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The Beetle Shack

Posted Tuesday, January 29, 2013 in: Home Envy

I first came across Emily and her family late one night sitting at my computer, working hard (read: being distracted by Facebook). Immediately I was hooked on her blog, The Beetle Shack. Enchanted by the photos of her warm, colourful house in a semi-rural town on the east coast, tales of overall family happiness reminiscent of Disney films and pictures of a vegie patch that made me jealous, I loved Emily’s blog and her open, engaging and funny writing voice straightaway.

I’m not the only internet bug caught by the effervescent light that is The Beetle Shack blog. At first glance I thought Emily’s life looked effortlessly blissful. She writes about her garden and staying at home playing with FIMO and listening to Van Morrison. She writes funny laments and pleas written to her butt to stop expanding as her pregnancy goes on. Posts photos of her gorgeous kids with the sun glinting in their hair.

But I soon found out that Emily blogs about the hard stuff as well. When she was a baby, it was discovered Emily had a tumour in her eye, a rare childhood cancer called retinoblastoma. Her eye needed to be removed and she was fitted with a prosthetic before her second birthday. She writes openly about this, as well as other things that aren’t all sunshine and organic veggies – parenting troubles, frustrating days. Reading this blog is like reading a book - one of those good books where you feel like you want to kick back over coffee with the central character.

THE BEETLE SHACK FAMILY: “So why Beetle Shack?” I ask Emily. She says ‘Beetleshack’ was actually a nickname her friends gave to her at art school. “It rhymes with our last name,” she says. “When starting a blog about our home and family, it made sense to entitle it 'The Beetle Shack'. It references both our house and our German/Polish surname.”

THE PANELLED WALL: I love this feature in Em and Dave’s master bedroom. It was crafted by Dave. “We are impulsive and wanted a walk-in robe,” says Emily. “Dave conceptualised a wall made from ply wood so that he could build it himself without the help of a plasterer. We've painted it many, many times in the four years that it's been there, from neutral to navy to duck egg to turquoise.”

ABOVE: I love how Emily boldly layers colour and pattern on a neutral backdrop. Her favourite textiles are from Sheridan, IKEA and The Toucan Shop.

ABOVE: Emily and Dave built a studio underneath their coastal house (Emily went to art school and is a Visual Arts teacher - meaning plenty of space is required for crafts!). Photography by Tim Coulson.

THE VEGGIE GARDEN: Emily and Dave have a thriving vegetable garden. “Dave is really interested in self-sufficiency,” says Emily. “We are inspired by the thought of living simply and treading lightly on the earth. It's our hobby, something that is mutually rewarding and educational for the kids. It provides us with a place of togetherness.”

ABOVE: The Beetle Shack family's ducks.

ABOVE: I like the old worn leather couch teamed with colourful cushions.

ABOVE: Emily with daughter Pippi as a little bub in their colourful kitchen and dining.

This Home Envy feature has taken me a long time to piece together because I wanted to get it just right to make sure I did Emily and her story – her beautiful home, family and blog - justice! But here it finally is.

Emily, her husband Dave, and their two children Zeph, 4, and Pippi, 2, live on the east coast of Australia in a beautiful little town surrounded by beaches. “We have a half acre block in a semi-rural area and in the summer time, when the windows are open and the wind is blowing from the sea shore, we can hear the roar of the ocean calling us from our beds,” says Emily .

She and Dave believe their shack is a late 1960s number. They bought it in 2007. “At that time, it appeared huge to us with its four bedrooms, two bathrooms and single dingy living area,” says Emily. “We have since managed to fill every room with children (one on the way) and have built a studio under the house to store all of my art supplies and resources.” (Emily is a Visual Arts teacher).

While it’s now a beautiful home, the Beetle Shack wasn’t always. “Oh gosh, our home was a disaster the first time we saw it!” says Emily when I ask her what it looked like. “It had 'school room’ blue carpet throughout, timber panelling, vertical blinds, filthy windows and a metre-wide pebble crete deck. It was dark and dingy but on a fabulously large block (at the right price). We could see the potential and quickly got to work.” Emily and Dave have slowly been renovating their “humble shack” room by room.

THE DAY BED: Emily and Dave had the day bed in the master bedroom custom-built just before they had their first child (Zeph). “It was a major splurge but totally worth it,” says Em.

