Amy and Andrew Palmer-Millin stumbled upon their new home by accident. They were house-hunting in seaside Scarborough and were on their way to a different home open when they chanced upon the place that was to become their next home. “We accidentally went to see the house, it wasn't on our list to view at all,” says Amy. “We drove past and saw the sign and thought, ‘Oh we are early, let's just go see it.’”
Dated and daggy, with a horrendously overgrown garden, the 1980s house had been overlooked many times as it sat on the market for two whole years. But beneath the daggy features and tired paint scheme, Amy and Andrew saw the home’s potential immediately. “It had great bones,” says Amy.
Built on a private rear block, high on a steep hill and with stunning valley views, the house had formerly been a family home, but its owners had retired and moved out. “It was overpriced and when we saw it, it was a rental of boys in their 20s – it didn’t look good!” laughs Amy. “But we knew it had been a family home and it wasn't overlooked by neighbours, and I like being tu
cked away from the road.” So Amy and Andrew put in an offer, which was immediately accepted.
And so began their renovations. It’s now their lovely, light-filled family home, where they live with daughter Clara, 7, Ragdoll cat Herbie, and rescue dog Ruffy, a Border collie cross Labrador (the same as Nala!)
Amy and Andrew are both from Perth but met in London. “It’s funny how that happens,” says Amy. They moved to Melbourne, where they ‘very nervously’ bought their first home together at auction, an apartment in Fitzroy. They later bought a second place in the Yarra Valley as a weekend escape from the city and ran it as a B&B.
Upon deciding to come back to Perth in 2011, Andrew was keen to live near the beach, so they began their hunt in Scarborough, which Amy says they found the most affordable of the Perth beachside suburbs. They wanted a house with three bedrooms, two bathrooms, privacy, space for a vegie patch and a garden aspect from the kitchen. “We didn’t want to be looking at a fence from the kitchen window,” says Amy.
The house that they ended up buying didn’t exactly have a nice garden view, or a nice kitchen. At that point, it didn’t exactly have a particularly nice anything! “We recently reviewed the pictures from the ‘before’ stage, and wondered why we had actually decided to buy it!” laughs Amy. “It was the space for a vegie patch, the pantry and the space for a wine cellar that got us over the line; that helped us see the potential.”
Built in the 1980s, the house had a traditionally ’80s sunken lounge, which Amy and Andrew liked. They also liked the natural light, the jarrah features and the well-planned layout, which was one of my favourite things about this house as well.
Spread over a modest 227sqm over its two storeys, the house isn’t huge, but it’s a perfect size for a small family. Even though it has lots of little nooks, the spaces are well-connected, so one can retreat for privacy but still feel close to one another.
The house and the one on the front block were designed by Kenneth Waldron Fraia Architects.
The late Ken Waldron was the husband of ballerina Diana Waldron, who was – and is - one of the most influential names in the West Australian ballet world.
In the early ’80s, Ken and Diana were major instigators in turning the 1834-built limestone quarry in Floreat into what we all know now as the beloved Perth icon, Quarry Amphitheatre. Diana, who was the director of the Perth City Ballet Company, had the idea of converting the old, disused quarry into a Grecian-style amphitheatre for ballet and other stage productions. She and Ken negotiated their way through loads of bureaucratic red tape, obstacles and planning to obtain a grant of half a million dollars to begin her vision.
Dealing with such a mammoth public project, it makes sense that Mr Waldron wouldn’t have steered away from designing two houses for a tricky, steep sand dune block! There is something about Amy’s Scarborough location - the rolling hills, the big trees and the old houses that seem to be almost piled on top of each other - that makes Heather and I feel like we could be in Sydney rather than Perth.
After moving in in February 2012, Amy and Andrew began slowly working on the house with lots of DIY, a process which took the next five years, to make the house the light, inviting haven it is today. “We made it liveable - a place you can rest, enjoy and entertain in,” says Amy, as she slices a scrumptious Jamaican ginger cake she has baked for our visit. “The biggest changes were redoing the kitchen, the pantry, and creating the wine cellar and study from under storage, turning that external room into an internal room, and rendering the facade of the house. It was amazing, like giving it a facelift, so it’s fresh and ready for the next 30 years.”
My favourite room in Amy and Andrew’s house is their kitchen. Not only is it a galley kitchen – something I always think we don’t see enough of in Australia – but it feels so friendly and welcoming. Giving the house a nice kitchen was very important to both Amy and Andrew, who both love to cook. “I think the home is all about the kitchen - it is where we both love to be,” says Amy. “Redoing the kitchen really did make this house something special. A place to nurture our daughter as well as ourselves and the people we love and enjoy in our lives.”
