A 1960s Cottage in a Quiet Country Town

I felt like I was going back in time a bit when I went to visit this house. In a quiet town about an hour’s drive out of Perth, this 1960s red brick cottage is home to interior designer Hayley Kessner, 31, (known as Hayley Gemma) and her husband Chadd, 38, a builder and construction manager. Hayley and Chadd live with their three children, Jaspa Reef, 10, Sascha Fynn, 9, and Scarlett Grace, 3 – as well as their Great Dane Behemoth (Bo for short) and a clan of former battery chooks.

Hayley’s family was one of the original families to establish the town of Byford, a once-small but now quickly growing country town.

“I grew up in the next suburb, and all my family and friends are here,” says Hayley. “At the local shops, everyone knows each other and says hi. It’s a lovely place to live.”

This post was originally published on my original blog format here on February 27, 2015.

KITCHEN MAKEOVER: Hayley made her gorgeous kitchen cabinet handles herself – from pieces of leather strapping bought from Tandy Leather and dyed with vegetable dye. She and Chadd laid the concrete benchtop over the existing laminate – which made a HUGE mess from all the sanding required afterward. “This was the absolute worst part of the entire renovation by far,” moans Hayley. “Because the fronts were off all the doors and drawers, every single thing was covered in dust. We had to wash it all.” (Note to you guys – when we knocked out our kitchen arches and removed the render from the bricks, the brick dust got over everything in the cabinets – even though our cupboard doors were all CLOSED!) “It was so worth it in the long run though,” says Hayley. “The concrete brings the most beautiful texture to the space and adds that perfect element of grunge that was needed to tie it into the rest of the house.” Photos by Heather Robbins of Red Images Fine Photography.

THE FRONT GARDEN: “I love love love sitting out under the trees,” says Hayley of her front garden. “It’s so calming, just sitting there watching the kids or just quietly reading a book. And more often than not, a neighbour will see me sitting there and come and join me for a cuppa and a chat. It’s just so lovely.” The garden is shaded by two giant flame trees. “The trees are irreplaceable – they are the first thing I loved about the home,” says Hayley. “When we bought the house, it was really old and shit, but I loved the trees so much that when I walked through the garden I said to Chadd, ‘I don’t care what the inside looks like. This is our home. I love it.’” Photos by Heather Robbins of Red Images Fine Photography.

LITTLE LAUNDRY: “The laundry got an overhaul a year or so ago,” says Hayley. “We ripped up the broken slate floors, sanded back the concrete underneath and painted it. We retiled the back wall and redid the ceiling and then painted all the walls in a dark navy colour.” Photos by Heather Robbins of Red Images Fine Photography.

Hayley and Chadd bought the house in 2009. A brick and iron cottage built on lots of land in 1968, the house was one of the originals in the town, and fairly typical to the houses that were built in that era. But what sets the home apart from the others is the pair of giant flame trees in the front garden.

“The trees are irreplaceable – they are the first thing I loved about the home,” says Hayley. “When we bought the house, it was really old and shit, but I loved the trees so much that when I walked through the garden I said to Chadd, ‘I don’t care what the inside looks like. This is our home. I love it!’”

But the tiny house needed a lot of work. “The home was in dire need of some love,” says Hayley. “We had heaps and heaps of work to do straight off the bat – all living in the house with three and four-year-old boys!” The jarrah floors had been painted over with house paint (the occupants had also actually painted AROUND the furniture) the layout was all wrong, the ceilings were sagging and the whole house had to be rewired.”

They started out by knocking out the wall between the kitchen and lounge room, subsequently ripping out and replacing the entire kitchen. “We have very recently finished stage two of the kitchen, which entailed painting all the cupboards black, fitting leather handles that I made, installing a butcher’s block benchtop for the island andpoured a concrete bench top over the existing laminate,” says Hayley. (More on that experience in the captions!)

COFFEE NOOK: I love Hayley’s microwave nook. The table is an IKEA one that Hayley covered with marble contact paper. The chairs are from Nook Vintage in Melbourne and one from a friend’s shop, and the wooden one was, er, stolen. “I found it in the roof space of a house we rented in Melbourne!” says Hayley. Photos by Heather Robbins of Red Images Fine Photography.

ISLAND BENCH: Hayley says all up the kitchen renovation cost around $10,000 and says the simplest update was swapping out the laminate island bench with a piece of laminated pine bought for $99 from Bunnings and sealed with an $11 oak stain and food-safe oil.

