Laetitia's real life career is in education but somehow has ended up renovating old houses. Every time she's are in the market again, her Dad pleads with her not to buy 'another old house' but with her husband, they've now renovated two completely different 100 year old houses.
She loves the conceptualisation, journey and results of honouring the story, era and style of a home whilst adding her own touches and nuances. Using her background in design from the structural, styling and landscaping aspects, they have completed a federation terrace in Summer Hill in the inner west of Sydney and after a very well-timed move to the beautiful Rainbow Region of the Northern Rivers a few years ago, have recently just finished renovating and reconfiguring a 100 year old Queenslander in beautiful Bangalow near Byron Bay.
Finding amazing builders who will work with your vision and who are sensitive to the story of the houses whilst tying new into old is vital. They have been very lucky to work with two amazing building companies SFN Constructions in Sydney and Skyline Projects in Byron Bay.
Laetitia spoke to me recently about her experience renovating.
Your current home isn’t your first renovation. What’s been the appeal for you, of renovating a home vs purchasing something that doesn’t need work?
It's easily the feel and warmth 'old bones' bring to the place you call home. There is something significantly magic about knowing your house will never be replicated or repeated. I love the challenge of living within the walls of a home with a long story for a few years prior to renovating and honouring what to keep and enhance and how to add to it with integrity to meet your needs whilst honouring that story.
It's the textures, proportions and materials of beautiful old houses no modern design process could ever replicate. It makes such a difference to the outcome.
When prioritising rooms/items, how do you work out what’s a must-have vs a nice to have?
I feel like this is very personal but for us it has been prioritising beautiful functional spaces such as the kitchens and bathrooms that maximise space, proportions and designing things so that every movement works within the design and its uses.
I love designing kitchens and bathrooms because of this functional challenge- they are the most heavily used spaces in your home but can be just as beautiful as a bedroom or living room. I adore a big bathroom and will prioritise that in every renovation. Underfloor heating in a bathroom is a non negotiable and worth every cent. As is paying the money for beautiful tiles and tapware. These make the difference and stand the test of time. We've used brodware.com in both houses with totally different aesthetics and I could not recommend the quality and style of their products highly enough
Of course storage is a must-have but we've worked hard on design in this space to ensure there is a lot of it but is seamless aesthetically. In our recent renovation we included hidden storage cupboards 4m long by 3.6m high down our Queenslander's hallway made invisible by blending the original VJ panelling of the walls into the cupboard finishes. This approach was also used in our kitchen to maximise storage without bulk in the space.
Working with architects, builders and other tradies is so important. How do you decide who to work with? Are there any companies/individuals that you’d recommend?
I mentioned the two amazing building companies we've worked with on our two bespoke building projects and this is so vital to get the result you want. They need to love working with old houses as there is so much unknown as walls and roofs begin to come off and they need to have a positive problem solving approach to making things work for the old and new aspects of the house design.
Equally, make sure they work with a brilliant tiler - we've had mosaics in both of our bathroom renovations and these take skill and patience to do well. Asking about the tiler's skills, experience and often preference to work with the style or tile design you've chosen is really important in avoiding issues at the finishing stage. academytiles.com have a beautiful, unique range and their customer support and service is brilliant.
Talk to me about budget. Not what you spent (!!) but more about how you track your spending because home projects often go over budget. How do you ensure you stay on track?
I think with any build but especially when renovating old houses you need to be realistic about the fact that you may/will probably need some contingency money because things can and do happen unexpectedly. However we focus on getting a pretty tight quote and contract when possible, fixed price contracts are getting less common now with old build renovations and extensions. We keep a tight track week to week of every cost from every aspect of the job.
Because I have always done all the design aspects of our builds we have always sourced and purchased all our fixtures and fittings and we find this helps with avoiding extra margins. I really enjoy this aspect of building and renovating but for some people it may not be their cup of tea, designing, sourcing and purchasing but it does help with costs.
As someone with children, I wonder how you future-proof a house with kids. What plans have you made for your home as your children grow?
That's a good question. In our renovation and extension of a terrace in Summer Hill we thought we were definitely making it a family home, which worked with one baby but as she grew we quickly learned we'd need more space.
