When Alice Stolz, national managing editor at Domain and property expert at Nine and The Block, went looking for a family home in Melbourne, she was constantly assured the search would be easy. ‘Everybody kept saying to me, “Alice, with your job, you’ll have no trouble finding a family house to buy!” But we did – it was clearly a case of the cobbler’s children having the worst shoes!’
Prior to buying, Alice lived overseas for 12 years – 10 years in Paris and two years in New York – with her husband Adam Stolz (chief actuary at Medibank) and three children Mathilde (16), Charlotte, (14), and Beatrice (12).
‘I think the issue was, we had lived in Parisian apartments for over a decade and couldn’t initially bend our minds around a house and the compromise of living out of the inner city,’ Alice says. ‘But once we arrived in Australia our children took to the lifestyle here like ducks to water, we realised the magic of space, a bedroom for each daughter, and a big old oak tree in the back garden.’
After inspecting what felt like every house in Melbourne, a buyer’s advocate suggested this 1900s house in Canterbury that finally ticked all the boxes. ‘The house was creaking with character and had a lovely feeling of irreverence to it. I loved the potential of it, the quirky floor plan, and the feeling that there was something quite enchanted about it,’ says Alice.
‘We thought it would be above our budget, but we ended up snaring it after it had been on the market for a while. Right place, right time.’
The 1900s house needed a lot of reconfiguring to suit the family of five, but Alice was intent on retaining its original spirit. ‘The floor plan was like something that Charles Dickens would have lived in; it was a rabbit warren,’ she says. ‘There was no heating, cooling, no carpet and only one bathroom and one loo.’
It would have been easier to demolish the back of the house and start over, but a limited budget and the expertise of Doherty Design Studio inspired working within the existing footprint.
‘I think all those years of living in tight and quirky buildings in Paris and New York stood us in good stead to not need that much internal space. And as chaotic and mad as we are as a family, we actually all revel in being together, and this house encourages us to congregate,’ says Alice.
Designer Mardi Doherty understood the family’s vision to embrace the existing home while improving its liveability, resulting in a completely personalised space. ‘Had I needed to, I could have closed my eyes and handed all decisions over to Mardi and I would have been happy. I didn’t, of course; once I started, I genuinely loved every step of the renovation process!’ says Alice. ‘I feel like Mardi had sort of X-ray vision and could see all that was possible by peeling walls away and creating new spaces. It was like a bricks and mortar version of alchemy.’
An initially neutral palette evolved over the project’s life to be colourful and layered. Dulux White Note underpins most rooms (‘We wanted a warmer white that felt warm, inviting and also felt sympathetic to the style and period details in the home’), contrasted with bold feature walls such as the dining room painted Dulux Rosetta.
‘Life just felt too short to be safe [with colour]’ says Alice. ‘I really gave myself permission to wholeheartedly renovate a house that was right for us.’
Furniture and decor have been sourced worldwide, including several vintage pieces from the family’s Paris days.
Alice hopes the completed home still feels still rich in character, while being functional, warm and generous. ‘Our aim was to make a liveable home that would never intimidate, but that was also playful and have a bit of a ‘je ne sais quoi’,’ she says.
‘We’ll be tackling the garden next, and I can’t wait to have that act as a frame for the house and to really bring yet another dimension to the property!’