BEFORE: Hayley’s kitchen before their improvements began.

AFTER: Hayley and Chadd’s kitchen today. The grout in the kitchen was initially white to match the tile, but Hayley was not in love with it. So she painstakingly began hand-painting all the grout a deep charcoal. More than halfway through, her builder husband rang and when she told him what she was doing he told her that there was a tool that would have scraped out the old grout so she could put a layer of the charcoal grout on top – taking about ten minutes in total! Blasted DIY! Never mind. The end effect is pretty!

“We have completely overhauled all the gardens, building herb gardens, planting lots of fruit trees, setting up a large kitchen garden and, just recently, we got five chooks from the battery farm,” says Hayley. “We also built the tree house and rock climbing wall out the front – the kids’ Christmas present!”

Hayley’s vintage-style pink bike is from Papillionaire.

BOYS ROOMS: The boys rooms are at the back of the house, in the converted patio. “When Scarlett was born, Chadd enclosed the back patio and built two bedrooms for the boys- walls, floors, insulation – the whole works,” says Hayley. Photos by Heather Robbins of Red Images Fine Photography.

SASCHA’S ROOM: Hayley hand-painted the feature wal with Dulux Domino. The dresser is an IKEA Rast hack. “The bed is IKEA too – the cheapest bed they had (Fjellse bedframe), ” says Hayley. “I added plywood to the bedhead to heighten it.” The yellow pineapple lamp was from Target and the bedding is from Kip and Co. The arrow print above the bed is from YorkeLee Prints.

PICTURE WALLS: Cheap IKEA picture frames make a gallery wall in surfing-mad Sascha’s room.

Hayley and Chadd have not lived in the house all the time since they bought it. “We have rented it out a couple of times since then – we have moved around a lot due to the nature of my husband’s work (and the fact that we love an adventure) but we are back for good now,” says Hayley.

She and Chadd have a pact – they will go where adventure or opportunity arises for them. When Hayley was accepted to do a Diploma of Interior Design at CATC in Melbourne, Hayley and Chadd decided to relocate the family to live in Melbourne for two years so Hayley could pursue her dream of studying there. In the meantime, Chadd continued to work FIFO – flying from Melbourne to Perth to rural mine sites up north every two weeks and back. It was a fun time, but not the easiest, with three kids under ten and family all back home in WA. But within her first semester she was elected Student Representative, offered an Internship at Hirsch Bedner and Associates and was asked by the school’s program manager to redesign all the break out spaces within the Melbourne college campus. “I knew then and there that I had made the right decision,” says Hayley, who graduated with the top award of Interior Design Excellence.

And now with Hayley’s eye for interiors getting noticed by interior design bigwigs like Megan Morton and Design*Sponge, and a recent nomination for the Australasian Design Graduate of the Year title, it’s clear that it was a risk worth taking.

SCARLETT’S BEDROOM: The vintage iron bed was from a Melbourne antique shop. The rug is from La De Dah Kids.

DIY WALL PANELS: Hayley loves DIY and made the wall panels with fabric found from Spotlight. “They look like wallpaper but are in fact fabric that I starched to the wall and framed with molding.”

BEFORE: The previous tenants of Hayley’s house painted the floors…. and were so lazy they actually painted around the furniture!

BEDROOM PRETTINESS: All the macramé in the house, including the giant piece above the window, was handmade by Hayley, who creates pieces to commission. The brass hanging lights are from Bunnings, the fairy lights from Target (similar available at Typo too). The peacock headboard is from The Family Love Tree and the throw pillow from Pony Rider. Photos by Heather Robbins of Red Images Fine Photography.

HAYLEY’S BEDSIDE: The gold light is from Bunnings, the antler print is from Typo.

LIVING ROOM: From the kitchen, Hayley and Chadd can see through the window to the kids playing in the front yard. The grey linen curtains are from IKEA. The black armchairs are from Raine and Humble. The inside of the fireplace was painted with Dulux Domino. The sisal rug was from Freedom, the denim pocket rug from India. Photos by Heather Robbins of Red Images Fine Photography.

ABOVE: Hayley and Bo. Hayley painstakingly hand-chiselled the old plaster off the wall behind her to create this feature wall. The bookcase is made from old vintage crates and boxes. The dreamcatcher was made by Hayley.

