WORDS: Jane Hollier Brown

Leigh and Joel’s Hamilton home is the ultimate example of how a minimalist design doesn’t mean sacrificing character and comfort. Step through the yellow front door and join this creative couple (and their cute miniature dachshund, Frankie) as they tell House Perv the secret to transforming a house into a home.


Tell us a little about yourselves.
Leigh: I’m the Owner/Director/General Manager of SDA (Space Design Architecture), which is a passionate, creative and talented team of 25+ Newcastle based architects, interior designers and project managers. I love to create and renovate. Anything from Lego to architecture to our own home. Renovating is my subtle form of therapy (escaping the pressures of running a business for just a little bit!).

Joel: I’m finishing my PhD in Sociology, examining the transitions of young people after being released from Juvenile Justice Centres. I’m also an Associate Lecturer in Criminology at the University of Newcastle. I enjoy renovating to a certain extent. Mostly, I just like to do the demolition! I love the escape of our current home and enjoy reading in our leather chair … or the tub!

Can you tell us anything of the home’s history and what you did to get it where it is today?
L & J:
The home was constructed between 1920 and 1930 and was one of the original homes in Donald Street. It has undergone quite a few changes and additions over the years. When we purchased it in 2014, we had to strip a lot of it back to its bare bones, giving us a clean slate from which to start. The iconic arched carport at the front was added approximately 30 years ago. It’s a little strange and not keeping with the style of the house, but we decided to keep it, repair it and give it new life as a complete contrast to the existing home. 

Similarly, the back portion of the home has been intentionally designed to contrast with the original and decorative nature of the front of the home. The back is sleek, simple, and modern, with touches of warmth through materials to tie the two parts together. It took us four years from start to finish but we had a plan to do it slowly and well whilst living there … which can be hard work at times!

Do you have any renovation stories to tell about this home in particular? 
Leigh did fall through the floor at one stage while holding an angle grinder, twisting his ankle and closely missing his face with the grinder still moving. The lesson: don’t stand on the floor you are demolishing! 

Soon after we moved in we worked through the three bedrooms and got new carpet installed so we could live comfortably in at least a few rooms. Fast forward a couple of years and we decided to pull up and re-lay all of the floors throughout the home as they were quite uneven. This included pulling up the carpet in the bedrooms and getting them re-laid, taking off all skirtings, and completely repainting. The lesson learnt was start with a plan and follow that plan so you don’t do things twice. (If only we knew a good architect!)

What are your key style inspirations? 
L & J:
We are minimalist people … we like things to have a place to live. At the same time, we like our house to feel like a home; a place to come back to at the end of the day and feel like an escape from the craziness of work. We appreciate the beauty, workmanship and time that has been put into carefully constructing homes of the past. We wanted the core elements of our home to be timeless, with a neutral palette to which you could then add a layer of personality through colour, furniture and decoration.

What you love most about living in your house? 
L & J:
We love our kitchen/dining area and how it opens out onto the covered deck and landscaped area. It is truly an extension of our interior living space. We love to sit with friends and eat and drink on the deck (affectionately known to our friends as the ‘Fairy Deck’!). We get a nice amount of natural light and sun in the early morning and late afternoon, controlled through the day by the pergola. 

Your house is for sale: why are you selling it and where you are off to next? 
L & J:
Whilst we weren’t actively looking to sell and move on, we did give ourselves a timeline of Joel completing his PHD to complete the renovation and possibly start looking. This by coincidence happened almost to plan. One Saturday while Leigh was finishing off his last 2 jobs on the house, Joel took Frankie for a walk and stumbled across a home in Lindsay Street, Hamilton. We decided to have a look at the next open house and upon entering looked at each other and said ‘f*@# here we go again!’ We have just secured this property and are looking to move in January 2019. The new home was built in 1907 with a top level put on approximately 20 years ago. The home and land is about twice the size of our current home so will be a decent project!