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Dee Tang + Desmond Sweeney’s Fremantle Family Home

Homes

The 1940s Fremantle home of Dee Tang — creative, stylist, and author of Love Is — and artist Desmond Sweeney, has been a place of change, work, beauty, and inspiration, but also incredible sadness, over the past five years.

After living interstate for 15 years, Dee decided to move back to Western Australia with Desmond as a family, when their first daughter, Kawa Leaf, devastatingly passed away. The family’s new house, nicknamed ‘The Lady California’, became not just a home during this time, but a shelter and holding space for their grieving.

Today, The Lady California comprises Dee and Desmond’s own renovated workspaces (the shack and the studio), in addition to the main house where Rafa Rose (6) and Beau Sunray (2.5) can usually be found skating through the rooms or painting. It’s a creative place in a constant state of flux, reflective of the young family and artists who previously lived there.

1st June, 2022

‘Apricot Sky’ artwork by Lisa Quinn-Schofield of Featherhorse Studio. Secondhand Freedom leather lounge bought from Gumtree, with added custom oak legs from Etsy. Secondhand coffee table. Rattan lounger from Harvest Design Living. ‘Heart of Rottnest’ photograph by Jody D’arcy. ‘Apricot Sky’ by Lisa Quinn-Schofield. ‘Les Femmes’ artwork by Daniella Manini. ‘Love Is‘ book by Dee Tang. Custom cushions designed by Dee. Photography – Jody D’Arcy

Cane daybed bought on Gumtree with handmade covers made from vintage fabric. Linen Glamswags. Vintage patchwork blanket from a flea market. Corduroy cushion handmade bought on Etsy. Vintage Moroccan rug from Etsy. ‘You belong among the wildflowers’ artwork by 8footwalls (aka Desmond). Photography – Jody D’Arcy

Beau Sunray (2.5), Desmond Sweeney, Rafa Rose (6), and Dee Tang. Photography – Jody D’Arcy

Distressed walls hand painted by 8footwalls (aka Desmond) with a Dulux Natural White base. Secondhand butler sink  and tapware bought on Gumtree. Gingham blue and white under sink curtain bought on Etsy (lithuania). Marri timber shelves and bench top made by Streater Group.  Lampshades from Fat Shack Vintage. ‘Our oven died when Covid first hit, so we somehow thought it would be a good idea to just pull the entire ugly ’80s kitchen out and start again (with a newborn baby)!’ says Dee. Photography – Jody D’Arcy

Secondhand Freedom leather lounge bought from Gumtree, with added custom oak legs from Etsy. Secondhand coffee table.  Rattan lounger from Harvest Design Living. ‘Heart of Rottnest’ photograph by Jody D’arcy. ‘Apricot Sky’ by Lisa Quinn-Schofield. ‘Les Femmes’ artwork by Daniella Manini. ‘Love Is‘ book by Dee Tang. Custom cushions designed by Dee. Photography – Jody D’Arcy

Smeg fridge. Custom dining table made witj Marri timber.  Marcel Breuer chairs bought from Gumtree. Tulip chairs bought from Gumtree with custom leather seat covers. Vintage meat safe painted Dulux Natural White. Artwork by Lisa LaPointe. Custom stained glass sunrise window designed by Dee and made by Ivy’s Glass Cottage.  ‘We spend a lot of time in the kitchen and sunroom spaces. The main renovation we have done in The Lady California is knocking out the wall leading into the sunroom and making the floors level,’ says Dee. Photography – Jody D’Arcy

Vintage artwork, rattan fold up chair, and rug. Various cushions designs by Dee. Photography – Jody D’Arcy

The beautiful clawfoot bath in the ‘Beaches’ inspired kitchen/bathroom nook of the studio. Photography – Jody D’Arcy

Estrella Encaustic Tiles by Rever Tiles. Woven dog bed basket from Etsy. Artwork by Desmond. Vintage Pretzel lounger. ‘It looks like the sunroom was closed in by a renovation in the 1960s. It’s a bit random and and absent minded, but nothing a bit of Natural White paint and patching can’t fix!’ says Dee. Photography – Jody D’Arcy

Vintage Pretzel lounger with custom made corduroy covers. Roundie cushion from Upholstrei. Original artwork by Lisa Lapointe. ‘The sunroom is my favourite space to sit, drink tea, and snuggle with the little people. It’s always light filled and has a vantage point of being able to look back into the entire house,’ says Dee. Photography – Jody D’Arcy

Rafa Rose. Photography – Jody D’Arcy

The California bungalow entrance. Photography – Jody D’Arcy

The family puppy, Nami Flower Sweeney.  Woven flower rug from eBay. Light pendant from Beacon Lighting. Photography – Jody D’Arcy

Patchwork linen curtains custom design and handmade in Lithuania via Etsy. ‘I drew up a design and asked a linen maker on Etsy if she could make a curtain from scraps of linen in various white, neutrals and beiges. They are all varying weights of linen so light shines through the more transparent pieces,’ says Dee. Photography – Jody D’Arcy

