Australian Homes

Emily Wright and Robert Dabal

by Lucy Feagins, Editor
Wednesday 22nd January 2014

The beautiful home of Mebourne designer Emily Wright of Nancybird, and her partner, Robert Dabal, an ecologist. Above – Emily and Robert’s light-filled living room at the rear of their Northcote home.  Artwork clockwise from top – Emily’s grandmother’s painting of a country horse race, Vietnamese propaganda poster, bottom left painting by Mitjili Napurrula. Rug from India, leather footstool from Marrakech, basket from Ceres Nursery. Photo – Eve Wilson, production – Lucy Feagins / The Design Files.

Light streaming into the living space from the internal light well.  Macrame plant hanger by Stampel Studio, glass buoys from Kyo in Ocean Grove. Top painting by Colleen Kantawarra, bottom painting by Gaye Coyne. Photo – Eve Wilson, production – Lucy Feagins / The Design Files.

Master bedroom.  Chair and bed from Ikea, framed photograph by Gray Malin, bedside table homemade by Emily and her Dad, bedcover and pillows designed by Emily for her label, Nancybird.  Photo – Eve Wilson, production – Lucy Feagins / The Design Files.

Pretty master bedroom details. Photo of Emily’s grandmother Muriel (aged 18!), tambourine from Camberwell Market, vintage ball light from Grandfather’s Axe, Ski image from Chamonix from Rob, jewellery from Emily’s friends at Polli, lovehate, Rubyteva Design, and Kate Rodhe. Photo – Eve Wilson, production – Lucy Feagins / The Design Files.

Today’s supremely photogenic home is nestled in a leafy Eucalyptus-lined street in Northcote, in Melbourne’s inner North. Full of eclectic details and beautiful textiles, it’s home to Emily Wright, designer and founder of local accessories and homewares label Nancybird, and her partner Robert Dabal, an ecologist who works in waterway projects and restoration.   The pair have lived here for about four years, and have undertaken a major renovation / extension which was completed about a year ago, resulting in the stunning, light-drenched spaces we’ve captured here!

‘When we first moved in there was an outside toilet, no real bathroom and a shower off the kitchen – it needed quite a bit of work to say the least!’ says Emily.  The previous owner had lived in the house for almost 50 years, and according to Emily, he was a lovely guy who won Neighbour of the Year!  ‘He used to deck the ENTIRE house inside and out with lights and Christmas decorations every year, to the point that it was a neighbourhood attraction!’ she recalls.  ‘It was a well loved family home. So we had a lot to live up to moving into the house!’

Nevertheless, after a couple of years here, it was clear to Emily and Rob that their home was in need of a significant update.  They decided to leave the front section of the house relatively untouched, and to concentrate on extending the home at the rear and side boundary.  They worked closely with local architect Olivia Van Dijk to create a unique space, striking a delicate balance between the existing old parts of the house, and the new additions.  ‘Liv did an amazing job of fitting old with new’ says Emily. ‘I didn’t want a totally modern exterior on the extension – they can be great, but I wanted it to fit harmoniously with the ‘old’ materials on the front of the house’.

Another key part of Emily and Rob’s architectural brief was to bring more natural light into the home. ‘The house used to be really dark – the back of the house faces south – so we wanted to open it up to the North and get the lovely winter sun in’ says Emily.  This was achieved by introducing a large lightwell between the kitchen and dining areas, which allows warming sun rays to stream in, and has allowed Emily to cultivate an impressive collection of lush indoor plants!

Internally, Emily and Rob were keen to include lots of natural materials like timber and stone.  Emily approached Nancybird HQ neighbour Damien Wright of Wright Studios to make their new kitchen. ‘It is a very special, beautifully crafted area and our favourite part of the house’ she says. Damien sourced Yellow Stringy Bark from rafters in an old Footscray factory for the table and cabinetry, and old Mountain Ash floorboards from a house demolition in Kew.  Emily and Rob were very intent on creating an open, ‘non streamlined’ kitchen. ‘I like seeing things like plates and cups out in the open, a little bit uneven, different materials, a little bit of chaos’ says Emily.

Both Rob and Emily are garden enthusiasts, and being an ecologist, Rob was especially keen to create a water-efficient garden.  With a rainwater tank and a rain garden, the pair have vastly reduced the stormwater runoff on their property.  The plantings are a luscious mix of vege garden, raspberries, and indigenous plants, landscaped and planted by Rob and Emily.  The paving was (impressively!) done by Rob, using bricks salvaged from the home’s original fireplace.

