House Proud

A Scandinavian-inspired home in the heart of Mayfield

Did you know Mayfield has been rated as Newcastle’s most popular suburb, behind Merewether, Tighes Hill and Newcastle? There’s a very good reason for that – oozing with culture and history, Mayfield is home to some of Newcastle’s grandest and oldest houses, jam-packed full of beautiful period features.

Many home buyers search for their forever home or investment property in Mayfield to buy a piece of history, a home with soul and walls that have been home to generations before.

Imagine having the vision to purposefully buy the odd one out. The ugly duckling in a lake full of swans. Elizabeth Street is full of homes bursting with character, but there was one 1990s brick veneer home that was calling out to be seen – it needed someone who could elevate it to be at one with its surroundings. Local architect Nick Potts, from Studio Find, heard the call and snapped it up before the world turned on its head with the pandemic at the end of 2019.

Even though it seemed so at odds with the other houses in the area, it was its potential that drew Nick to the house.

“I could see the potential it presented. There is a laneway at the back of the house which meant we could get rid of the garage and add that space to the footprint of the home, without the expense of an extension."

"The house has a big driveway leading into the garage, which meant we could put a carport around the back. That meant the garage was open game in terms of the floorplan so we could open it up. In terms of orientation, the garage faced north east so had the best orientation of the property.”

But Nick had his work cut out for him when bought the property.

“It was really dark and either very hot or very cold. The bedrooms were particularly hot as they attracted the hot western sun. The house itself was very boxy and lacked any character.”

Given the darkness that permeated the house, Nick knew what his design priorities were.

“One of the biggest things was light. The first thing we needed to do was fix the house’s efficiency and ventilation. That’s why we cut a big hallway, which then split the bedrooms to make the east/west passage through the house. When you open the louvres at either end, it creates much-needed ventilation.”

What used to be the garage, is now a streamlined, open plan kitchen. Using the exact footprint of the garage, complete with the original concrete floor, the kitchen is now the focal point of the home and is Nick’s favourite room in the house.

Nick explains: “When they laid the slab, they used river rock as aggregate so when we polished it up, it revealed multi-coloured reds and greens, giving a terrazzo aesthetic. We used the guys at Newcastle Concrete Polishers and they worked to polish it right down to reveal the end product and we love it.”

Curves and geometry feature heavily throughout the design. Nick resisted the temptation to raise the level of the old garage floor, and instead made a feature of the differing floor heights by introducing a curved step between the levels and dressing the stair riser with Marbella subway tiles from Perini Tiles. The earthy tones and hand-made aesthetic of the tiles, complement the raw concrete kitchen floor and the delightfully textural cork floor tiles used throughout the rest of the home.

While they add aesthetic interest to the home, the curves prominent throughout Nick's redesign play another role too.

“Curves are really practical. If we didn’t have the curves, the walkway would be awkward with the step there, so we would have had to shave the edge off. Adding the curve meant we could push the bedroom out further into the living room and you wouldn’t really notice the difference. It’s all about small space living. We had a limited budget to gut the whole inside so we had to use the inside portion and work with the footprint we had as we didn’t extend beyond the existing footprint.”

Another clever solution that Nick uses when designing small scale living spaces, is to give rooms multiple uses. For example, designing joinery that can double in purpose from use as a bedroom and/or a study.

“Each room can double as a study. I have a lot of clients in Hamilton and Mayfield who have small blocks and can’t extend so I do a lot of versatile designs where for example a walk in robe can double as a study”, says Nick.

The attention to detail is next level. It’s not just the creativity of the design, which you would expect from an architect, it’s the finer details, that when you look closely, show a considered and deliberate approach.

For example, the detailing in the birch ply kitchen cabinetry, where the split in the cupboard door lines up perfectly with the kitchen bench. It’s where the curved, cut out bench seat in the living room sits in perfect harmony with the adjacent curved step of the kitchen. It’s where the skylight lines up perfectly with the geometry of the rangehood. Nothing has happened here by accident, yet it still feels so organic and relaxed.

The home has real Scandinavian feel to it, with the natural finishes and earthy colour palette, so it's no surprised that this played into Nick's inspiration.

“I have travelled a lot and have definitely been inspired whilst overseas. I finished my undergraduate degree in Ireland and did an exchange in Finland for six months. A lot of design principles I picked up intuitively sneak into my work, such as my use of birch, the focus on light and the clear detailing. All of which is evident in this project, like the floating shelf, the skylight or the cabinetry and birch walls.

“We also spent a lot of time in Portugal and that’s where my love of using cork came from.”

The cork might seem like a throwback to the 70s and 80s, but it's having a comeback in current flooring choices.

“I try and use it in every job. It’s the most sustainable flooring material there is. Cork grows almost like a weed. That’s why it was so popular in the 70s. It used to be rolled and finished with a thick varnish that gave it a shine. Now it comes as a tile and is textural. It has acoustic properties and is warmer than ceramic or porcelain tiles. I’m a massive fan.”

Maintaining the existing footprint of the house meant that very little work needed to be done to the exterior. The roofline remained the same and any bricks that were removed for the addition of new windows, were put to use as pavers in the garden. Blackbutt battens were cleverly used to disguise the joins between the FC sheets and to add a design feature. Nick used timber reveals and boxed out the original windows to give them an updated aesthetic and add to the street appeal of the new swan on the street.

While the home has had a massive makeover, the renovation took less time than you might expect.

“The build time was five and a half months. I had a lot of help from various builders and trades, including East Built Projects, Red T Building and Habitat Lab. In particular, my brother and Dad were instrumental in bringing the project together. The kitchen and bathroom were built by Forever Joinery. Dan Morris from Habitat Lab also helped with the build.”

Drawing from his own experience, Nick had some sage advice for anyone about to undertake a renovation.

“Hire people who are experts in their field. I’m not a builder so I brought in the people who were trained. I helped with the build but having experts on hand is invaluable.”

Now all that’s left to do is apply a coat of paint to the outside, then Nick, his fiancée Mikaela and their adorable pooch Bobby can get on with living their best life in what is arguably the most in demand suburb in Newcastle.

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