The one we've just done is now four bedrooms, two bathrooms with an extra toilet. Having two full bathrooms for a family is a must and a decent, functional laundry. It's probably one of my favourite things about our house up here - life of a Mum! We currently have enough space for everyone to have their own room, however a second 'adult' living space is still on the dream list. Also, if you can fit a french door fridge in your kitchen renovation, don't think twice.
Tell me a little bit about home styling. What are some key elements you look for when shopping for your space & where have you bought them?
This is very much about reflecting your personality and journey for me. Textures and natural materials to enhance a pretty neutral base based on your aesthetic works every time.
So many pieces in our house have been with us for a long time and have been collected on world travels or they have been commision artworks of friends that capture who we are as a family and where our journey has come from. Our hallway runners we bought and shipped home when travelling in Turkey and we have a beautiful original artwork by @jemmawhitedesign of an inner city suburban landscape that now hangs in our coastal country home.
Bed linen is very high on my list for tones and textures - we sleep with linen all year round as it is perfect for the hot humidity up here in summer and is as warm as flannelette sheets in winter. Our beds are currently dressed with bedthreads.com.au and Of The Sun linen. To me the linen on beds is worth every cent.
Lighting is also another styling aspect that makes such a difference to your unique finishing and styling. Our master bedroom has beautiful hand made ceramic sconces from May Clay Ceramics and large calico pendants hang above our kitchen island from The Society Inc.
The other thing that really makes a significant impact when styling your home is having a diversity of plants in all corners and heights of the space. When the plants are out for watering our house looks and feels significantly empty and lifeless. I only ever invest for the long haul not for a single house or room style.
How does your personal taste work with the taste of your husband and children? Are you on the same page? How much of an input do they have in the way your home looks and functions?
I definitely drive the design and aesthetic of our homes but always run them by my husband. But there are two things we always agree on - height and light. Working with old houses always gives us so many options with the height of ceilings and spaces and a huge part of our modifications and design is always about natural light.
He actually chose the tapware for our recent renovation as I just couldn't decide. He agonises less over details and how they contribute to the final result as everything comes together but the devil really is in the detail, always and he leaves this to me.
We both like a fairly minimal, clutter free, neutral aesthetic with timber texture and warmth. Our kids don't really care too much, as long as they have a lovely place to sleep and places to play - storing toys and styling play spaces within a house is always a fun challenge. To be honest, toys end up everywhere every day but we make a point of putting everything away at the end of the day so we can fully appreciate the beautiful house we've created whilst servicing the kids' needs through the day.
Natalie Walton has this great strategy called 'touch it once' in terms of managing the build up of 'stuff' and mess in your home. From laundry to toys we use this strategy and it really stops those little piles of things appearing and growing around the house.
Do you have any further plans for your current house?
We did a lot of landscaping prior to our big renovation however we still have those jobs we are yet to finish like painting a wall in our pool area and I'd really love to change the landscape design of our front yard to a more organic space so that is in the pipeline.
For now we are busy raising two little girls and that takes up most of our time. I still have the dream of designing and building my own home on the top of a green hill looking over rolling hills up here. So who knows. My five year old often asks me now we've finished our house if we can sell it and buy a farm. Maybe we will.
Let's get personal…
1. What else are you passionate about?
I love my 'real job'- contributing to the educational lives of young people is a daily honour and diverse challenge and this is a huge part of who I am. Living up here we live an amazing active life whether we are surfing or bushwalking or riding our bikes. It's the simple, good stuff that makes our happiest days.
2. What is your most treasured belonging?
Can I say this house and everything in it? But if I just had to choose one it would be my dog Russell.
3. What's one thing in your home you can't live without?
4. In 10 years, I'd like to be...
Living in another country speaking another language with diverse cultural adventures on my doorstep.
Every Monday, Clare Makes sits down with an Aussie creator or business owner to discuss their life and work. These articles are curated with you in mind, to enjoy alongside a cup of coffee and your favourite scented candle. If you'd like to be interviewed for the blog or know someone else who would be perfect, please email firstname.lastname@example.org