"I love that we've got a completely modern apartment in an old building," says Mathew Jerrett."It's not what you'd expect to find." And he's right - there is something very surprising about where Mathew and his partner Esther Hopkins live. For a start, although it's in the Sydney beachside suburb of Bronte, the 1920s building is tucked away in a quiet valley with views from the apartment of ferns and trees, rather than waves or windswept headlands.
"I used to live at Bondi, which I found quite transient and concrete," says Esther, who arrived from England as a backpacker and decided to stay. "There's more of a sense of family and community here. The first time I walked down this street, I fell in love with it - it's so leafy. It's also right near Bronte Park; the five-minute walk to the beach is through parkland."
The couple, who both work in design, moved into the apartment at the end of 2003 and soon began renovating with one main objective: "We wanted to showcase our interest in art and design," says Mathew. They then enlisted friends Bianca Pohio and Christopher Adams of Pohio Adams Architects to draw up the plans. The primary requirement was to keep costs down, but apart from that, the brief was almost non-existent.
"Because we know Bianca and Christopher so well, we trust them," says Esther. "They know who we are and know our aesthetic, and we also like what they do. We wanted the place to feel light and airy and functional, with no fuss and clutter, but also warm and welcoming rather than stark." For inspiration, Esther and Mathew looked at the work of renowned British minimalist architect John Pawson.To keep within the budget, they subcontracted all the work themselves. "It took longer this way, but it saved us a lot of money," says Mathew. "We were really lucky with our tradesmen - most came via word-of-mouth and all were great."
Most internal walls were removed (one still divides the bedroom from the dining area) and virtually the only original features left are the windows. "We love those," says Esther. Floor-to-ceiling sheets of gyprock are finished with a narrow strip of aluminium instead of skirting boards, creating shadow lines at ceiling level. This gives the impression of the walls floating rather than being securely anchored. The carpet was also ripped up and the floorboards roughly sanded to give a warehouse feel, before being stained a deep brown.
For simplicity, detailing has been kept to a minimum. A barely noticeable floor-to-ceiling pivoting door opens to reveal the bathroom, but no other internal doors are used within the apartment. However, there are plans to install a large bi-fold mirrored door to the dining area if it ever needs to be converted to a second bedroom.
The kitchen, which used to be quite removed from everything, is now part of the living area. "I love cooking and want to be involved in the conversation when friends come around," says Esther. In keeping with this theme, the splashback is just the right width to fit a wine glass.
As with many old apartments, storage was sadly lacking. This was solved by the inclusion of two enormous built-ins - one in the bedroom and another that runs the length of the kitchen, incorporating plumbing for a laundry, plenty of room for luggage and other large items, as well as more conventional kitchen cupboards. Custom-designed shelves in the living and dining areas display favourite objects, including photographs, books and CDs.
Finishing touches have yet to be completed. The bathroom isn't quite done, rugs need to be bought, and there are plans for a desk to be built in the dining area. "In a perfect world, we'd finish everything off," says Mathew, "but this place is a work in progress."
A full-height built-in wardrobe (opposite page) was included in the bedroom to provide some much-needed storage. A Derek Henderson photograph hangs above the bed, while a sushi table from Poliform acts as a bedside table. "It's a good place to lie and read in the sun," says Esther of the B&B Italia ottoman (above left). which sits below an artwork called Boy Dreaming by Josh Petherick. in the living area (top right), PK22 chairs by Poul Kjaerholm were bought at auction and, according to Mathew, were "a bargain". The standard lamp is from Ken Neale Twentieth Century Modern in Darlinghurst.