There is something so warm, inviting and just refreshingly relaxed about this home!  It’s so great to see a sensitive, thoughtful reno and extension that doesn’t overwhelm the existing house, and which has a unique character that really reflects the aesthetics and values of its owners.  I also love the ‘layers’ of texture, detail and and personal flourishes Emily and Rob have added here, creating a rich, eclectic space which really tells the story of its occupants, and ensures a seamless link between old and new.

For their part, Emily and Rob are still very appreciative of the basic creature comforts here!  ‘I love the light, airy feeling that the living area of the house has, even in winter’ says Emily, adding that ‘after living in the unrenovated version of this house for a couple of years, it’s still amazing to have a functional (and inside) bathroom and kitchen!’

Huge thanks to Emily and Rob for sharing their home with us today!

Hallway details.  Plant stand from Mr Kitly, pot from Bunnings, side table from The Junk Company. Planting Calendar from Ceres Nursery. Bags from Nancybird (of course!). Photo – Eve Wilson, production – Lucy Feagins / The Design Files.

Spare bedroom.  Fans from China, tablecloth on wall from a tourist shop in Darwin, quilt and cushions from Nancybird, teatowel in frame from Third Drawer Down.  Photo – Eve Wilson, production – Lucy Feagins / The Design Files.

I can’t tell you the JOY it brings me (and Eve!) when we come across a bathroom with beautiful natural light, enough distance to shoot AND a toilet we can frame out!  Emily, your bathroom ticks all the boxes!  The log with ferns attached was foraged from one of Rob’s site visits… ‘The ferns have survived very well in the shower!’ says Emily. Lights from Anthropologie.  Photo – Eve Wilson, production – Lucy Feagins / The Design Files.

Living room wider shot, looking from elevated dining/ kitchen area.  Leather couch from Grandfather’s Axe (Emily’s friendly neighbours at Nancybird HQ), chair recovered in Nancybird fabric from Know Your Product. Lights from Safari Living. Photo – Eve Wilson, production – Lucy Feagins / The Design Files.

Looking back from loungeroom to dining and kitchen.  Ceramic light from Heather Levine in the US, table and bench seats by Damien Wright of Wright Studios, printed throw bought on Emily’s latest trip to India.  Photo – Eve Wilson, production – Lucy Feagins / The Design Files.

Kitchen. Ceramic pendant lights are from Hand and Eye Studio in the UK, hanging macrame pots from Stampel Studio, vase (left) from Bridget Bodenham. Kitchen by Damien Wright of Wright Studios. Photo – Eve Wilson, production – Lucy Feagins / The Design Files.

Kitchen details.  Kitchen cabinetry in recycled Yellow Stringybark designed by Liv Van Dijk and made by Damien Wright of Wright Studios. Ceramic bowls by MUD, little glazed cups by Shino Takeda from Mr Kitly.  Photo – Eve Wilson, production – Lucy Feagins / The Design Files.

New back garden! ‘Rob did all the paving and stonework outside’ says Emily. ‘I helped a bit, but mostly made cups of tea and planted the garden’. Chairs from Tait. Photo – Eve Wilson, production – Lucy Feagins / The Design Files.

Front of house.  Sweet handpainted white pattern detail by Emily – looks so cute on those dark grey weatherboards!  Also, Emily says she loves red doors, ‘so I have them at home and at Nancybird HQ!’  Photo – Eve Wilson, production – Lucy Feagins / The Design Files.

During our visit we also snuck in a peek at Emily’s nearby studio – this is Nancybird HQ! ‘We renovated this space in about three years ago, also designed by the architect who designed our house extension – Liv Van Dijk’ says Emily. Table by Damien Wright, custom designed drawers by Justin Vecchio.  Photo – Eve Wilson, production – Lucy Feagins / The Design Files.

