owners’ lifestyles and habits incorporated into the design?

The owners’ lifestyles were expressed everywhere throughout the design. From a planning perspective, their desire to entertain placed the kitchen centrally, reinforced by an oversized island bench. Spaces are connected but zoned in a way to establish a sense of place between ‘rooms’. Detailing throughout the interiors reflects the clients’ commitment to well-crafted and designed items. This design isn’t about the best for the sake of the best but rather about not being limited by how other people think things should be expressed. The design has been built to last so its detailing and general aesthetics are classic in proportion and materiality.


188 Penshurst Street, Willoughby


This Moroccan-inspired home near Chatswood on Sydney’s lower north shore has the design elements of an urban-oasis-compound; the focus on courtyards, sundecks and the interplay between inside and outside spaces creates a home that feels completely self-sufficient without intervention from the outside world.


Unfortunately, despite being about five minutes away from me, I didn’t get a chance to see this gorgeous home myself due to the ominous university exam period, but the home’s lovely owner Patricia alerted me to the place and sent through some photos. It’s currently on the market, in case you are looking for something unique in one of the north shore’s most convenient suburbs (it’s on the doorstep of Chatswood and Crows Nest and has its own strips of boutique shops and cafes, while retaining the vibe of a family-oriented suburb). It was this convenience that appealed to Patricia and her husband when they bought in the area; “The decision to live here was instant when we saw it for sale because we wanted somewhere that wasn’t suburbia with an inner west or inner east feel but on the lower north shore. We can walk to cafes, restaurants and the local shops. We can use it as a home with a home office too,” she says.



The owners designed the home themselves, living in the pre-existing home (which is still on the block) while designing and building their new house. “The home is made up of two homes on one block. The first one was built in the early 1960s and is right up level to the footpath like a shop, and is next to a row of shops. … We lived in that old house for about three years with our two boxer puppies and two Siamese cats. It was fairly cramped but it was our first home and it felt good. Meanwhile, we had plans drawn up to build on the back of the block, pull the garage down and erect a Spanish/Moroccan style two storey house,” she says. The house was completed in 2000.


The couple drew on Patricia’s design experience and her husband’s European background and roots in Cultural Psychology when drawing together the plans for the home. “The design was a natural and organic process once the framework went up. We
could see it finished before it was built.”



You know I’m into recycled materials (due to the immense character it can add), so I was excited to find out that 188 Penshurst Street is made up of bricks from the disused Willoughby Dairy Yard. “We managed to get some very old sandstone blocks from there too which are the used as steps to the front door and other feature areas of the house,” Patricia says.


“The design was a natural and organic process once the framework went up. We could see it finished before it was built.”


The design elements are bold and striking, which was something the couple found integral when composing its rooms. “Peter lived in northern Europe off and on before immigrating to Australia. We have both travelled throughout Europe separately and together and really like the southern European way of life with bold colours and practical means of enjoying their life and having their homes made for their families rather than for visitors or neighbours to envy. It’s more about warmth, friends and living well. In this house you walk from the entrance courtyard into the kitchen/dining/bar where often people do not move from for some time,” Patricia says. This seems to be one of the house’s most useful features – each of the rooms flows onto one another, creating a perfect environment for mingling, and also ensuring the house is well-used. A number of houses have fantastic rooms that are under-utilised due to a lack of flow between living spaces.


Mingling spaces.


When asked about the house’s most unusual feature, Patricia has enough content to forward a number of nominees. The house isn’t ‘weird’; it’s been designed with a different way of living in mind, and this comes through in the home’s idiosyncrasies. “Most people are quite taken with our Indian window, which looks out from the dining room to the main central courtyard. It is a rustic window without glass that closes like double doors. We purchased it in the 1990s when we owned a gift and homeware store in Mosman. We knew it would look great in the house we planned to build one day, and it does. That will be hard to say goodbye to when we move on.


“Of course there is the stained glass window, the outdoor spa and the huge sundeck off our bedroom which has a second BBQ [in addition] to the one in the rear courtyard. The sun deck is tiled in terracotta with ornate feature tiles, has huge geranium-filled urns overlooking the main courtyard. We have a wine table and chairs there that’s great for a nightcap together or a quiet read on your own in what we call our Somerset Maugham corner. Entrance to the property is through a small Judas Gate within the bigger driveway gate. People think this is pretty unusual too. When you live here none of it is unusual…it just works!” She says.



