Illustrator Alexandra Nea Graham has always wanted to live in a country farmhouse with a sweeping verandah, decorative fretwork, and a rose garden.
This 1950s timber cottage in South Turramurra was far from perfect, but she could immediately see its potential. Alex made an offer on the house before her husband James Webb had even seen it (!) and began drawing her dream renovation.
Alex was a fashion designer for 10 years. As well as founding her own label, she worked for Ted Baker, Collette Dinnigan, and Gail Elliott, but she’s always loved interior design.
After two years of sketching her ideas, Alex called on Paul Wilsher, who designed their previous home renovation in Newtown. He was able to navigate strict planning regulations and council approvals before building with Riverside Building and Design commenced in September 2021.
The initial plan was to renovate the house within its original timber framework, but the existing walls proved too damaged to retain. ‘This was a blow not only to the budget, but to the fact I had wanted to renovate not demolish the whole house,’ said Alex.
As a result, essentially everything from the floor up was rebuilt—albeit with plenty of reclaimed materials, to retain the ‘country farmhouse’ feel. ‘We worked with the foundations, kept all the original windows and built them back into the new framework, and of course kept and extended the chimney for the fireplace,’ says Alex.
A silver lining of the rebuild was the ability to raise the ceiling height. This not only created a more spacious home with that period-style feel, but offered more flexibility for larger recycled features to be installed.
Alex collected these pieces, including antique lights and leadlight windows and doors, over many years. ‘I had started to trawl sites, collecting these pieces as they came up, storing them propped up in our old living room that was quickly becoming like a crowded second hand furniture shop!’ she says. ‘Once I discovered a piece, I would tweak the plan measurements to fit it in, designing around these beauties like they had always been there.’
The home’s material palette is predominantly neutral to allow its reclaimed features to do the talking. Dulux Antique White U.S.A. with Snowy Mountains Half trims feature on the exterior, with Natural White indoors.
The whimsical bathrooms and kitchen are the exception, where Alex has experimented with custom-made hand painted silk wallpaper, antique tiles, and grey/blue cabinetry. ‘I am so thrilled with how the Dulux Miller Mood colour has come up on the doors for the kitchen,’ she says.
The pool area outside provides a final dose of fun and frivolity. The pool itself is fully tiled in a dark green marble, creating a lagoon-like feel and rippling light that reflects into the lounge room. Vintage wrought iron chairs provide a place for lounging under made-to-order pink umbrellas. ‘All I need now is some pink flamingo statues (which yes I am on the hunt for!)’ Alex says.
Alex was heavily involved in the building process, and the home turned out exactly as she envisioned it. Despite seemingly universal delays on materials and labour at the time of building (plus an unplanned rebuild!), the entire project was finished just two weeks over its initial 10-month deadline.
Alex and James with children Sam (9) and Ellie (6) pinch themselves every day looking at the family home they’ve created!