Tina’s Port Douglas Cottage

published May 21, 2010
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(Image credit: Apartment Therapy)

Name: Tina, Matthew & Pablo
Location: Port Douglas, QLD, Australia
Size: 98 square meters [1060 square feet]
Years lived in: 3 years, owned

Artist Tina and her chef husband Matthew live in a beachside cottage in Port Douglas with their toddler Pablo. Living half the year in one of Australia’s most beautiful holiday destinations and the other half in Berlin, they make good use of their home by renting it out as a holiday rental when they’re not there. This presents new challenges unlike most other homes which we think they’ve dealt with wonderfully.

(Image credit: Apartment Therapy)
(Image credit: Apartment Therapy)

My/Our style: An Eclectic Process

Inspiration: Love. I think homes should be filled with personality, love and playfulness. One magazine suggested ‘a lot of love’ are just some of the reasons the property was recently listed by Grazia magazine as one of the best places to stay in Queensland. We are both continually updating and adding to it. We love the process and we continually aim to create a place that generates a feeling of creativity in those who walk through the door.

Favorite Element: I love waking up to the natural light and sounds of the birds in the bedroom. We sleep with the bedroom verandah doors open so we get the sea breeze. It’s fantastic.

Biggest Challenge: When we bought the cottage I was a little horrified by the tile colour which was bright aqua green. I thought we may have to get rid of them which would have been an awful job. As the walls were originally canary yellow with blue trimmings, it was all quite overpowering. However, we painted the walls antique white. The tiles then became a feature, and gave the cottage a really fresh feel. We love them now.

What Friends Say: This is what some of our guests have said:

“spunk, loads of character and somewhere you can truly relax and feel at home”,

“a very special treehouse of loveliness”

“a gorgeous little place with loads of personality.”

“There’s something very special about being woken by the breeze through the palms and (very) raucous birdsong”

“What Bliss! So much to look at and everything you need. The artist cottage is a lovely haven”.

Biggest Embarrassment: The bathroom has a mid size shower/bath, which is strange as the bathroom is really large. I thought we may have to renovate the bathroom with new fittings and appliances. However, We made a big feature wall of mirrors collected around the region, and now everyone loves it. One magazine called it an ‘awe-inspiring bathroom’, so it felt like a simple trick to make the room feel special.

Proudest DIY: We built a little deck with my dad to the front of the cottage and surrounded it with tropical plants and a little pond. I had never gardened before, but I fell in love with gardening. The garden started to attract tree frogs to the veranda.

Biggest Indulgence: We travel a lot. So just lazy days at home feel like a great indulgence. We created a space that suits us, and others seem to enjoy it too.

Best advice: Creates a place that really suits your life. Throw in a few bold design decisions and a lot of love.

Dream source: The flea markets in Berlin are fantastic for old fifties furniture from the communist era, But beware! You need to fix it up when you get it home as it usually falls apart.

It was important to us to create a place that makes a person feel relaxed and welcomed – many of our guests comment that it feels ‘homely’. We travel constantly with our work and having a child, we tend to rent apartments rather than hotels. After travelling the world and experiencing first-hand the “blandness” of many holiday rentals, we decided to create our own “playful apartment” filled with interesting objects and artwork. The result is a secluded home featuring Queensland-inspired architecture, light-filled living spaces and a myriad of eclectic artwork and bespoke furnishings, just a stone’s throw from Port Douglas’ main street, the marina and beach.

(Image credit: Apartment Therapy)


We stayed with the oven and kitchen that was there. It’s simple, but does the job. Matthew, my husband is a chef, so we loaded it full of great tableware, saucepans and we fill the shelves with gourmet supplies which are sometimes hard to find in the north of Queensland. We have had a lot of great dinner parties.

We first began a search in the standard furniture shops available in the area. There was nothing of interest. Most of the cottage’s décor comes from years spent scouring garage sales and op shops. These pieces are then often reworked to give them a more modern, contemporary edge. I like the fact that you are giving something a new life, rather than it ending up in landfill. Also, it suited our budget at the time, and getting ‘the find’ was a really exciting experience.