THE MASTER BEDROOM: Emily’s favourite room. A former rumpus room, it had a tiny balcony and small window. Em and Dave put in French doors and a deck and Dave built a walk-in robe. “I generously let him have a rung to hang his shirts,” says Em.

ABOVE: What Emily calls their "ugly $20k prehistoric tree". We have one of these in our garden as well - it's a dragon tree or dragon's blood tree. And yes they do sell for ridiculous amounts! Emily made the felt garland hanging from it.

ABOVE: Emily and Dave have been gradually renovating over the past five years. “We've removed said nasty carpet, replaced the bathroom and window furnishings, painted through (more than once), changed the doors, installed downlights, build a large deck to the front and back, built a studio,” says Emily. “We also put French doors from our bedroom to the back deck and most recently, we've had the top section of our backyard retained and landscaped. The lower section remains untouched and rambling, as we hope to add a goat or two to the family.” Ahhh! I have ALWAYS wanted to have a little female goat. I hear you Emily.

VEGETABLE GARDEN: After debating whether they should turn the only flat bit of land in their garden into a vegetable garden, Emily and Dave took the plunge - and haven't looked back. They now eat from the garden as much as possible and aim to eat seasonally and frugally, harvesting their own produce.

ABOVE: Emily with Pippi as a bub.

ABOVE: Pippi's room.

ABOVE: More shots of Pippi's cute room.

ABOVE: The Beetle Shack kitchen.

What I like about their home is that it is beautiful but not too precious – it’s comfortable. “Our house is humble,” agrees Emily. “It has character and values practicality and creativity over immaculate presentation and impeccable style. The skirting boards are scuffed and our furniture a little dented, a sign that our house is our home, filled with love and movement.”

When they get time to relax, Emily and Dave love to spend time in their vegetable garden (they eat from it every day, and dream of being self-sufficient) and teach Zeph and Pippi how to look after their chooks and ducks. They also love cooking (especially using home-grown produce). Emily says on a perfect day at home, they’d split time between the kitchen and the gardens. “We'd make bread and pizza dough before venturing outside to light the wood fired oven,” says Emily. “We'd pick fresh herbs and veggies and scatter them over our pizzas before sliding them into the oven to cook and crispen. We'd picnic on the grass under the shade of the magnolia before tucking the young ones into bed. Cold beer would follow!” Sounds like a glorious summer evening to me too.

ABOVE, BEAUTIFUL CROCKERY: “We have a tea pot that was gifted to us from Dave's Babunia (grandmother),” says Emily. “It was a gift to her on her wedding day from her own grandmother and now it sits proudly on a shelf way up high, safely out of the children's reach!”

THE MASTER BEDROOM: This is Emily’s favourite part of the home. “It's light-filled, catches the cool breeze off the ocean and has windows everywhere,” she says. “We look out onto spectacular gum trees and have plenty of room to move around. Being a mother means that sleep is sacred and each evening I relish the opportunity to climb into bed once the children are tucked in.”

ABOVE: Zeph's room.

ABOVE: The open-plan living, dining and kitchen and the family's work desk (in black and white).

ABOVE: Emily and Dave had a studio built beneath the house, where Emily likes to craft.

ABOVE: Emily has serious sewing skills (as I have none, I am always impressed by those who do) and makes many of her own cushions.

PHOTOGRAPHY: Emily does much of the photography on the blog herself. “I bought a Canon about four months ago,” she says. “I promptly learnt how to use the manual settings via a Tim Coulson photography course and have rarely put the thing down since. I'm truly loving the photographic journey of motherhood!” I’m just impressed that she’s already done a course after just four months of Canon ownership– something on my to-do list (after four years of owning one!)

Is there a blog YOU love? I'd love to hear about your favourites.


The Beetle Shack family


Emily, who writes the popular blog The Beetle Shack, her husband Dave, their two children Zeph, 4, and Pippi, 2. They are expecting Beetle Shack Baby number three in late April/early May.


A late 1960s coastal cottage on half an acre


A semi-rural suburb on the east coast of Australia




A studio beneath the house for Em’s arts and crafts, half an acre of gardens, vegetable patch, ducks, four bedrooms, veranda


Emily and Dave do their gorgeous interiors themselves


Amazing Sydney-based professional photographer Tim Coulson, other photos by Emily

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