The house is tiny for a robust family of five – with a less than 99sqm footprint on its big 1700sqm block (complete with orchard, a kitchen garden and chook pen). “For us, I wouldn’t want a house any bigger really,” says Hayley, who loves that the kids spend a lot of time playing outdoors, with cricket games on the front lawn. One of my favourite things about this home is how much Hayley, Chadd and the kids utilise their beautiful front garden – where they spend almost all of their time at home.

Have you ever noticed how much the outdoor areas of our houses have changed over the years? Forty, fifty years ago – and before then, too – our houses were designed so that the main outdoor area was almost always at the front of the home, in the form of a veranda, deck or porch. It was out here that people would sit, have a cup of tea in the morning or a cold beer in the evening, start up the barbecue or chat to neighbours passing by. I think you could even argue that it was safer back then for kids to play on the street, with the number of people who would spend time on their front verandas giving the neighbourhood a communal ‘watched over’ feel. My mum and dad always sit out on the front veranda of their older home and read the paper and sew or have coffee with friends – even though they have since now built a much larger deck out in the back.

The past few decades, we have been retreating – to the backs of our homes. Outdoor areas are almost always situated in our back gardens these days. We seem as a whole to want more privacy, more quiet, and now it is common for new homes to have a small entry portico, with space preserved for the backyard alfresco, perhaps a fall-out effect from smaller blocks. Sometimes it seems a pity in a way – because there is something that to me seems so homely and friendly and safe about those old suburbs like Guildford and Palmyra where people still sit out on their front veranda in the evenings, watching the kids play in the front yard or having an after-work drink. It’s a part of our housing history that will probably eventually be gone, and I think that’s partly why I like this house so much. “I sit out the front almost 24/7 when I’m home,” says Hayley. “We all have lunch and dinner out there a lot. It’s the kind of town where you know everyone. Everyone who walks past stops and has a chat – or sometimes a beer!” Maya x


THE FRONT GARDEN: Chadd and Hayley built the tree house and gave the kids the climbing wall for Christmas.

Hayley’s girls – recently rescued from a battery farm (hence their lack of plumage!)

THE ART DECO BAR CART: Hayley hunted for the perfect bar cart for “a very long time!” “I had in my head exactly what I wanted for that little space next to the fireplace, so when we were living in Melbourne I started the search – I figured I had the best chance there. I went to all the markets, the little antique stores, looked on eBay and Gumtree. I knew I wanted it to have a curve, be in good condition and be under $100! Big ask I know, but I knew it was possible. I had all but given up. One day I checked Gumtree and found a listing for a deceased estate open in the next suburb to me. He was offering some pottery and old chairs, but there in the background I could see this little bar cart – the EXACT one I had been searching for. I asked if I could over IMMEDIATELY and much to the ad owner’s dismay, he let me. I ran straight for that bar cart, he asked for $50 (I think he thought he was getting the best deal ever) and I hightailed out of there like that woman on the IKEA ad “START THE CAR”. The search was over.” The bar cart is now home to Hayley’s treasured cockatoo lamp from Mozi, a gift from Chadd.

COFFEE CORNER: The photos on the pantry door are from Hayley’s Instagram account and printed with Origrami. The hanging light is from Beacon Lighting. The window overlooks the herb garden by the kitchen.

HUB OF THE HOME: One of Hayley’s favourite spaces in the home is the kitchen. “My favourite part is standing behind the kitchen bench. I always have a girlfriend there for a wine or a cuppa; or a kid sitting there doing homework or eating their dinner. I can look out over the trees out the front and see everything thats going on.”


Interior designer Hayley Kessner, her husband Chadd, their three children Jaspa Reef, 10, Sascha Fynn, 9, and Scarlett Grace, 3, their Great Dane Behemoth and a bunch of former battery chickens.


A 99sqm renovated 1960s red brick cottage


Byford, Western Australia




Hayley Kessner (you can follow her on Instagram over at @hayleygemma )


Three bedrooms, bathroom, front veranda, open-plan kitchen, living and dining, laundry, kitchen garden, orchard, herb garden, chook pen


Heather Robbins of Red Images Fine Photography (you can follow Heather on Instagram over at @redimagescomau )


Author: Maya Anderson

When Maya Anderson was thinking of a name for her homes and design blog, nothing seemed more fitting than House Nerd. Obsessed with everything to do with houses, renovating and interior design, Maya is a features journalist by training with a background in print and a focus on homes and real estate. She has been renovating her 1970s house since forever, loves dogs and can eat her body weight in dumplings.

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