When Sean and I stepped foot inside the unique home of Newcastle based designer Juliana Foong and her partner Benjamin Paul Gallagher, we instantly knew we’d hit the jackpot. As I recall, there was an audible sigh. There is something so truly enchanting about this space – stepping across the threshold feels a little like entering another era!
The measured, calm confidence of this space really reflects it’s owners to a T – it has an umistakeably zen-like quality, with it’s rustic finishes, dramatic contrasts of light and dark, and monochromatic details. However, delve a little beneath the surface and you’ll see that whilst the palette is muted, there is nothing minimal about this home – every nook is filled with handcrafted details and vintage trinkets, styled to perfection by Juliana – who confessed during our visit that her favourite past time at home is ‘merchandising’!
Juliana (better known as ‘Julse’!) and Ben have been in this one bedroom apartment just shy of sixteen months. ‘Six of those months were spent without a kitchen and fifteen without a sink’ says Julse – ‘I can confidently recommend several toastie combinations’. Needless to say there’s been a LOT of work done here over the last year!
On the very first day Julse and Ben first got the keys to their home, they celebrated with a carpet pulling up party! ‘It was simply exhilarating, especially when we uncovered original 120 year old kauri timber floorboards in the bedroom and parts of the lounge!’ says Julse. These old boards required special attention – to maintain their character, Ben insisted on restoring them by hand – ‘We used an orbital sander, hand sanded with fine grades of sand paper, and several coats of tung oil to bring them back to life’.
The kitchen was another big challenge – it was completely gutted, formica cupboards and vinyl flooring removed, brick work exposed, tiles and skirting boards removed. The goal was to bring an openness and airiness to this tightly confined space – and it worked. ‘Our kitchen breathed a sigh of relief’ says Julse.
I guess you could describe both Ben and Julse as design purists. Their treatment of this home has been to work back to original finishes, and to use reclaimed and recycled materials were used wherever possible in restoring and furnishing the house. ‘Reinterpreting old things has always been a favourite past time for the both of us. I find great comfort being surrounded by old world charm and nostalgia. There is so much history and beauty ingrained in the wrinkles of time’ says Julse.
Of course the tightly edited interior of this home is no surprise, given both Julse’ and Ben’s creative credentials. Julse is one of three owner/designer/makers behind the womenswear label High Tea with Mrs Woo – she’s been in the business with her two sisters for over a decade. Ben is a talented maker/designer of furniture and objects under the persona ‘Mr Book‘ – he creates furniture by hand utilising painstaking traditional techniques. He also works as a roof restorer with his father by day – now there’s a set of super handy complementary skills!
When asked what they each love about their unique haven, Ben and Juliana brim with enthusiasm. ‘When the day is done, I retreat to my enclave of dark and dusty cupboards, and the comfort of what they contain’ says Ben. ‘I feel completely comfortable here’ says Julse, ‘Sat upon my Belucci rug, Caretaker upon the record player, Everdure blazing, glass in hand, I smile on a daily basis’.
Of course today’s post wouldn’t be complete without a lasting comment not just about this treasured home, but about the special spot where it is located! Julse has such beautiful things to say about her much loved home town, I thought we should end with her sweet words –
‘I have lived in Newcastle ever since we migrated here in 1988’ says Julse. ‘I declared my love for her very early on in our relationship. We may have wavered along the way, but ultimately she knows I’m committed. The thing I love most about living in Newy is that I can survive here comfortably and quietly being a creative. She leaves me in my shell when I require it. And allows me to reappear when I’m feeling that bit social. It is easy to travel away from her and so reassuring on returning that, I am home. She is a great base. Anything is possible here’.
Massive thanks to Julse and Ben for sharing their beautiful apartment with us today. If you love their home, do check out Juliana’s label, High Tea with Mrs Woo! At their Sydney store this month the clever Foong sisters are staging a series of inspired ‘Pop-In’ creative collaborations with brands including Vixen and Wendy Voon Knits. Do check the website for details!