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A 1980s Renovated Home on a Steep Scarborough Site

Posted Wednesday, December 14, 2016 in: Home Envy Before & After

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.

DINING ROOM: On the wall hangs a large photo Amy and Andrew took while on holiday in Sardinia (a part of Italy I have always wanted to travel to – for the food!) “The food was incredible,” sighs Amy. The copper and wood pendant lights were from Angove Street Collective. Photos by Heather Robbins.

FLEA MARKET FINDS: “The copper pots were found in Paris and returned to Perth in my parents’ luggage,” reveals Amy. “Lucky for us they travel light, not sure they have got over it though! I also love the subway tile that I have adored for so many years, even though I am yet to visit NYC itself,” says Amy. Photos by Heather Robbins.

WALL HANGINGS: Amy kindly making me a (delicious!) coffee. Andrew installed the rail above the subway tile, so he and Amy can hang pots and their treasured paella pan (they even had paella at their wedding). Photos by Heather Robbins


LITTLE VERANDA: There are lots of unexpected little nooks in this house and garden, including the veranda and side garden, with beautiful views across Scarborough. Andrew and Amy extended this veranda and love to enjoy a coffee here. “I love creating spaces to sit and relax, so the house has lots of little sitting areas to take advantage of quiet or mainly sunshine,” she says. They did have a small DIY mistake here. “We bought decking off Gumtree and were 3sqm short of timber after having been told it would be enough,” says Amy. “But I did find the best salvage yard in the world so we could finish it!” Photos by Heather Robbins

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.”

BEFORE: The dining area when they moved in. 

AFTER. Photos by Heather Robbins.


AFTER, GALLEY KITCHEN: I like that Amy and Andrew chose a gentle-looking grey grout instead of the more often-seen black or white. Another thing I really like about Amy and Andrew’s kitchen is its galley layout. Amy says having so much storage in the walk-in pantry eliminated the need for overhead cabinets, making the relatively narrow room seem more open and spacious. Photos by Heather Robbins

BEFORE: Ok, I myself love gardening and tidying up a messy yard, but I think even I would have run screaming from this one! 

BEFORE: The kitchen window with the garden outlook Amy and Andrew wanted! (well, not quite, but a start).

BEFORE: The sunken lounge.

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.


BEFORE: Amy and Andrew cleared masses of weed and overgrown shrub from the back garden. It is officially the steepest back garden I have ever seen! “Now we entertain out here, but not as often as we would like to,” says Amy. “It’s mainly in the summer: family gatherings and Clara's birthday parties have generally been at our place over the last couple of years. We love pizza nights with our friends and their kids. It took us about three years before we felt ready enough to have people here for a housewarming party. Once we realised how awesome it was to have people here, we did try and do it more often.” 

BEFORE: When life gives you a little fairy slave... put them to work. 

BEFORE: The main suite ceiling, though lovely in its own way, made the room feel darker and more closed-in. 

BEFORE: The main suite before the couple set to work. 

AMY AND ANDREW’S BEDROOM: The raking pine ceiling to Amy and Andrew’s bedroom was given a lick of white paint. The mid-century modern chair was from an opshop. “I love mid-century modern, but I have to sneak it in as Andrew's not as massive a fan as I am,” says Amy. The framed poster is pretty much of Andrew, reveals Amy. “It’s a picture of him because he really likes cycling and sparkling water!” Photos by Heather Robbins

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”.

PHOTOSHOOT BREAK: Andrew, Amy and Heather break over cake (thanks Amy!) 

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.”

DINING ROOM CHARACTER: The scales were from Curio Warehouse in Guildford. The radio chair was from an op shop and it is super-comfy! “I also inherited the oak box that my grandparents and my mum, her brothers and sister came over to Australia with,” says Amy. The door to the right of the dining room opens onto a deck with sweeping, spectacular inland views of Scarborough, while the other end of the dining room opens onto the backyard entertaining area. Photos by Heather Robbins

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.


BEFORE: The walk-in pantry.



AFTER, ANDREW’S OFFICE: Andrew is a software engineer and divides his work time between working from home and Spacecubed in the city. They converted a storage room from the garage into an office with internal access. I love how the IKEA shelving JUST fits! Beyond him is a door to the wine cellar. Here Andrew laid recycled jarrah floorboards, which were salvaged from a friend’s house in Mount Hawthorn.“Making the cellar and office area transformed the house,” says Amy. “It made it a 3 x 2 with a cellar and office with understair storage and really changed the way we could use the space - it was secure and gave Andrew a space to work from home with a dedicated space, which gave us flexibility with our family life.” Photos by Heather Robbins

BEFORE: Amy and Andrew knew they could turn a storage room off the garage into another internal room. They made it a study for Andrew, who works part of the time from home, and a wine cellar/storage room.  

AFTERL A wine cellar.

BEFORE: Amy and Andrew removed this solid door from the dining area and replaced it with a glass window to let in more light. 

AFTER: The dining room now is filled with natural light - Heather capturing it! 

LAUNDRY COURTYARD: It seems strange to have a laundry on the upper floor, but because Amy and Andrew’s house is on such a steep block, the laundry door actually opens onto garden. Here they put in a vegetable and herb garden. There is also a prolific orange tree and a huge fig tree. Photos by Heather Robbins

THE STAIRWELL: The pendant lighting is original to the house, but Amy and Andrew painted it, taking it from brass to matt black. Photos by Heather Robbins



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

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