Sarah, Nancybird’s textile designer working away at new designs in the studio!  ‘We printed these desks in a couple of designs when we moved into the renovated warehouse studio’ explains Emily. This desk design was by Andrea Shaw of Stampel Studio.  Photo – Eve Wilson, production – Lucy Feagins / The Design Files.

by Lucy Feagins, Editor
Wednesday 22nd January 2014


  • Cathg1g2 3 years ago

    Love everything about this place

  • Tess 3 years ago

    Emily – the place looks beautiful! Very you. xxx

  • Jasmine Mansbridge 3 years ago

    What a peaceful and serene looking home, Well done Emily & Rob.. I can imagine lots of hours spent in that garden. Thanks for sharing Lucy :)

  • CJK 3 years ago

    What a gorgeous home, love to see how Emily and Dan have sourced so many beautiful things from local businesses. That bathroom is just stunning!

  • CJK 3 years ago

    Sorry, Emily and Robert! Oops

  • Lyn P 3 years ago

    Lovely…airy…clever use of space…and so much more

  • Melissa de Campo 3 years ago

    Living in the 70s with style . You have been able to ‘Australianise ‘ Victorian style and commit to the ‘look’ throughout the home , garden and studio .

  • Lauren 3 years ago

    What a fantastic facelift! Such a great use of space and light

  • Olivia 3 years ago

    This house is so beautiful, my favourite on TDF ever!

  • Charlotte 3 years ago

    Amaaaaazing house!

  • Jenatthecoachhouse 3 years ago

    My favourite part is the strip on the front of the house – simple and very beautiful. And that paving in the garden is also great. What a personal and warm place.

  • Andrew 3 years ago

    What a wonderful place to live in, such brilliant juxtapositions and textures! Love it!

  • Sarah 3 years ago

    wow! The design is just so clever, the kitchen is amazing!

  • Simone Patterson 3 years ago

    I have long wondered what Emily’s home must be like. It’s even more gorgeous than I had imagined. Perfect in every way. Best house ever featured on TDF. Thanks for sharing Emily and Robert.

  • Kate 3 years ago

    Gorgeous home and studio! I am totally crushing on the bathroom, kitchen and loft!! :)

  • Kate 3 years ago

    love, love, love. love!!

  • Cara 3 years ago

    Beautiful and interesting home, unsurprising for the creator of the beautiful & interesting Nancybird products. I absolutely love the light fitting in the living room – any chance of finding out the source?

  • Cara 3 years ago

    Ignore question – just saw it in the second living room description :)

  • Vera 3 years ago

    M favorite kitchen to date! Love your home it is absolutely stunning.
    Any chance I could find out the supplier of kitchen tiles?
    Thank you.

  • Mel 3 years ago

    Love everything about this place, the colours, earthy textures, fabrics and eclectic mix of stunning homewares – just as beautiful and appealing as everything in the Nancybird range!

  • Astrid 3 years ago

    What a beautiful home, what a pleasure it must be to live in. Do you have any details on where the cream couch was sourced? Beautiful shape and Nancy Bird upholstery .

  • Natalie 3 years ago

    What a delightful home! thanks for sharing

  • Amanda 3 years ago

    What a beautiful home. And so lucky to have that amazing tree out the front.

  • Amber 3 years ago

    so much light and all around goodness – love it!!!

  • Julia 3 years ago

    That bathroom… swoon. I can’t stop staring at the gorgeous blue tiles. A truly beautiful home, Emily and Rob. Thanks for the feature, Lucy. xx

  • Beth Jessup 3 years ago

    The warmth of a real home is what I get from this house. Such a lovely welcoming feeling. Your architect did a superb job, I presume she did the interiors as well. All the boxes ticked – taste, colour and design….congratulations! I wish it was mine!

  • Karen 3 years ago

    It is gorgeous, what a beautiful balance of old and new, original details, great colors. The architect Olivia Van Dijk is a star!!

  • Kirsty 3 years ago

    Such a beautifully curated home with so many lovely details. Thanks for sharing! X

  • Sarah 3 years ago

    Such a beautiful and authentic home. Super refreshing to see such a honest representation of a real living space. Gorgeous!

  • Kathy Innes 3 years ago

    First time I have commented on a home but this lovely gentle light filled house with its eclectic mix of art and furnishings has lifted me up and inspired me for my two year stay in England.

  • Simone Patterson 3 years ago

    Just back for my 6th look ;)

  • I love the blue tiles and the storing shelves in the kitchen!

  • Emma 3 years ago

    This is gorgeous! I love all the timber and natural light. And the little handpainted detail on the front of the house :) xx

  • Mollie 3 years ago

    Absolutely love this house! We are currently renovating a house the next suburb along from Northcote and this is so inspiring.

