Life & Style

Take a step inside this Newcastle East beauty

Not one to shy away from embarking on a brave property transformation, Emma Fensom instantly fell in love with the ‘ugly robustness’ of her now remarkable beachside home.

Emma’s previous home was the old police station in Tighes Hill. Together with her then husband, she converted the old lock-up, cells and all, into a strikingly contemporary family home complete with a free-standing glass fronted office, overlooking the sparkling swimming pool.

It was in 2014 that Emma came across this hidden gem in Newcastle East.

What was it that drew you to this property when you first saw it Emma?

“It was so ugly that it was beautiful and I loved how solid it was. The exterior of the house was so solid compared to everything else. Inside it still had the old salmon pink carpet and a built-in china cabinet backed with waterwave green taffeta. It was built in the 1950’s and had just one owner so there was a real opportunity to restore it and give it a new life. I just wanted to live in this suburb and I loved that it had a garage because that’s hard to find around here.”

After spending four years living in her unrenovated home, Emma was able to pinpoint exactly what she desired out of her renovation. 

Emma explains, “I really loved living here in its original condition. It gave me a really good feel for what would work best for each aspect of the house.”

Emma engaged the services of buiider Sean Richards and Shane Smede from EJE Architecture to create a new floorplan that would comfortably accommodate herself and her three teenage children: Jack, Isla and Natalie. By moving the kitchen and dining to the top level of the house, she created quiet zones on the first two floors dedicated to the bedrooms and a vibrant living and entertaining zone on the third floor.

Entering through the front door into what was once an indoor garden with marble tiling, is now a welcoming hallway with one of four bedrooms to the left. This downstairs bedroom has its own balcony, as do all rooms on every level, facing both north and south.

Emma explains, “The plan was to include balconies on both sides of the house on each level, so no matter what direction the wind is blowing from, there’s always somewhere nice to sit.”

This is one of few properties in the area that can boast ocean views up and down the coast line from every vantage point in the home. The front of the house faces south and takes in views over The Cowrie Hole and beyond. The northern side of the house looks over Fort Scratchley, across to the Harbour and Nobbys Beach, and all the way to Port Stephens. 

The masterful work of interior designer, Rachel Baker from EJE is evident throughout with subtle homages to the era the home was built in included in the finer details.

Emma, did you have a grand plan before you started?

“I’d been collecting images of places I liked and then Rachel helped with bringing those to life.”

To create a consistent visual connection between each level, Emma and Rachel cleverly used repetition as an effective design tool. Terazzo features throughout, but in different colour palettes so as not to be too obvious. One of the design treatments Emma particularly loves is the use of shadow lines in much of the plastering work and in the tiling in the bathrooms.

The gold mesh inserts in Emma’s cupboards are reflective of the gold stair risers, tapwear and light fixtures. The striking Greek Key tiles in the entry way are repeated in the upstairs powder room, which was funnily enough, one of my favourite rooms in the house! It wouldn’t be out of place in the likes of a QT Hotel or uber-cool nightclub.

Emma has also worked closely with Tailored HQ for some of her finishing touches, including heavenly curtains and those hard-to-find furniture pieces to complete the look.

The third-floor kitchen by Urban Joinery features an enormous island bench, fully integrated appliances and a massive butler’s pantry. The black cabinetry and marbled white stone countertops are accessorised with matte gold hardware and an elegant Deco inspired gold pendant above the island. There is a distinct touch of 20th century Hollywood glamour that sits surprisingly comfortably in its beachside setting.

To add to the luxurious feel of the home, Emma also chose to extend the height of all of her interior doors, drawing the eye upwards and making the most of the high ceilings with custom deco-inspired cornices.

What was the most challenging aspect of the renovation Emma?

“Probably the decision on whether or not to add the rooftop terrace. When I first moved in a friend of mine who’s a builder came to fix a leak in the roof. When he came down from the ladder, he said I’d be crazy not to extend up there. Adding the structural beams to accommodate putting a spa on the rooftop terrace was a massive financial commitment but it’s the best thing I did. Matt de Witt of de Witt Consulting provided invaluable planning advice for getting the rooftop extension and the extended balconies through the approval process. Without him, I don’t know that it would have been possible.”

The rooftop terrace which is accessed by a curved, white staircase is pure, unadulterated, indulgent luxury. And why not… It’s perhaps no coincidence that the blue water of the white tiled spa with the ocean as a backdrop conjures images of a glamorous Slim Aarons 1950’s photograph. Slim was famous for documenting the lifestyles of Hollywood’s most glamorous celebrities, generally pool side or ocean side. One of his prints happens to sit in Emma’s living room and is a personal favourite of hers.

Tell me a little bit about living in Newcastle East…

“I love it. I love the character of the area. There’s a real mix of architecture and an eclectic mix of locals. There are people who have lived here their entire lives, and others who are more transient. I love that I can park the car in the garage on the weekend and not need to use it again until Monday. Everything is within walking distance. The whole suburb is my kids’ backyard. My kids now know almost everybody in this community, young and old, due to the surf culture around here.”

Now that you’ve finished your renovation work, what is it about your home that you most love?

“I love that it’s like a big apartment and I don’t have lawns to mow. Oh, and the view over Fort Scratchley is incredible. You should see it at night, it’s absolutely gorgeous.”

The newest addition to the family, Pippy the dog, also approves of his new digs. After all, the lifestyle this neck of the woods has to offer would seem pretty hard to beat…

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