Interior Designer Sarah Wolfendale’s Apartment
The Fisher & Paykel Series
Melbourne, VIC, Australia
When interior designer Sarah Wolfendale and her husband Tommy moved back to Melbourne, after years living in the UK, they were thrilled to discover a 90 square metre apartment with beautiful period features close to the city, situated in 20 acres of grounds and complete with facilities including a pool, gym, tennis courts and lawn bowls green.
The fact that it was the site of the decommissioned Kew Asylum and had been badly laid out when it was converted into apartments in 1993 did not deter the designer. With her experience in high-end luxury retail design in the UK and interior design at Hecker Guthrie and Techne in Melbourne, she recognised the potential in its 19th-century high ceilings, period arched windows and natural light. As a heritage building, the entire renovation was focused inward, transforming the previously cramped apartment into a spacious, efficient and beautifully contemporary home for the family of three (soon to be four).
To call the apartment contemporary is not to suggest it is ultra-minimalist and modern (although it captures elements of this in its restrained colour palette and seamless joinery), but rather to express that the apartment exemplifies a contemporary design sensibility. It is empathetic to the building’s original architecture, responsive to the needs of a growing family with its integrated storage and flexible spaces, and, above all, imbued with character.
“I wanted the renovation to be sympathetic to the original building and restore it back to the grandeur of the period, by accentuating the heritage features of the space while giving it a modern twist”, explains Sarah. With the amount of natural light, high ceilings and the light timber flooring, she knew that the space could afford to be grey and “have a bit more personality. I wanted to create something that was moody but comfortable, that didn’t look like every other white wall apartment.”
Designing for oneself, rather than a client, is naturally an interesting experience for a designer, and for Sarah it was an exercise in working with reduced scale and budget. Whether designing luxury retail fitouts or high-end residential interiors for Hecker Guthrie and Techne, she is accustomed to working with much larger spaces and much higher budgets, so she says it was a challenge to work within the reduced scale for her own apartment. Nonetheless, Sarah expresses that “it was nice to have the luxury of thinking time to draw and redraw options”. Living in the space prior to the renovation gave her a deeper insight into how to efficiently use the space, and she used her maternity leave to “traverse Melbourne finding the most affordable materials, fixtures and fittings”.
The family intend to live in their new home for a long time, making Sarah was acutely aware she would be living with her choices for years to come. She focused on timeless design that would not date and an efficient layout that would be comfortable for the family and guests. “I set out to prove that you can live as a young family in a small space, as long as it is well designed. I believe that bigger is not always better”, she says.
This approach is exemplified by the kitchen, dining and living, which are treated as a single entity. With no room for an island bench, limiting the kitchen to one wall creates a sense of spaciousness, while the restrained grey palette of grey joinery, marble and black fittings “makes the joinery functions disappear, so that the sofa or dining table don’t look out of place, they can borrow from each other’s square meterage”, Sarah says. The kitchen’s functionality is concealed by joinery, emphasising the impact of the few pieces that are chosen to be displayed. “I wanted the joinery to float from the floor, walls and ceiling to give the illusion of space. By raising the bench and cupboards on black metal legs it gave it a lux industrial edge and the look of freestanding furniture pieces”, she explains.
Yet for such a comparatively small home, the kitchen is highly practical. Sarah says “I try to specify Fisher & Paykel for as many projects as possible, as their service is amazing, from specification right down to the lovely Kiwi delivery driver! I also like the idea of using a product that was designed for the Australian and New Zealand market”. Sarah worked closely with Fisher & Paykel Design Development Manager Daniel Varcoe to make the appliances work within the floating unitary. “I like that they have an in-house industrial design team who are willing to work with designers to use their products in different ways”, she says.
The kitchen was designed around the 900mm oven, which along with the cooktop is the only visible appliance. The joinery hides not only a refrigerator and DishDrawer, but a stacked washer and dryer. The clean lines of the 900mm, 3-burner cooktop complement the aesthetic of the kitchen, and the 900mm oven was chosen to make cooking for guests easier. Sarah also explains “the oven allowed me to achieve a non-standard cabinetry break up and worked proportionality with the aesthetic I was trying to achieve.”
The new open kitchen-living-dining space required completely ‘gutting’ and reconfiguring the entire apartment. While the ‘bones’ of the space were good, Sarah remembers “the original layout was terrible”. The bathroom and laundry blocked the main areas from access to the natural light and beauty of the arched windows. The configuration also meant walking through the kitchen to wash hands after using the bathroom, and there was nil storage. As well as the new living space, the reconfiguration created an entrance area, two bedrooms and bathrooms, plus a mezzanine that provides storage and space for a desk and guest bed.
Of all the changes in the new design, integrating enough storage and creating a kitchen both functional and aesthetic were the two priorities. “Every element of the design was designed from the storage requirements out”, Sarah says. “I knew I had to open up the space as much as possible to give the illusion of a bigger space”. The apartment previously did not capitalise on the ceiling height for storage, so in the new design Sarah accentuated the height of the cupboards accessed via a moveable library-style ladder.
Through clever yet simple design solutions such as this, Sarah has put into practice her belief that ‘bigger is not always better’. The apartment embodies the principle of quality of design over quantity of space, and exemplifies that, when balanced in harmony, contemporary design and heritage architecture can become something even greater than the sum of their parts.