  • Lesley 3 years ago

    Just gorgeous. I can’t fault anything! I love the kitchen tiles, backyard, the openness and light, front fence, and the wonderful warmth that someone above mentioned. Do you need a roommate?!

  • Jess 3 years ago

    Oh my gosh! The lounge is the most gorgeous space I’ve seen in a long time. The slanted ceiling, the vintage couches and the big windows… swoon.

  • Margie 3 years ago

    Such a lovely series of spaces! And I think you photographed the studio previously haven’t you? I’m sure I’ve seen a photo of Lucy on the stairs… Maybe I’m dreaming!

  • Lily 3 years ago

    What a lovely home! All the art works are just stunning – especially the Colleen Kantawarra. So much work has gone into the paving and stonework.

  • Emily 3 years ago

    gorgeous home! I love all the bright colors and plants against the pretty white background. and, then the pleasant surprise of the blue tiled bathroom, and the pretty contrast it is to the rest of the house. gorgeous!

  • Nikki 3 years ago

    So unique!!!! It’s pure LOVE

  • Stanislaw Krzemien 3 years ago

    Gratulujemy. Bardzo ładny dom. Super. Helena i Stanisław.

  • Freedom 3 years ago

    Just so classic & beautiful. Love the fern in the Shower!

  • Jenny 3 years ago

    I love this beautifully-designed home that is welcoming especially the kitchen slightly tucked away; the treasures collected over the years; and the paving and stonework in the garden.

  • Michelle 3 years ago

    such a heartfelt home! filled with warmth and soul.

  • gary 3 years ago

    looks like a display suite. do people even live in these houses?

  • gary 3 years ago

    when will we see the design files mix it up a bit? seriously guys. lets see something a little less curated. living in such an art directed manner must be exhausting and shallow. the kitchen is nice though :)

  • Frank van DIjk 3 years ago

    Wow Livvy, I love your work very inventive use of space

  • Liza 3 years ago

    I knew this one was north of the river long before I got to the part about it being in Northcote…
    Love the blue tiles

  • fontan 3 years ago

    hello Emily and Rob,
    félicitations pour la réalisation de votre nid douillet! Vous avez fait preuve de beaucoup de goût!
    cela change avec la maison que l’on avait vue il y a 2 ans !

  • Andrea 3 years ago

    Em and Rob! Your place looks amazing! Nice work. Great post TDF :)

  • Amanda Falson 3 years ago

    Sublime. One of my ultimate favourite houses so far on TDF. Looks like a relaxing haven.

  • mary | millay vintage 3 years ago

    Absolutely stunning space, every single bit of it! A perfect blend of minimalism with lots of spunk and character. That kitchen! Thanks for sharing! xo

  • Penny 3 years ago

    I love everything about this house. Thanks for sharing .

  • Wendy 3 years ago

    Love this home and the Cheminees Philippe fireplace.

  • bianca 3 years ago

    I’ve come back to revisit this house for a third time! Love it

  • Raj 3 years ago

    Nice place Mr D

  • Jessica VanWerk 3 years ago

    Very homely and quite chic. Making me look forward to moving to Melb x

  • Deb 3 years ago

    This house is beautiful. I particularly love the bathroom. Emily, can I ask how it goes functionally – do you get water all over the place not having a screen? Is it cold and drafty? It looks amazing – well done.

  • Jessica Charge 3 years ago

    Aaaaargh it is so light and gorgeous! Those open shelves in the kitchen!!!

  • katrina 3 years ago

    Hello! I’ve been searching for Olivia Van Dijk’s details but I cant seem to find a web page? If anyone has found it or knows it, I would really appreciate it if you could post it here. Ill keep an eye out! Thank you. I really like this house, it’s very cosy and filled with light.

  • katrina 3 years ago

    …and does anyone know what the light is called/supplier in the picture titled ‘hallway details’? They are very cool

  • Olivia van Dijk 3 years ago

    Hi there Katrina,
    I just noticed your comment, it’s really lovely to hear such great feedback!
    If you’d like to get in touch my email address is…looking forward to hearing from you.

  • Saja Montague 3 years ago

    Very curious about the lovely storage shelves in the kitchen. Was the drywall taken off to the studs & then shelves added?

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