I wrote this piece for Vogue Living a little while back now, but having revisited on the weekend (for The Design Files Open House) I thought to post.

Nowhere is the importance of client-designer trust more apparent than in the recent conversion of an old coach house (once used to house horse-drawn carriages) in Sydney’s Surry Hills. “It’s the Meryl and Beryl collaboration,” jokes Sarah Marriott, a senior designer at Hare & Klein, about the practice’s extensive work with the clients, couple Beryl and Neville, this being their 19th project with director Meryl Hare. “It’s about once a year that I get the call – ‘We want to do this now’, they’ll say,” says Hare of the ongoing relationship. “Then we’ll get going on the next renovation or redecoration.”

Ironically, Hare lived “a stone’s throw away” from the couple in South Africa, although it wasn’t until she was living in Sydney that an introduction was made, beginning what is a design relationship that requires few words. “We really understand each other,” say the couple. “Meryl knows our taste and, because we love what she does, a lot of the furniture in our home comes from previous projects.” Indeed, the timber dining table hails from their first collaboration in 1992, and is replete today with contemporary chairs.

The carriage house was certainly one of the more challenging projects the client has presented to Hare, given the poor infrastructure inherent in the three-level 1850s building, but it’s the one the couple loves the most. Prior to the carriage house came homes in McMahons Point, Cammeray, Mosman, Whale Beach, Sanctuary Cove and, three times around, Paddington, in addition to offices, boats and holiday houses, but the inner city suits the couple’s taste. “Because we’re tucked in a lane off the main street it’s very quiet,” says Beryl of the 800 square-metre space. The location also proves beneficial for the running of Beryl’s art business, Art Workshops Australia, which offers weekend art workshops in the home’s large ground floor studio with a rotating roster of high-profile artists including Elisabeth Cummings, Angus McDonald and Jo Bertini.

Beryl’s business was key to the renovation of the existing structure, and by virtue of the home’s entry being situated on this level, the space also sets the tone for the remaining two floors. “The philosophy behind the project was that whatever we did would respect the original fabric of the building,” says Hare. Some rotting timber windows, damaged areas of timber flooring and the unsafe staircase balustrade required replacement, but beyond this, care was taken to leave the existing structure retained and exposed.

“The studio was really a bit of a mess,” says Hare of the ground floor space, which until the renovation was in something of a derelict state, the concrete floor chipped and uneven. This was replaced, and the vast space divided by a heavy timber sliding door, separating the studio from the entry and gallery area. Like the main floor of the house, electrical wires are set into metal trays, suspended from the ceiling and running the length of each room, continuing the industrial aesthetic set by the historic building. “The trays were the owners’ idea,” says Hare, “to conceal messy wiring without closing up the ceiling and losing the exposed timber.” White finishes on walls add a sense of space to the interiors. Although the central timber staircase’s balustrade, running the three levels of the house, was enclosed, the white seemed to lighten and clean what was a messy focal point of dark green and brown beams.

Beyond the staircase, little was divided or closed in a bid to maximise space in the home. A floating room – not touching the high ceiling and sitting between the multimedia room and office, and the living and kitchen space – is an exception, in addition to the restructuring of the kitchen with a recycled timber island work bench, but both create flow in the space. “The white of the room, which houses part of the kitchen, a guest cloakroom and a bathroom, adds some light to the space, because it was very dark and depressing,” says Hare. The room is built with the same fibre cement sheeting as used on the home’s main fireplace, continuing the use of elemental building materials.

Given Beryl’s profession, artwork adorns almost every wall in the house, yet despite a series of abstract paintings the artist is working on in the studio, her own work is noticeably absent around from display. “I have my works close around me so I can decide if I’m finished with them or not or whether they’ll have a makeover,” the artist says, laughing. It’s the same approach, it seems, that has been adopted by the couple when it comes to their residence.

Images: Jenni Hare.