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A Stylist’s Under-The-Radar 1950s Modernist Family Home

This mid-century modern house on Sydney’s Upper North Shore was designed in the 1950s by prominent architect and furniture designer Douglas Snelling.

Despite its architectural pedigree, when stylist and art director Gemma Keil came across the home earlier this year, she found it empty and unloved. ‘It was nothing like the open for inspections in the east where you line up in crowds only to shuffle through poky overpriced houses,’ she says. ‘Hardly anyone turned up to this showing, and people were walking straight out as they thought it was too run down or they didn’t have the imagination. I, on the other hand, had felt like I stumbled into a dream.’ We couldn’t agree more!

With that right styling and a few minor cosmetic tweaks, Gemma has made the house her incredible family home that looks straight out of California.

Lucy Feagins
Editorial styling
Supported by Dulux

Artwork purchased in a market in Nairobi, Kenya. Laredo rattan lounge chair purchased from Lawsons Auctioneers. Italian striped modular sofa purchased from Home Furniture on Consignment. Berber rugs from West Elm and Etsy.

Stylist and art director Gemma Keil in her St Ives family home. ‘Violette’ artwork by Stanislas Piechaczek.

Gubi dining chairs (‘Perfect for wiping clean with the twins!’ says Gemma). Dining table purchased from Facebook Marketplace.

The timber kitchen. Gubi dining chairs. Dining table purchased from Facebook Marketplace.

Coco Republic planter.

‘My grandpa loved art and was a bit of a collector.When he passed and the estate was split up my mum gave me this photo. It used to hang in his study in Scotland,’ says Gemma. Pacific Green armchair.

Jardan leather sofa. Vintage Ikea webbed chair. Kroken chair by Ake Fribytter. Coco Republic black lamp.

Cassina Maralunga sofas. Lowline sofa by MDF Italia. Violette’ artwork by Stanislas Piechaczek.

Poliform bed.

Tekla towels.

Tekla towels.

The Hay (Richmond) House was designed by prominent architect Douglas Snelling (1916–1985) in the 1950s.

The architect was perhaps best known for his mid-century timber chair designs featuring criss-cross upholstery.

Gemma has made the house — that looks straight out of California — her incredible family home!

Lucy Feagins
Editorial styling
5th of July 2023

Its easy to imagine this 1950s modernist house in St Ives was once host to many parties, with its flashing rainbow pool lights (!), huge living spaces, and lush lawn.

When stylist and art director Gemma Keil first came across the property earlier this year, it was an entirely different story. She went to the open for inspection with few others in attendance, and no one except Gemma seemed to see the potential in its distinctive mid-century features.

The real estate listing didn’t mention it, but this is actually the Hay (Richmond) House designed by prominent architect Douglas Snelling (1916–1985) in the 1950s.

Snelling was also a furniture designer, perhaps best known for his mid-century timber chair designs featuring criss-cross upholstery.

‘We knew the house was special and of architectural importance, but when we found out and read up about the house, we felt truly lucky to get to live in it,’ says Gemma. ‘It graced the cover of an architectural magazine back in the day and really was and still is a masterpiece.’

Gemma loved that the home was in near original condition, with interiors full of warmth and charm.

‘I think I’m the opposite of a lot of people … When I was looking at places, I was put off by the kitchens and bathrooms that had been renovated,’ she says. ‘The more original the better — especially when this well preserved!’

With its spacious proportions and beautiful garden, the property is now the idyllic family home of Gemma, her husband Patrick, and their five-year-old twins Louis and Grace.

The family have made only minor styling tweaks to the house since moving in, allowing the existing features to speak for themselves — even a few features they’re not crazy about, such as the blue living room carpet. ‘It’s definitely not a colour I’m drawn to and it’s been tricky furnishing around it. I’ve tried to keep things pretty neutral to balance it out,’ says Gemma.

The home remains a work in progress that will continue evolving as Gemma sources new (mostly secondhand) furniture pieces, and her children grow up.

For now, Gemma says her family feel extremely grateful to retreat to such an architecturally stunning home surrounded by greenery every day.

‘Some nights, once the kids are in bed, we sit and watch the sun go down over the gumtrees and pinch ourselves at the view.’

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