We bought the old pantry cabinet in the living room for $20 from a church market stall. It must be about 80 years old as it had so many layers of paint on it. We lightly sanded it to reveal some of its past colours and added different handles to it and chopped off the bottom which was falling apart.

The living room wooden dining table was $30. It was covered with fake wood Laminex. We covered it with some fabric, stapling it over the old Laminex. We found some striking second hand place mats, then covered it with glass.

We bought the couch from a generic cheap furniture store in Carins. Its pretty big, but I like a comfortable couch. The dark maroon colour wasn’t a popular choice in the store, but we like it, as it contrasts the tiles.

The coffee table was given to us from a friend who was about to throw it away. We sanded just the top back to reveal a beautiful silky oak timber. We varnished it.

We found the old metal outside dining table at a thrift store. We left it all rusty, which gives it some really lovely textures. We eat most of our meals on it.

We used mostly second hand cane furniture for the living room verandah. We tend to live outside in the tropics and it also seems to weather OK.

The bedside drawers were bought from a garage sale. We added new handles and stuck a few found objects on it.

We found some sixties vinyl chairs and spray-painted the legs orange to give them a new life.

For the little coffee table next to the main couch, we found an old copper plate from a garage sale. We found some legs for a coffee table at the next garage sale and stuck them together.

We found the old desk at a thrift store.

We covered the ugly vinyl covered built-in robes with vintage wallpaper scoured from eBay. Its slightly textured and really softens the room.

We scoured second hand stores for crafty types of cushion covers, looking for different types of textures. We use a lot of cushions on the couch and we collected a series of lace white ones for the bed.

We filled the kitchen with old black and white photos of Matt working in the kitchen in his old restaurants.

We collected old saucers and tea pots from thrift stores.

We built bowls out of old fan covers found in bins, we built candle sticks from old chandelier glass and scoured collections of glassware.

I made a mosaic coffee table for the deck.

We hung netting around the bed for two reasons; it stops the insects when we sleep with the doors open at night and it feels like we are on holidays when we wake up!

We are still working with the old lighting system which is very bright. However, we counteracted this with a lot of lamps we scoured from garage sales and car boot sales which create a more homely and softer light. We painted the old shades and sometimes added collage details which look nice at night. I made my own chandelier in the bathroom out of shade covers and a few little crystals.

When we moved in, the apartment was a full blown canary yellow with light blue trimming in every room and huge bulky cane furniture. We wanted it as light and breezy as possible so opted for an antique white. We then highlighted the bedroom wall with a dark red. We painted the feature wall and kitchen an olive colour and the bathroom wall a lighter olive colour.

Rugs and Carpets
We found the rugs at cheap local furniture stores. We tend to replace them every year to give the cottage a different feel and our toddler Pablo generally likes to spill things on it. We tend to choose bold types of rugs.

We use a white shag pile carpet in the bedroom

Tiles and Stone
Glossy aqua tiles are used throughout. Terracotta tiles on the verandas and bathroom. The tiles are great for keeping the cottage cool in the summer.

Window Treatments
The apartment uses louvers to let in the breeze. They give a lovely tropical feel. We use really light cotton curtains that give the apartment privacy, but still allow the light in. They shift about in the breeze.

The bedroom and living room have French doors that open to each veranda. We generally have the veranda doors in the bedroom and living room open.

We hung some cane blinds on the bedroom veranda. They give a lovely striped light, privacy from the neighbors and make the veranda feel like part of the bedroom. We also hung some blinds on the living room veranda.

We found the Queen size bed at an Imported Indonesian furniture store that is now closed down. It was one of the most expensive items, but it suited the room.

The cottage is filled with original artwork – the vast collection includes some of my own images, paintings and sculptures as well as works that have been collected over the years from our many artist friends such as James Guerts, Daniel Wallace and Jaun Martinez. The work in the cottage is created by some really wonderful artists who are definitely on their way to big careers.

Having art around provides a fantastic energy and I find it an inspiration. It seems to be inspirational to the guests too – so much so that guests have even taken to creating their own collages in the cottage’s guest book and I get told that guests have started creating some of the designs we have for their own homes.

Thanks Tina, Matthew & Pablo!

[images by Tina & Lizzy Sawdon]
More info on The Port Douglas Artist’s Cottage can be found here.

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