This article was published in The Newcastle Herald ‘Weekender’ print edition and online on September 7, 2019. Images by Pia Watson and Matt Brown.
Sydney-based couple Pia Watson and Matt Brown hoped to find a holiday home they could enjoy time at with their two-year-old son.
After searching up and down the coast for a property, they came across this terrace in Cooks Hill. They appreciated its warmth and charm and the great care the previous owners had put into it.
They purchased the property, which they named Cooks Hill House, in October 2017.
“We just fell in love with Newcastle,” says Matt.
He says the home’s close proximity to the beach and cafes was a big drawcard.
“You can’t get that in many other places.”
The family tries to visit Newcastle at least once a month. They also encourage their extended family to use the house, outside of which they list it on Airbnb.
The stylish three-bedroom house sits amongst a row of eight heritage terraces.
“We have become close friends with the people that we bought it off,” says Matt, who is the director of product at a media company.
“When they had purchased it, it had been split into two apartments. They converted it back into one house.”
The couple undertook a variety of work to transform the property from a full-time family home into a comfortable holiday house for them and guests.
Externally, they updated the house’s façade, security doors and window bars and overhauled the back courtyard. They removed the existing raised garden bed and planters, put down pavers, repainted the fence and added a custom bench seat, a dining table and chairs and greenery.
Pia, who is an interior designer, says they wanted the courtyard to be functional and suitable for use for a variety of guests. “You want to be able to hang out there, have a barbecue, sit around and enjoy a Sunday afternoon drink.”
Internally, Pia and Matt worked hard to open up and brighten the space.
“Because it is a long, narrow terrace getting light all the way through these buildings is a challenge,” says Matt.
This involved new paint – including changing the previously dark timber ceilings and fireplace surrounds to white – and the clever use of lighting throughout the home. They also replaced the wall of the second bedroom upstairs with a floor-to-ceiling glazing (glass) wall so the light from the rear balcony now flows through to the upstairs landing.
“We didn’t want it to be too modern,” says Pia of the approach they took to decorating the house.
“We wanted to still keep the character and the charm of the house. So we complemented that rather than took away from it.”
The dining area is an example of this. Here, the couple added vertical timber panelling, a custom banquette seat and pendant lighting to create a cosy space made for sharing meals and entertaining.
“I’m really into cool design. I love feature lighting and furniture,” explains Pia.
She says they tried to add a few key pieces to the house to make it “a little more interesting and aesthetically pleasing” and to “give it a bit of personality”.
Pia cites the Roly Poly chair in the master bedroom as one of her favourite pieces.
The house is also dotted with various recycled wares and furnishings sourced from op shops, as well as wall hangings and artworks Pia and Matt chose specifically it.
The response from guests that stay at Cooks Hill House has been overwhelmingly positive.
“It’s a home for us as well. We’re as passionate about this house as we are the one that we live in. I think that comes through and people appreciate that,” says Pia.
Matt and Pia say they felt warmly welcomed into the Cooks Hill community.
“So many people in our street and neighbouring streets, once we purchased it, came to congratulate us and invited us to things,” Pia explains.
“We resonated with that community feel.”
While Matt tells the story of their former neighbours, the owners of The Autumn Rooms cafe on Darby Street, who, hearing them clanking away in the backyard as they put in new pavers, popped their heads over the fence.
“They said, ‘We bought you some coffees.’ Then just passed them over the fence.”
“We kept having experiences like that each time we came up.”
He jokes, “We know more people up here than we do at home.”