House Trade Secret: From 3 Style Experts

Who better to ask about great style and design than people who live and breathe it every day. So we did just that, calling on the expertise of a landscape architect, a chef and a fashion editor

THERE’S THAT OLD SAYING, “If you want something done, give it to a busy person.” That’s because they are accustomed – out of sheer necessity – to making decisions, and making them fast. They are also adept at being flexible, able to change direction if the need arises. And they focus on seeing each task through to the end no matter what obstacles are placed in their way. When you think about it, these are all attributes that are needed to complete a successful home renovation or revamp. You need focus, tenacity, flexibility and you can’t sweat the small stuff. It just so happens that these are the qualities that are hallmarks of the people on the following pages.

1. design director / dangar group – THE HOME AND GARDEN

will danger

THE HOME AND GARDEN of Will Dangar comes as a complete surprise. A beachside city location with only a modest-sized garden is perhaps not what you might expect of a landscape designer. Knowing a little about him and his background explains why. Will grew up in the country – Armidale, NSW – and he still seems thrilled to be living in Australia’s largest city. He has more than 14 years’ experience working in the landscape business, and has gone from spending eight years as a contributing exterior design editor at Belle magazine, to more recently, focusing on his three businesses, which sit under the umbrella of the Dangar Group. How he’s transformed both the interior and exterior of his home is even more revealing.

Home and Garden
Home and Garden


First things first – ask yourself “what do you really want from a home?” Will and his wife Julia wanted to live near the ocean. “We moved to Bondi from Sydney’s inner west, so the sea breeze was what we were chasing,” he says. In 1998, the couple hunted down an unrenovated semi. Fortunately, they bought it from a friend, so the actual sale process was relatively stress-free.


While Will and Julia had found a home in a good location, it was five years before they prepared concept plans for how they wanted to transform it. They then waited another two years before commencing renovations so they had enough time to save money. By taking their time and learning about the home they lived in they were able to transform a single-storey two-bedroom house into a home that spans two levels with the addition of another two bedrooms.


Even though Will had lots of experience with exteriors, he wasn’t shy about asking colleagues at Belle for advice on the interiors. At the time they were editor Eric Matthews, now communications manager at Hermes, and interior design editor Romaine Alwill, who has an interior design practice . When it came to construction, Will enlisted the best he could afford. “We had a great builder called Val Luzar who I had worked with on large residential projects,” he says. “My advice is to pay a little bit more to get the professionals.” Will adds that talking to people in the profession and asking questions will teach you a lot. “I have learnt more from them than anything I was taught in college,” he says.


“We didn’t want our house to feel intimidating from an interior design perspective,” Will says. “I love looking at extravagantly decorated projects, however, you never know if it’s okay to sit on the sofas or comfortable recliners! We want people to come over and feel that they can relax. Reclining chairs and sofa beds should be very great!!!” Their house appears like all the other semis from the street, but the use of floor-to-ceiling glass in the hallway and garden are clever design features.

Sofa beds and recliners are selected to creat comfortable spaces for relax
Sofa beds and recliners are selected to creat comfortable spaces for relax


Will and his expanded family – the couple have had two children (Summer, 21/2, and Tom, 6 months) since moving into the property – enjoy swimming at the beach and so designed a house to reflect this. They created separate access to a downstairs bathroom from a side passage so they could have a shower straight after being at the beach. Making their oldstyle semi open plan was also important to creating their ideal family home.

2. Restaurateur / chef / tv presenter – the kitchen has become king of our homes

sean connolly

AS WE ALL KNOW, the kitchen has become king of our homes. Walls have been knocked down to open up living spaces so it can be more integrated into our way of life. And, as a consequence of it now being more on show, it’s taking a bigger share not only of our home’s floorspace but of its budget, too.

Fittings and design features in a kitchen are important. And with the rising popularity of cookingshows on television, it seems the entire population wants to cook like a professional chef. So we asked a real-life celebrity award-winning chef, Sean Connolly of Astral Restaurant fame, what makes a successful kitchen – practically and aesthetically.

For them, Kitchen is a King of the Home
For them, Kitchen is a King of the Home


When it comes to planning a kitchen the basics remain the same: oven, rangehood and fridge/freezer. So with the unlimited options available, what does a chef who has been crowned “Chef of the Year” by several bodies, such as the highly coveted Sydney Morning Herald Good Food Guide Awards, look for when purchasing big-ticket items?