Both Andrew and Amy collect vintage cookbooks, which they love to draw recipes from, and it’s while she is in the kitchen that Amy comes up with a lot of inspiration for her business, Kookery.
I’d known of Kookery for years before I actually met Amy, and I knew I would like her, just because I liked her business! Kookery is Amy’s distinct range of teatowels, kitchenware, magnets and more; wares emblazoned with sayings that are fun, original, quirky – and full of puns. I like people who wholeheartedly own themselves; their daggy bits, quirks and all. How could I not like someone who not only loves food as much as I do (I think Julia Child was spot-on when she said, “People who love to eat are the best people”) but who designs teatowels and aprons screen-printed with puns like, “To brie or not to brie? That is not a question,” and “Ham is for life, not just for Christmas”.
Amy runs Kookery from home. Before having a baby, she worked in the finance industry and began Kookery after her daughter was born. “I had spent the pregnancy trying to figure out what I was going to do, as I didn't love my job as a financial advisor,” says Amy. “My daughter is now almost 7, so it has taken a long time to grow organically, split between being a mum and trying to figure out how to make it work, balance a budget (still hard) and learning the extra things it takes to run a business.
“I knew I wanted to create a product. So I wrote down in little circles over an A3 sheet of paper all the things I loved - community, beauty, design, food, coffee, cookbooks, vintage and sustainability. From these thoughts come Kookery.
“I started photographing the vintage finds I had discovered over the years - my little collections of cutlery, knives, and beautiful kitchen items with their history all tucked up inside and learning the ADOBE Suite. Then slowly emerged our designs. They came from pieces of kitchenalia, photographed and then rendered in silhouette, showing off their bold vintage shapes, or they are hand-drawn.”
Both Amy and Andrew love things that have a story, and their home is decorated in what Amy calls ‘modern vintage’. “It is the style we both love, as well as the style that inspires my Kookery designs,” she says. “I love hunting for treasures, so a lot of our pieces are from vintage hunting, Paris Brocantes, antique stores, Mornington Peninsula or Guildford.”
The 80s kitchen was gutted and replaced with a new one. Amy says the biggest renovation challenge they had was washing dishes in a tub and the rusty laundry sink on the upper floor while they renovated the kitchen, which didn’t quite go according to plan.
“We built all the cabinets and designed the kitchen, but paid someone to install a Caesarstone bench,” she says. “But they got the measurements wrong, and when the contractor who measured up and the owner of the stone company came to review the job, they argued in front of me, blaming each other. At that point I just wanted a kitchen! I asked them to review it and get back to me. It took almost a month to resolve so it made life hard for a little while.”
Now that the kitchen is finished, they absolutely love it – and the quaint low-ceilinged, walk-in pantry. “The pantry was such a delight to restore and use,” says Amy. While many people might shy away from painting a small, low-ceilinged room a dark colour, they both knew from the start they wanted to paint the pantry black. “We really liked the contrast of the black,” says Amy. “Everything pops out against it and it kind of has that cooling element to it – we really like the contrast.” Andrew made the marine ply shelving with copper pipes. “I think I would have liked to finish the kitchen sooner than we did, but as gatherers on a budget I am not sure we could have,” says Amy.
So what advice would Amy give other people who want to transform a house that is a diamond in the rough?
“I think living in it before you make all the decisions is a really great way to go,” she says. “Even though I am not very patient, I know that because it took us so long the end result was better for it. We discovered more about the house and how we used it. And it also gave us the opportunity to gather, as we didn't have a big budget, so we visit salvage yards and do a lot of recycling and gathering from Gumtree and the Balcatta Recycle Centre.”
Finding that house with what they wanted – a garden outlook from the kitchen window – paid off. Amy’s favourite room is now the kitchen, “without a doubt! I love the sun shining through from morning till mid-afternoon, and my seat in the corner where I have a cup of tea after lunch. As I work from home, I get to enjoy the stillness of the space.” Maya x
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Amy Palmer-Millin, director and designer of kitchenware range Kookery, her husband Andrew, a software engineer, their daughter Clara, 7, and their pets: Ruffy, the rescue dog, and Herbie, the ragdoll cat
An architect-designed, renovated 1980s home built on a steep hill
Scarborough, Western Australia
Three bedrooms, two bathrooms, sunken lounge, kitchen with walk-in pantry, study, cellar, dining, jarrah staircase, store room, veranda, balcony, tiered gardens, vegetable garden, double carport, sweeping valley views
Heather Robbins of Red Images Fine Photography