When I am scrolling through Instagram, the photos always guaranteed to stop me in my tracks are ones of renovating. Maybe it’s because I have always been obsessed with a good before and after story – all the bits, from the demo to the drywall to the decking being laid out – but there is something so fun and motivational about seeing a photo of a home’s renovation process and imagining how it is going to look. I think it’s so exciting!
Yes, I know I am a total house nerd. But there’s something so satisfying and pleasing about renovations, isn’t there? It’s like ah, here was this thing, this house or this room, that was ugly, or falling apart, or really dated or even downright creepy sometimes, and now it’s being made to be beautiful and loved again. When I came across the Instagram feed of Perth interior designer and stylist Rachael Pearse of Staple Design, midway through renovating her North Fremantle cottage with her partner Richard Glass, I was hooked. Not only was Rachael’s writing style entertaining, but she had this cool bathroom renovation getting pieced together. I could see how awesome her home was going to look and I had to know more. And now I’ve seen it in the flesh (in the bricks?) and I can tell you this 100 year old house is just as beautiful in real life, with a really inviting, friendly feel to it – and Rachael and Richard are also super nice.
The two of them bought the house six years ago and now live in it with their son Harvey, aged one. Richard is an investors relations manager, and as mentioned Rachael is an interior designer and stylist under her own business Staple Design (eagle-eyed readers will have seen the story I wrote on this awesome Subiaco kitchen renovation she designed recently). “Prior to getting into interior design I studied Fine Art at Curtin University but quickly realised I needed to find another creative field, but one that would give me more career opportunities,” she says. “I really admire anyone that can make a living as an artist but I knew it wasn’t for me!” She began her career in interior design working at an architecture firm before working for a residential builder on custom luxury homes, then started Staple Design. “I set it up with the intention of giving myself the flexibility to turn work/my business ‘on and off’ while we had young children,” she says.
She and Richard met during their university days. “We were good friends for a number of years before I plucked up the courage to make my move,” laughs Richard. After getting together, they bought this house six years ago, at the end of the hunt for the perfect fixer-upper.
“We really wanted a project, but something that wasn’t going to involve major structural works, and we were always drawn to older homes having both being brought up in old places,” says Richard. “We weren’t looking for a big house as we like to live fairly simply, but whatever we bought had to have a good layout, and be close to public transport.”
Both Rachael and Richard have always loved old houses – Rachael grew up in the country on a wheat farm; Richard in a big old Federation home in Claremont where his parents still live. (“It’s a beautiful home that we have lots of amazing memories in, however it’s like an icebox in winter!” he laughs). Wanting to live in an area with heritage charm that had good access to public transport and the city, Richard and Rachael were originally looking to buy in a broad area covering West Leederville, North Perth and Mount Hawthorn.
But nothing really inspired them until they came across a listing for this home online. “We came across this house somewhat by accident,” says Richard. “Having looked at multiple places, none of them really grabbed our attention. We jumped online one night and thought, how about Fremantle way and in particular North Fremantle? It made sense as Rachael was based in Bicton and I was brought up in Claremont, so North Freo seemed to be good middle ground.”
The seller was selling privately and the house was tenanted, but one cold and very wet winter’s night they were able to go and took a look at the house, says Richard. “As soon as we walked in I think we knew this was the place. Things progressed pretty quickly from there and we signed a contract over a cup of coffee at Vanya’s Café (subsequently Short Black Sheep and now Brucetown) just down the road.”
While their speedy decision might make it seem the house was an instant charmer, it needed love. “First thoughts were very much that the house had great potential and a good layout but was pretty unloved and needed a fair bit of work,” says Richard.
Rachael’s least favourite part of the house was the bathroom. “There are no words to describe how dated and revolting the bathroom was!” she shudders. “Terracotta tiles which had never been sealed and were impossible to clean, pressed tin which had rusted through (also impossible to clean), cabinetry which had rotted through and my biggest pet hate was that we had to have a shower curtain. I truly think they are the most foul things!”
