A labour of love
Not many people would take on a complete house renovation while pregnant. But when Bernadette Kelly and Billy Dohnt found out they were expecting their first child, that’s exactly what they did.
Billy, a chef, had bought the four-bedroom, 1950s-era Hayborough house in 2008, but had been renting it out while the couple lived in Adelaide. The pregnancy changed everything. ‘We were looking for more of a base as a family,’ says artist and hairdresser Bernadette on the decision to renovate the house. ‘When I found out I was pregnant, it was game-on from then onwards,’ Bernadette tells me. ‘Billy assured me we would be in for Christmas – we were still painting – but he kept his promise.’
Built from Mount Gambier limestone on a quarter-acre block with snippets of a sea view, Billy and Bernadette could see that the house had the makings of a place they would happily bring their son home to. But first, the mid-century floor plan needed to be opened up and finessed for twenty-first century living.
Today, visitors are greeted by a sunshine-yellow front door. I’m soon to learn this is one of only a few vibrant pops of colour to be found in the house, but it offers an inkling as to the energy and creativity that has shaped the old house into a modern family home. ‘Originally, there were a lot of pokey rooms and everything was segregated by walls,’ explains Bernadette. The couple engaged designer, Scott Cooper, briefing him to create a communal space, introduce more natural light and create flow between the inside and out. ‘Scott really was able to provide a different perspective on many areas of the house, which I just would never have been able to come up with myself,’ says Bernadette. His design retained the original placement of the master bedroom and a smaller bedroom (which is now son Louis’ bedroom) at either side of the entrance hall.
From there, the south-side of the house opens up into a welcoming kitchen, living and dining space. Custom-made bifold doors at either end of the room effectively double the size of the living area, marrying the inside space to a generous south-facing deck. Together with a large central window, they also invite in vast quantities of natural light. Light was a high priority during the renovation, with Bernadette crinkling her nose as she recalls the ‘tiny’ original windows. Post-reno, the airy room is the perfect habitat for an astoundingly large fiddle leaf fig, its branches reaching out towards either end of the space, their onward journey now supported by hooks plugged into the ceiling.
At one end, the kitchen strikes a moody note with bespoke cabinetry in deep grey and concrete benchtops. The orientation of the kitchen was an important design feature, as life with a chef means it’s a constant hub of activity. ‘We wanted to be able to cook but still be able to have a view to both the inside and outside entertaining areas,’ explains Bernadette. That view takes in a clean space with a modern feel, overlayed with distinct textural elements that bring warmth and personality. One piece in particular sums up the aesthetic. It’s a wooden side table originally from Indonesia, the top is deeply creviced, while re-purposed Indonesian doors stand in place of legs. ‘That was the very first piece we bought when we knew we were going to renovate,’ says Bernadette. ‘And I guess in a way it’s been the theme. It’s got the texture, it’s got the wood and it just all flowed from there.’
Vintage and antique wood elements feature throughout the house. The generous dining table is Billy’s – something he’s had for a long time – while an old cart, a Gumtree find, has become the coffee table.
Vintage and antique wood elements feature throughout the house. The generous dining table is Billy’s – something he’s had for a long time – while an old cart, a Gumtree find, has become the coffee table. In one of two guest bedrooms an eighteenth century French dough bin, which originally belonged to Bernadette’s brother, houses a curated collection of cookbooks. While certainly reflective of Bernadette’s own artistic style, these and other carefully chosen vintage pieces in the house also speak to the couple’s shared preference for things that come with a memory or reminder of a person, place or experience.
The old sits harmoniously alongside the new, with more modern acquisitions including a painting by Indigenous artist Vincent Namatjira and small study by Victorian painter Debbie Mackenzie. Accent lighting continues the textural play with Enoki’s Cumulus lights floating either side of the master bed and delicately crafted pendants hovering above the dining table, the latter imported from Spain.
Few details of the original interior remain, but those that do only enhance the liveable aesthetic. The original floorboards have been whitewashed, while a sweet leadlight triptych lives on in the ensuite. An intriguing twin-set of bells found above the door now sit on the floating shelves in the living area.
The mix is eclectic, but the character of these pieces is unified by the otherwise neutral canvas provided by the renovation. Elements of symmetry, repeated stripes and graphic motifs on textiles (including French linen grain sacks repurposed as cushion covers) maintain a clean and cohesive backdrop.
Leaving the main living and sleeping spaces behind, Bernadette leads me to the western side of the house which accommodates the two guest bedrooms, the laundry and show-stopping main bathroom. Entering the bathroom, a striking set of antlers above a luxurious freestanding bath grabs my attention. ‘I couldn’t find any fabulous towel rails,’ says Bernadette by way of explanation. ‘So I thought, let’s get a bit creative.’
Few details of the original interior remain, but those that do only enhance the liveable aesthetic.
That all this was achieved in the space of a pregnancy is a great credit to Billy and Bernadette’s drive and the people they worked with, including builder Luke Evers from the nearby Adelaide Hills. ‘Luke was an absolute perfectionist and without his knowledge and varied and broad skills we never would have been able to complete the build in time for Louis’ birth,’ says Bernadette. But more than that, the couple felt they had a shared understanding with Luke, who they now call a friend, about their vision for the house and their future life there.
That future is now well and truly here in the form of the two-and-half year-old boy who arrived only a matter of weeks after they moved in. But already the creative force that dreamed up this house is restless behind that yellow door. ‘The only way is up,’ says Bernadette. Or perhaps a new build is on the cards. Who knows what they could create in another nine months.