Restoring Charm: Hannah and Steve’s Art Deco Home Transformation

Driven by their shared passion for building and design, DevelopHer Hannah and her husband Steve embarked on an ambitious journey to transform an old Art Deco home in Caulfield South. With Hannah’s background in teaching and Steve’s expertise in commercial construction, they decided to undertake this project as owner-builders, blending their skills and vision to create a unique living space. Their story is one of creativity, perseverance, and learning as they navigated the challenges of renovation while drawing inspiration from Hannah’s Finnish heritage and their love for natural light and open spaces. Here, they share their experiences, insights, and the joys of their renovation adventure, offering a glimpse into the process of turning a house with ‘good bones’ into a dream home.

What was your background and why do you want to renovate a house?

I worked in education, and my husband Steve works in the commercial construction industry. We had both completed small cosmetic renovations separately, and one of the first things we connected over when we met was our love of building and design. We both had ambitions of restoring an old home and building a unique extension.

Images by Estate Imagery

When you bought this house, what did you see in it?

The house was in a great location in Caulfield South and it had ‘good bones’. It still had all the gorgeous original Art Deco features and only had one previous owner, who lived in the house her whole life. It had a sizeable backyard with the perfect orientation, so we had a vision to maximise the potential of the afternoon sunlight from the start.

Who are your design team?

We decided to owner-build, which was a rewarding but tough job. My husband used to be a building designer before moving into commercial construction, and we worked together to create our ideal space. We then worked with Peter Jackson Design, a brilliant architectural firm who helped us create our vision and complete our working drawings.

Why did you direct the site this way?

To capture as much sun as possible. We are lucky to wake up to a gorgeous sunrise and catch the whole day’s light at our servery bar. Our living/dining area and back garden are always bathed in afternoon sunshine.

Images by Estate Imagery

What were you hoping to achieve?

Something that could connect seamlessly to the outside and utilise each bit of space creatively. Being surrounded by natural light, timber, and nature really helps our mental health. My family is from Finland, and most families there have a Mökki, which is a lake house or forest cabin. We designed the house to incorporate elements of a Finnish Mökki, including exposed brick, timber ceilings, a connection to the outside, and a fireplace. We also wanted a place to entertain, and to feel warm and cosy in winter.

How did you change and upgrade the finishes as you went along?

We designed a timber-lined raked ceiling that kept getting higher and higher. In the end, we craned in 5 tonnes of structural steel to support the frame. It was an undertaking, but it was worth it. We upgraded our living/dining area’s sliding doors to giant custom sliders, which are quite literally a removable wall. It is one of the best features of the house. We changed a window in the new fourth bedroom into a door, which was a great decision as it now serves as a retreat with its own entrance.

What was your favourite part of the build?

Demolition! By far, that was the most fun. By the end of it, I was totally ripped, like a female Schwarzenegger! We saved money by doing most of the demo ourselves and hired professionals when needed. It was during summertime, and our first child was one year old. Luckily, he would sleep through all kinds of noise. We had jackhammers, front end loaders, duct lifts, Kobotas, and music going all day long, and the little legend slept soundly during his naps every day. My favourite memories were sharing a knock-off drink together in the shell of our renovation at night with our head torches on, debriefing about the day. We enjoyed working with the trades and watching the different stages of the build come together.

Images by Estate Imagery

What were some of the learnings?

Not to focus too much on the new extension, but to ensure we finish the original parts of the house completely. We have just put the house on the market and have found ourselves finishing jobs that should have been completed years ago. Also, as owner-builders, we have worked ourselves to near exhaustion most nights and weekends, particularly after having our second child. We have now realigned our priorities and want to focus on spending more quality time with our two children. We would hire a builder to complete the works next time. Also, it’s okay to move out of the house when times get too tough. At one stage, we all lived in our lounge room, which was also a kitchen, with our dog and a baby. When we had our concrete pour, we were accidentally concreted inside the house for days and had to use a bedroom window to enter and exit the building. Probably not the smartest strategic planning we have ever done, but we can laugh about it now!

Would you do it again/where to from here?

Yes, we would do it again, and we are about to. With the help of the amazing team at White Fox Real Estate and strategies learned through DevelopHer, we managed to purchase an original mid-century home which we will restore and then extend, hopefully. We love mid-century design and it will be fun to sink our teeth into a new project. We started an Instagram account to document our journey @mokkidevelopments. Our Caulfield South home has hit the market this week; hopefully, people love it as much as we do.

What would you say to anyone looking to join BuildHer Collective or DevelopHer?

Do it! I have learned so much, not just about design but about all aspects of development strategy. It was the financial and property strategies we gained through BuildHer and DevelopHer that saw us succeed in purchasing our new home. It also taught me a lot about the importance of marketing. I am a complete social media novice, but my mind has been changed in regards to its importance in marketing and business. If anything, it is about being surrounded by like-minded people. There were many parts of the build, the highs, lows, and successes, that people within the DevelopHer community understood and could relate to, and it has been great to find this clique. Rebeka Morgan has been absolutely amazing and has provided my husband and me with so much guidance and advice throughout the journey.

Hannah and Steve’s Favourite Picture

A huge thank you to Hannah for sharing her incredible renovation journey with us! What a gorgeous home!

Feeling inspired by DevelopHer Hannah’s project and want to start your own, or thinking about renovating for a profit? We’d love to help you. Book a chat with us today!

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