Rebecca (Bec) McJannett and Fatima (‘Fatty’!) Bertolini live in Marrickville with their two young sons, Sid and newborn Bowie (plus pets Sookie the Labrador Retriever, and Tazer the little black cat!). Fatima is Brazilian, and the pair lived together for many years in the UK before moving to Sydney together. They purchased their run down weatherboard cottage three years ago, after shifting through various rentals across Sydney, trying to find the area that suited them best.
Impressively, almost all the extensive renovations here have been done by Rebecca and Fatima themselves – aided by the fact that Rebecca works at IKEA (handy!) and Fatima is a licensed plumber (even more handy!?). ‘I planned the redesign and interiors, and Fatty regularly has to build/demolish and work closely with other trades so we have a pretty lucky skill set between us’ says Rebecca. Along the way, this industrious pair have sought the help of professionals where necessary – such as an excellent tiler, and an electrician.
‘We have almost completely rebuilt the house’ explains Bec. ‘We started slowly by gutting the old bedroom/study/walk in robe that is now Sid and Bowie’s room, and reworking the bathroom, and it escalated from there!’. The real work started in earnest when the pair soon realised the kitchen ceiling was bulging because of the old leaky roof… at that point, it was on! While renovating, the pair uncovered beautiful wood panelled ceilings and walls, some of which they were able to repair and retain. (Much of their impressive renovation work has been documented on instagram using the hashtag #thelittleblackhouse – worth checking out for progress shots!)
‘We ripped up the old slate floors, reworked the kitchen living and dining to create an open plan room that opens onto the back deck and replaced horrid brown aluminium windows and doors’ says Bec. The kitchen was recycled from an IKEA ex-display room set, with Bec planning the cabinet configuration perfectly to suit the space. The biggest job was the kitchen roof / ceiling. ‘We removed the old roof and structure ourselves – my dad and brother came round to lend a hand because I was 3 months pregnant and suffering with morning sickness at the time!’ Bec recalls.
Though they’ve been here just three years, according to Bec, with its layers of history and nostalgia, this house has really been 15 years in the making. ‘All the furniture and art is a reflection of mine and Fatty’s life together’ says Bec. The Cherner chair was Bec’s gift to herself for her 30th (‘I did have help to fund the purchase from friends and family!’ she says). The 100 year old battered leather armchair in the lounge room was a gift from Bec to Fatty for an early anniversary – they’ve been together 12 years.
The house is also full to the brim with art by creative friends – the large abstract painting in the living room is by British artist and illustrator James Daw, who is a dear friend, and Dad to Bec and Fatima’s two sons. There are portraits of Bec, Fatty and Sid are by another UK creative, Bec’s old friend and flat mate, photographer Brock Elbank. Many more treasured pieces have been gifted/swapped/collected/found/repurposed and made by Bec or Fatima and their friends.
After nearly two years of weekend and evening renovating, Bec and Fatty are happy to finally lay down their tools and just enjoy the space they have created. ‘Mostly we love that we have a relaxed, functional a family home’ says Bec. ‘But I think rather than an aesthetic, our home has a feel. A feeling of familiarity, and of love because of the collection of memories throughout. The stuff that fills our house reflects the days Fatty and I have shared. There are memories attached to most of the bric a brac… and while it’s a challenge keeping it dusted (!!), we walk into the house and we ‘feel’ home’.