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  • Amy Spargo

Cliff Lodge: The story of our home and our plan for transformation

The time has finally come to commence renovations on our 1930’s Mount Martha seaside house, Cliff Lodge. Before we share our renovation journey, we should probably go back to the beginning of our story with the home, which I’m sharing with you here.


The story of how we met

After living in Sydney as a young married couple, building our careers and starting a family, we decided to return to the Mornington Peninsula and create a family home at Cliff Lodge. The house had been in our family for 5 years before we decided to make it our family home, and we’ve been making memories in it for almost 3 years since.

There is some history associated with Cliff Lodge. It was originally constructed in 1935, with additions built to the rear of the house in 1961. In our exploration of the home we found an old newspaper stuffed between the double skinned brick walls, dated January 31st 1961!

The house has been loved dearly in her lifetime, with only 4 owners since its construction; all of which live in, or own homes on the same street to this day.

I still remember the first day I walked through the house with my Mum. An odd feeling came over me, which I couldn’t put my finger on at the time. I wondered whether the sense of familiarity was because Cliff Lodge is similar to the homes I grew up in as a child; or whether the style of the home reminded me of my Grandmother. Finally I said to my Mum - and we both recall this clearly - “Mum I get the feeling that this, in some strange way, is my house.” (This was very odd at the time, considering my fiancé and I lived in Sydney with no plans to move back to Victoria, let alone Mt Martha!)

As the say in the movies, with a ‘meet cute’ like this, Cliff lodge and I were always meant to be.


The journey to our renovation

The journey of Cliff Lodge’s renovation started long before we moved in. In actual fact, the process commenced 7 years ago when my parents engaged an Architect on my recommendation. The late Geoff Schrader, whom I used to work alongside at Nexus Designs, was engaged to deliver a house, designed to accommodate family during their holidays down at the beach.

The initial design concept was great, perfect for 2 families living alongside each other for short amounts of time. This requirement, however, did mean a somewhat divided floor plan, given its intended periods of dual occupancy. After a year of planning, council approved the designs and my parents were ready to go.

Years past, and as they weren’t ready to commit to a renovation, they decided to extend the permit. A prudent decision, given how difficult permits are to obtain in the area and also due to the prominence of the house on the cliff overlooking the bay.

Fast-forward 5 years and my husband and I moved in with our growing family. We took it upon ourselves to extend the permit a further 2 years, which – when expired – would be the exhaustion of the permit.


Addressing the task of bringing a 1930’s home into today’s standard of living

Nights were spent chatting and dreaming about the possibilities of the house we had instantly fallen in love with. It’s proximity to the village, the beautiful character of the house, the solid plaster walls, timber staircase, strapped ceiling design and stone fireplace were all beloved parts of our forever home; but it’s biggest downfall was the floor plan. A construction designed in the 1930’s meant smaller rooms and no open plan; a layout that many come to realise is so important for a growing family with young children.

Our kitchen – the most inhabited room in every modern family home - was positioned to the rear of the house, with views to the small courtyard. The main living space, which was really only used after sundown, had the best views of the beach and bay. It was freezing cold in winter, and in summer, being double brick, it kept the heat out to a point…then trapped it, taking days for the home to cool down.

Whilst we romanticised about the possibilities, I took to reviewing the floor plans with our family’s requirements in mind. It was more openness that I craved, with lots of light, an ensuite for the adults and bathroom more closely zoned to the children’s rooms; with a proper entry, which improved on the existing tiny entry (often missed for new arriving guests, as they would arrive through the back service door).

With these prerequisites in mind, I started drawing my ideas in CAD. I excel at space planning, which I put down to the almost 3 years spent designing Multi-Residential floor plan layouts and hotel layouts in my past experience at a large Architectural firm.

The butter paper was pulled out most nights. I would madly scribble away, going over each area again and again. Only increasing the overall footprint of the house by 100m2 (which included a new 2 car garage), had me looking for every clever space-planning trick I could think of. My nights of endless drawings and revisions resulted in success.

We landed on having our laundry upstairs, which made way for a better entry. A shared bathroom between our girl’s bedrooms allowed for bigger bedrooms and a guest bedroom with ensuite. A large open plan living, dining and kitchen, complete with butler’s pantry gave me the open-plan living solution I had been craving. We also added a little powder room under the stairs, an office for my design business, and a playroom to the rear of the house with access for our girls to escape the summer heat and play in the courtyard. Working within the existing confines was more challenging than a new build…but then again, I do love a challenge.

After every possible floor plan option was conceived, there were at least 6 final ones to seriously consider. These final layouts were always drawn up with furniture placement. Design tip: I believe there is no value in putting together a floor plan, if the furniture you want to fill it with won’t fit. I measured existing treasured items and even made walls to suit; after all, this is our home for the future, so I wanted to make sure every element was considered.


Choosing a team for the project – the key to success

After the planning was complete I engaged an Architect to assist me with the exterior detailing and to make sure that the overall look of the house was cohesive between old and new.

John Watkins, our Architect, also served as a set of fresh eyes for the floor plan and joinery layouts. Together we worked well as a team, coming up with new ideas, which I believe will transform our home into the best version of itself to date.

Design tip: I truly believe you must put yourself in the best hands (that you can afford) in the business - someone who shares your vision, who you have a great working chemistry with and a compatible working style.

John and I just clicked, which didn’t surprise me, as a mutual friend introduced us. I usually only work with people whom I have successfully partnered with previously, or who come highly recommended. This is, after all, a tough job. Things can go wrong (and honestly, most of time they will). With the right team around you, what could be the breaking point for a project, can be managed into a solution.

With our team in place, after 18 months of designing and 6 months of planning, we finally land at the very beginning of renovating of our beloved Cliff Lodge. I look forward to sharing the process and journey with you over the coming months.

Is there an element of home renovation you’d love to hear more about? Tell me at amy@mainehouseinteriors.com. You can follow the journey here, as well as on Facebook and Instagram.