This Cozy Aussie Cottage Is a Treasure Trove of Pottery and Vintage Finds

This Cozy Aussie Cottage Is a Treasure Trove of Pottery and Vintage Finds

By Stacey McLachlan / Photos by Tom Ferguson
A smart renovation makes room for a creative couple, their two dalmatians, and a carefully curated collection of goods.

When you’re renovating a 60-plus-year-old cottage, it’s handy to have homeowners who appreciate a little history. And Mark Szczerbicki, principal of Mark Szczerbicki Design Studio in Sydney, Australia, couldn’t have asked for better collaborators than Rose and Ben.

Custom pendant lights from Sydney’s Anchor Ceramics hang above the vintage table. The company also made the backsplash behind the coffee counter.

It was Szcerbicki who transformed the 1,500-square-foot bungalow into a warm, modern dream home without sacrificing the building’s historic character. But the vintage furniture and beautiful accents—a handcrafted teapot, a chunk of aged coral—are the additions of his clients.

The creative couple—she’s a ceramicist, he’s a musician—have a knack for treasure hunting, whether on their travels or at antique shops. And with both this unique home and the objects d’art they fill it with, they celebrate craftsmanship and character wholeheartedly.

The passively designed house doesn’t have any heating or cooling mechanical elements; the slab floor collects heat that radiates through the space. Windows are oriented for maximum winter sun, with external eves blocking the heat come summertime.

Exposed brick from the original structure remains as an "echo of the house that was here before," says Szczerbicki.

Szczerbicki kept most of the existing cottage intact (including the charming front facade), with just the addition of a new living area. Really, the one-bedroom house was already the perfect scale for Rose and Ben—it just needed a little rejigging.

"It wasn’t about maximizing the size of the house," says Szczerbicki. "It was just about creating spaces for them to be together and apart."

The mantle atop of the fireplace (an original feature of the home that survived the renovation) is the perfect display spot for Rose and Ben’s latest finds.

Rather than covering the ceiling completely with a sheet or board, Szczerbicki tucked the insulation above the rafters and sealed it in so that the ceiling’s structure was still visible. Painted in white, it becomes a sculptural element that highlights the volume of the space.

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There would also need to be accommodations for the couple’s dalmatians, Lottie and Louie. "Things had to be pretty robust," laughs the architect. Luckily, the hardy materials used here also happen to be beautiful. A polished concrete floor reveals natural terrazzo speckling (coincidentally echoing the dogs’ spots).

Szczerbicki crafted the countertops from hardwood timber, a naturally long-lasting material.

A sliding panel separates the living room and kitchen when necessary; the rest of the time, it conceals the wine and liquor cabinet.

The sliding door between the kitchen and living room is painted a shade of sky blue that matches a hue favored by Italian bike brand Bianchi—a nod to Ben’s previous passion for cycling. Chiseling the track into the concrete floor was no easy task, but builder Miso Building made it happen.

Each room has a specific function—there are his-and-hers workspaces, a little television room, and a music room for Ben.

That’s not to say there aren’t moments of design indulgence, but they’re focused around the materials that Rose and Ben are drawn most to. Custom ceramic tiles from Anchor, for example, line the coffee counter: Rose works at a local coffee roaster, so the morning ritual of brewing a cuppa is a special one. Her own ceramic handiwork lines the shelves here: handmade mugs and pour-over coffee drippers.

There is no overhead lighting here, but that’s just fine by Szczerbicki, who prefers to avoid "blasting one massive level of light." Working closely with The Lighting Guild, he went for a more layered approach. Above the cabinetry, LED lights point up to illuminate the rafter, and a custom, linear pendant hangs above the island. "Every piece of lighting was designed with a specific task in mind," says Szczerbicki. "As it gets darker, you slowly turn on key lights in key locations so the light level gradually grows."

Where they could reuse original fittings and fixtures, they did, painting Bakelite handles and repurposing industrial, warehouse-style pendants found on-site. "We used whatever we could, and didn’t throw things out. Even the front door that was being thrown out by the neighbor next door (who was also renovating), Rose saved." says Szczerbicki.

The finished renovation is a home that feels just right, and draws you in to explore the treasure troves and thoughtful architectural moments. Walk in past the quirky little rooms at the front door, and the floor plan opens up to the shared living and kitchen space. Sixteen-foot-tall ceilings create space for oversized windows, with view to the rest of the neighborhood.

"We wanted low maintenance," says Szczerbicki of the home’s exterior, which was clad in cedar and oiled once. "We’ll watch it patina and go gray with time."

From the street, you can’t even tell there’s an extension in the back: it’s just a quaint cottage with a garden. "You get the best of both worlds," says Szczerbicki.

Rose’s pottery studio opens right up to the back lawn to let the sunlight (or curious pups) inside.

After work every day, Ben and Rose find themselves sitting in a little nook at the back of the kitchen with a just-so view of the Jacaranda tree next door, which blooms each spring. "They’ll just sit on their rocking chairs and watch the tree," says Szczerbicki. "It’s better than a TV."

In the main bathroom, Szczerbicki stuck to a more traditional style, featuring subway tiles from Skheme with black grout, and chrome fittings.

Practical stainless-steel appliances fit right into this friendly, unfussy space.

The newer downstairs bathroom features textured sky-blue tiles that nod to the natural ceramics Rose loves.

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