Elsewhere, the colour scheme brought down the house, says Rachael. “Internally all of the walls were cream and it just felt dull and kind of dirty – and there was one hideous bright red feature wall in the living area. It was literally the first thing I wanted to tackle when we moved in.”
The exterior was a mix of raw timber and Federation greens and reds. “It was very dated, very dark and lacked any street presence,” says Rachael. Rich agrees. “The outside – being raw Western red cedar – looked like it belonged in the Swiss mountains!”
But Rachael and Richard could see the house’s potential, and it ticked all their boxes – they particularly wanted to buy a house they could live in as they renovated it. “It was important that the scope of work to renovate the home was achievable (by us on weekends and around full-time work commitments) and that we could improve the quality of the home in a simple and cost-effective way,” says Rachael. “Living amongst renovations is always a challenge, but we did our renovations one space at a time so that we could keep the mess fairly contained. It also meant we had tighter control of the budget and once we finished one space we could have a break before moving on to the next space/project.”
Although the front of the house is on the Fremantle heritage list, its exact build year is not known, but it is presumed the house was built sometime between 1911 and 1917. Like many worker’s cottages of its era, the original house was compact – just four rooms. Its first owner was a waterfront worker named Alfred J Bonner. The house changed hands three times until Rachael and Richard bought it six years ago. The owners before them, who bought the house in the 80s, had removed an old asbestos lean-to at the back of the house and replaced it with an open-plan living extension with a loft and balcony.
The main bedroom received a lovely renovation.
“The kitchen was dated, BUT the layout worked and the doors and drawers were all solid timber,” says Rachael. “Kitchen and bathrooms renovations can be expensive, so rather than replacing the whole kitchen we were able to paint the cabinetry, replace the handles with something a little more contemporary, replace the tapware, tile over the existing splashback and replace the appliances. We even managed to retrofit a dishwasher – hurray!
“I guess my point is that you can save money and still end up with a good solution if you’re willing to be a little creative… it’s not my dream kitchen but it’s an absolute improvement on what it was.”
The house is finally now complete – and was mostly done before Rachael and Rich had baby Harvey, now one. “Luckily we finished the majority of the renovations before we had Harvey – I actually can’t fathom renovating a house with a newborn! – and so we have had more time on weekends to just hang out, drink coffee and enjoy the home we have created,” says Rachael.
Inside, different types of timber and a mix of old and new gives the house a really down to earth and approachable feel. One of my favourite pieces of theirs is that beautiful mid-century sideboard, picture above, which Rachael scored through Gumtree for only $300. “We drove out to the middle of nowhere to get it!” she says. So jealous!
Now that sideboard is en-route to a new city – Melbourne. I was mid-way through wrapping up details for my Home Envy story when Rachael emailed me to tell me Richard had been offered an awesome job opportunity and that they would be moving out of their house to move to Melbourne! They are keeping the house and renting it out (lucky tenants).
I ask Rachael and Richard what tips they would give other people tackling a DIY renovation. “If you’re planning on renovating and doing a lot of the work yourself then it is always important to recognise when you should call a tradie!” says Rachael. “I am all for taking on a challenge but sometimes you’re better off going to work, doing what you are trained and skilled at and paying a professional to do the same on your renovation… I can guarantee they will do a better job and much more quickly then you ever will.”
Rich says it’s also important to take some time away from working on the house. “Don’t bite off more than you can chew… and remember to occasionally have a weekend to yourselves off the tools!”
Interior designer and stylist Rachael Pearse of Staple Design, her partner Richard Glass, an investors relations manager, and their one-year-old son Harvey
A two bedroom heritage-listed worker’s cottage, thought to have been built between 1911-1917
North Fremantle, Western Australia
THE INTERIOR DESIGNER
Rachael runs her own interior design consultancy, Staple Design
Weatherboard cladding, two bedrooms, open-plan kitchen, living and dining, study loft with balcony, entertaining deck, vegetable garden
Rachael Pearse and Meghan Plowman