The shack is painted in Porter’s Paints Newport Blue. Sign hand painted by CG Signage. Photography – Jody D’Arcy

Ivar storage from Ikea painted Dulux Beige Royal. Patchwork linen curtains custom design and handmade in Lithuania via Etsy. Timber storage found in hard rubbish. ‘The studio previously served as a guest house and space for photoshoots. Early this year, Desmond moved in to prepare for his first solo show,’ says Dee. Photography – Jody D’Arcy

The ‘Beaches’ inspired kitchen nook in the studio. Tessa corduroy chair and timber cabinet bought on Gumtree. Photography – Jody D’Arcy

Rafa Rose and Desmond. Photography – Jody D’Arcy

The kitchen/bathroom nook. Smeg bar bridge. Artwork by Desmond. Vintage artwork, island bench, and mirror. Tiles from Craft Decor. Sink from Farmhouse Sinks. Photography – Jody D’Arcy

Rising sun gate designed by Dee and custom made by Woodford Gatemakers. Photography – Jody D’Arcy

Lucy Feagins
Wednesday 1st June 2022

‘I feel very blessed there’s these little separate abodes that we can wander off into and do our thing; be it to grieve, create, or simply tune out.’

No one could have imagined the last five years of Dee Tang’s life, least of all herself. The creative, stylist, and author of Love Is was living with her husband, artist Desmond Sweeney, in Sydney’s Northern Beaches, when Desmond suggested they move to Western Australia where Dee grew up. 

‘I was like ‘NO WAY!’ Dee recalls. She eventually reconsidered, but with conditions. ‘I had the following criteria; we are not moving unless it is an old house, has a studio, and is in or around Fremantle.’

Naturally, Desmond found a home online right away. Seeing photos of the 1940s California bungalow’s doorway and studio was all Dee needed to fly over and check it out, where she was fortunate to meet the home’s owners of 30 years. ‘While the home was in dire need of attention and care, there was a beautiful vibration to the space that you can’t replicate or just create immediately,’ Dee says. She was sold. 

The family moved in a few months later, but in between, their first-born daughter Kawa Leaf, tragically passed away. During this time of incredible grief, the Fremantle house, nicknamed The Lady California, and its two studios, became a sanctuary where the family could heal.

‘We always remain deeply in love with our home and what she has done to shelter and nurture our family, particularly through our early stages of deep grief,’ says Dee. ‘I feel very blessed there’s these little separate abodes that we can wander off into and do our thing; be it to grieve, create, or simply tune out.’

Over the years since, Dee and Desmond have made numerous cosmetic updates to the home. Their intent is to maintain the soul of the space, as instilled by its previous owners, who were a multigenerational family of glass artists. ‘They imbued the space with a creative energy that is felt immediately as you stroll the grounds or wander through the garden and into the studio,’ says Dee.

Most renovations have been contained to the studio, where a nook was converted into a bathroom/kitchen inspired by a specific Beaches  film (1988) scene. Dee explains, ‘The fancy friend is visiting the struggling artist Bette Midler character in New York, and she lives in this tiny shoebox of an apartment where the bathroom and kitchen are in the same space. They are conversing while one is making tea in the kitchen and the other is having a shower. I loved the intimacy of this scene, and it served as the main source of inspiration for the studio renovation. I felt that anyone who stayed in this space would have that kind of relationship.’

More recently, Dee and Desmond have tiled the sunroom and laundry, levelled the floor (‘which is excellent for skating through the house to the backdoor’), and installed a new kitchen. ‘We tend to do things in tiny stages and have tradesmen help us with the major work,’ Dee says. ‘Desmond will finish in the spare time he has, which means we often live in a somewhat manageable state of renovation.’

The couple’s renovating motto is, ‘If in doubt, paint it white’ — so you’ll see plenty of Dulux Natural White throughout this home! Dee’s shack is the only exception, painted in Porter’s Paints Newport Blue in a nod to her former home in Sydney’s Newport Beach. ‘I wanted it to feel like an old fisherman’s shack; a little bit “salty dog” and tapping into the working class roots and spirit of Fremantle,’ she says.

Most importantly, Dee and Desmond’s home is a place for living and creating with freedom. ‘While I do focus on maintaining her sense of old school beauty and charm, it’s got to be un-precious and inviting at the same time,’ says Dee. ‘There’s not a chair you can’t sit in or anything you can’t touch, and there are no fancy plates or cupboards.’

Dee is thankful of the role this home has already played in the young family’s life, in addition to those who came before them. ‘I often feel like the custodian of this home, rather than an owner…That it is our job to care and honour her and in return she nurtures our work, creativity and provides a warm home for our family,’ she says. 

‘There’s an unspoken feeling that this home is a magical space filled with the souls of creative characters who have been here before, and continue to do so.’

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The Design Files acknowledge the Traditional Custodians of the lands on which we work, the Wurundjeri people of the Kulin Nation. We pay our respects to Elders past and present.

First Nations artists, designers, makers, and creative business owners are encouraged to submit their projects for coverage on The Design Files. Please email bea@thedesignfiles.net