House Tour: Rachel's Weatherboard Cottage

Melbourne

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Name: Rachel Pitts
Location: Footscray, Melbourne, Australia
Size: 82 square meters [882 square feet]
Years lived in: 3 years

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Rachel and Leigh’s home has a really open, genuine and fresh feel to it. One of the first things they did after purchasing their 1900’s weatherboard home, was tearing down the wall in between the kitchen and living room. Rachel, one of the three creators behind The Hungry Girls cookbooks, editor of many well know Australian cookbooks and writer, wanted to create a more social environment so she could be cooking whilst entertaining guests.

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AT Survey:

My/Our style: The house is a weatherboard workers’ cottage around 100 years old. When we bought it we were presented with the original certificate of title on a large piece of waxen paper, which lists all the owners of the house and even their occupations in beautiful calligraphy (when the council transferred titles to computer, these documents were outmoded). Among the people who lived here was a wool stacker and a fitter’s assistant … I love the idea that each new owner has left their mark on this house in some way. Someone took out the chimney, someone built a lean-to at the back, someone else (unfortunately this time) converted the backyard and front verandah to concrete and put in metal verandah posts. Partly what we’re trying to do is take it back to its original state.

Inspiration: Spaces that feel warm and homely. The old and new mixed together. Colour – although I think the older I get the more I am toning this down (at the moment I’m into natural greens, beiges and wood tones). I love ordinary objects that can cross the realm into art. A friend of mine has a spindly birds’ nest on her mantelpiece among other mini pieces of art. I’m collecting antique kitchen objects – scales, teapots, old bowls and plates. It’s all threatening to spill out of the cupboards since Leah Holscher, Katherine Bird and I started The Hungry Girls’ Cookbooks. We use them in our photo shoots. 

Favorite Element: The floorboards. They’re old standard-issue Baltic pine but I love their golden colour – they add a bit of sunshine inside the house. 

Biggest Challenge Space as we are on a tiny Footscray block of around 200 square metres. On the one hand we want more rooms because Leigh and I both work from home (Leigh is a musician), which leaves us with just one bedroom at the moment – rather inconvenient if we want to have children. On the other hand, having a veggie garden is important to me and I don’t want to relinquish too much of our yard. We’ve come up with a renovation plan that should hopefully be a good compromise – extending by about a metre at the back to create a better-sized back room and adding another storey on top of that back room. 

What Friends Say: Probably they all think it could do with a tidy! But generally I think friends respond to the warmth and welcoming feel inside. Nothing is perfect – there are cookbooks spilling out of the bookcases and general clutter all over the place – and there is usually some element of chaos, especially with a crowd of people around the dinner table, but we’d like to think it’s a pretty happy space. 

Biggest Embarrassment: The old outdoor toilet that is still standing in the middle of our backyard. We’ve pulled down the outhouse around it and jack-hammered the concrete base, but haven’t got around to removing the toilet yet!

Proudest DIY: As soon as we moved in we took out a large wall dividing the kitchen from the lounge room. Immediately it took away the pokey aspect and made the house seem bigger, but aside from that, life inside is just much more social. I can be cooking and at the same time talking to my husband or friends in the lounge room. I do spend a lot of time cooking but that shouldn’t mean I have to be lonely!

Biggest Indulgence: So far the spotted gum front deck. We could have bought cheap Asian timber but it meant something to us to buy Australian timber from a sustainable or at least regulated source. Also it’s gorgeous – the colour of each plank varies from straw yellow to rich honey. 

Best advice: To remember to enjoy the process of renovating and not get too fixated on how good the house is going to be in the future, because really, it’s good right now! 

Dream source:
We’ve never allowed ourselves a big budget for buying pieces for the house, so perhaps I haven’t discovered this yet! I love old pieces that tell a story, which you find rifling through antique stores, preferably of the large warehouse variety. I can think of some good stores in country Victoria, such as Mailors Flat Demolition and Antiques near Warrnambool, Glenelg Warehouse in Portland, and the Old Tobacco Sheds in Bright 

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Resources:

HardwareSpotted gum front deck from Market Timbers, Brooklyn

Turned verandah posts from Farache Woodturning, Coburg North

Furniture: Wooden sideboard salvaged from someone’s throw out pile

Kitchen table bought secondhand and stripped back

My mum’s old wooden speakers – still functional but good-looking enough to be considered furniture!

Couches – Freedom

Bookcases and wardrobe – Ikea

Paint: Antique white USA walls with pure white trim

Artwork: Oil painting of Goose Lagoon (a property my family owned when I was a kid) by Judy Antill

Tree of Life wall plaque by Anna Chandler

Florence Broadhurst bamboo wallpaper mounted on board and used as a wall hanging 

Wall installation in studio by Robbie Rowlands

(Thanks Rachel!)

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