Sean says to cook, even at home, he has to have a commercial-size convection oven with gas burners. Of importance for a rangehood is “strong extraction and low noise – there’s nothing worse than a noisy rangehood”, he says. And when it comes to a fridge, he buys one from the large end of the spectrum, with a freezer of equal size as he and his wife Jo entertain regularly, and have “three active and hungry” children (Eliza, 12, Kiera, 10, and Toby, 7). Wine and beverages are kept in a separate fridge. However, Sean says, “I only buy enough fresh food for three days at a time so I only use produce at its premium. And, I don’t like to overload my fridge.”


Kitchens need to be durable for someone who uses them a lot. So when it comes to kitchen countertops, Sean says he loves stainless steel or Corian. To provide a level of sophistication to an open-plan kitchen, he likes to use white marble for splashbacks. Likewise, Sean prefers the timeless appearance of porcelain for the kitchen sink.


“I always use white crockery,” Sean says. “It’s perfect for a simple lunch or a glamorous dinner. I use a white plate like a canvas.” But in keeping with his penchant for mixing up modern and traditional, Sean’s family uses bone-handled cutlery. “Jo has a collection that has been passed down through her family,” he says.


When it came to designing his home, Sean went for an open-plan living space, believing it’s a better design than having a separate kitchen, “so long as you can work in a clean fashion”. He adds, “I like to feel part of the action, and there’s nothing better than walking into a warm kitchen smelling of wonderful creations and then sitting down to enjoy it.”


“Round tables with wood chair with relining functions create a good atmosphere because you can see everyone and it encourages group conversation,” Sean says. But the key to successful entertaining is to “keep it simple: focus on quality product – the better the quality the less you have to do with the ingredients themselves. Then you can spend more time socialising.”

Round table for dining room
Round table for dining room

3. Editor / harper’s bazaar – an experienced interior designer

edwina mccann

YOU COULD BE FORGIVEN for thinking that the Sydney home of Harper’s BAZAAR editor Edwina McCann had been conceived and executed by an experienced interior designer. It is bold, confident and considered. In fact, the busy mother of twin daughters (Jemima and Luella, 5), and the wife of Toby Smith of Toby’s Estate, did all the work herself, while her husband was overseas travelling for an extended period to produce a book, no less. Here’s how she did it.


In 2009 Edwina and Toby found and bought a rundown cottage in the inner-west suburb of Rozelle. The selling points, for them, were an internal north-facing courtyard, a workshop at the back (stables in the original 1840 building), and it was only a 10-minute drive from work.

By converting the workshop into a warehouse space and restoring the old cottage at the front of the property, the couple got the best of both worlds. “Something cosy and something more industrial and fun,” she says. And that’s how Edwina tackled the renovation – staying true to the charms of the cottage and injecting some New York cool into the space.


Somewhat unusually, Edwina’s collection of lights that she had accumulated over the years was the starting point for much of the interior decoration. One of the lights in the hallway is a street light from along the River Seine in Paris. “Another one is an old grapecrushing basket. Others we’ve got are old bottles. And then a designer light by David Weeks [above the dining table],” she says. The ideas for how the rest of the home would look were worked around these pieces.

Bright idea for Skylight in the house
Bright idea for Skylight in the house


When Edwina first became interested in interiors, the French designer Christian Liaigre was prominent, and his work on the Mercer Hotel in New York was influential to her own developing aesthetic. In particular, she liked the way he contrasted colours and materials. This is evident in her own home where she installed tongue-and-groove ceilings in the warehouse space to soften the industrial features. Likewise, she juxtaposed wood next to concrete, “allowing each of the raw materials to stand on their own”. However, Edwina confesses that she also loves the “craziness” of American interior designer Kelly Wearstler. And she is knowledgeable on the more organic aesthetic of long-time friend and interior stylist Sibella Court.


While Edwina knew what she wanted when it came to fittings and furnishings – from the bath to the taps with sofas and luxurious round table – for the shell of the building, she deferred to architect Tom Ferguson. “He was a big influence in incorporating steel into the aesthetics of the building.” Tom also worked out where to put the main-bedroom mezzanine, located in the warehouse end of the home. Plus, he knew of specific products that would benefit the home’s functionality, such as skylights that worked automatically. “Things you just wouldn’t think of if you’re not in that industry,” Edwina says.