Patricia also has some tips for those looking for eclectic homewares in Sydney, although some shops have moved on, unfortunately. “Over the years we have picked up lovely pieces for the house at local shops that have come and gone. Hardy’s furniture in Willoughby was a great source of furniture and paintings. They have a base in Alexandria and export all over the world. Frame 88 on Penshurst St has great mirrors, frames, artworks and pots. We got our stone water features from them. Medusa in Willoughby had lots of curios and Moroccan bits and pieces but it closed down a few years back. Then it became Hanson House and was a regular haunt of ours. We also go to the gift fairs and buy things on trips overseas. We imported a lot of antique lights and mirrors from Morocco, tiles that look like parquetry flooring from Spain and lights and furniture from Bali.  … We have even bought things in Noosa and in Bowral,” she says. The best homes are pulled together from bits and pieces everywhere (although I’d never say no to an all-day Space Furniture or IKEA expedition…).



The couple are considering building a new home in the future, although the design brief has changed. “We eventually want to build again but it will be a French farmhouse style next time, probably in a year or two somewhere out of Sydney, perhaps in the Southern Highlands. Peter likes the idea of vaulted ceilings and mansard roofs. I would like a studio in a barn and of course open fires and maybe an indoor pool. We’ll see what happens. It will be an organic exercise [in] building, as this was. Decisions can be made as you get to them. We love the French rustic style as much as the Spanish and Moroccan colourful, simple approach to their homes. The next one will again be designed for us and possibly a bit quirky, as this one is. We like to be different.”


My weakness for cats has once again been demonstrated on the blog.

308 Thornton Street, Fairlight


Paul and Kerrie Carroll had a connection with their Federation house in Sydney’s northern beaches from the start; they bought it from family friends. When their friends decided to sell, it was an easy decision to buy – “We had always loved it and the area. At that time, we had a third child on the way and lived just two streets away,” Paul explains.



The house is a great exercise in bricolage – heritage charm is juxtaposed against colourful collectibles and antiques sourced from all over. The 1917 facade was not altered during the renovation. The couple’s interest in contrast is most obvious in the sitting room, where an eye-catching assortment of artefacts sit amongst the room’s classic period detailing. The result is a playful space. The couple notes that the fusion of contemporary and historic didn’t come easily. “The greatest challenge was deciding to add a modern design to quite an old house and making sure it worked, so that the old flowed into the new,” Kerrie says. The pressed metal ceilings are decorated with delicate plasterwork of Australiana rosettas. Special pieces – like the tiger head and rocking horse – were picked up by the Carrolls from vintage stores and markets.



“We wanted to open up the living areas and let the light in,” Paul says about their new living area. “When we renovated the back of the house, the living areas had become too small and pokey for a growing family needing space.” The area now combines with the kitchen to make a light-filled space ideal for entertaining.


The kitchen was a large part of the couple’s renovation, and is strictly contemporary in style. The space shows off their appreciation of clean, uncluttered spaces.



The living space leads out onto the back deck through bifold doors, creating an easy space to entertain guests in. The backyard is the couple’s work in progress – their next project to tackle. Paul and Kerrie note that they are still working on the garden landscaping, but their preference for farmhouse style elements is already apparent.



The couple worked with Team 2 Design to remodel the back of their home. Paul was impressed with the architects’ work, noting that they “came up with a great design that works well and looks great” while suiting the house’s Federation heritage.



“We nominate our bike racks as the house’s weirdest feature,” Kerrie says. Since it’s an older home, the couple decided to maximise the space underneath the stairs as an efficient storage solution. 


Paul says with a laugh, “If our walls could talk they would probably ask ‘Where are you?’ because we’re never home. When we are though, we love it.”
 The couple is continuing to improve on the house, turning their attention to the original bathroom, and plan to stay in the area. “The natural beauty, swimming and surfing at lovely beaches or in the harbour are too incredible to leave behind.”