By Freya Herring
Photos: Anson Smart
Come inside a celebrated 1900s waterfront home newly updated to fuse outside and in through serene colour choices and nature-inspired textures.
When the view from your house looks like a painting—a pastel sky colliding with deepest blue ocean, flanked on either side by majestic headlands, its base a sliver of pale sand against frolics of bushland—how on earth do you decorate the inside? Do you choose to contrast the interior, or go the other way entirely and try to emulate the vista? Turns out, if Ultramarine House in Sydney’s Mosman is anything to go by, you show off the panorama in all its finery, bringing a little of it in with quiet accents, rather than totemic booms.
It’s this subtle but also kind of genius approach that saw Sydney design studio Decus shortlisted at the 2023 Australian Interior Design Awards. “The owners lived on the Balmoral slopes for a number of years and feel very connected to the beachside location,” says Alexandra Donohoe Church, founder and managing director at Decus. The family of five, including three teenagers, had been used to a strikingly modern home; “a very contemporary, glass and steel box structure,” she explains.
In contrast, Ultramarine House was built in the early 1900s in the Federation Queen Anne-style, representing a real shift in aesthetic. Donohoe Church worked alongside Luigi Rosselli Architects to transform the building into a fourbed, five-bath house and the result is peaceful, open and flooded with natural light. The overarching ethos, she says, was about “encouraging a connective tissue between the outdoors and indoors”.
Take the primary bedroom on the first floor. Overlooking the watery scene, a curved bedhead in stained American oak cocoons those sleeping within its folds. “The custom bedhead which hugs you is a bit of a theme in our projects,” Donohoe Church says. From the bed, there are wide, almost celestial views, and—with no onlookers—total privacy all at once. Art is everywhere, and the bedroom sees works in aquamarine paired with natureled features like Christopher Boots’ Petra I Triple sconce in quartz. In the ensuite, superbly wavy, ethereal Cipollino Verde marble “throws either green or grey tones, depending on the time of day”, explains the designer. “It mirrors the colours of the beach and headlands.” It’s a theme that reaches its apex in the main living area. European oak floorboards lead the eye to a generous terrace overlooking lush Middle and North Head, Robert Plumb’s undulating outdoor furniture calling one to go outside and linger. The furnishings inside are soft and inviting—an oversized, impossibly cushy Living Divani sofa contrasts against vintage finds like Pierre Paulin’s architectural, cantilevered Artifort F444 chair, while Decus’ bespoke slatted joinery echoes the wave sets rolling into the harbour outside.
The kitchen, with its focus on tactility, is one of Donohoe Church’s favourite spaces. “The concealed and integrated pulls have a sinuous curved profile which are just exquisite to touch,” she says. The kitchen island, worktops and splashback are crafted from Montreal brushed granite, textured with mottled, almost oceanic tones. And rather than opt for the popular multi-pendant aesthetic to light the space, Donohoe Church chose Garnier et Linker’s sophisticated tubular Lutetia pendant, which is almost like a strip light, rethought and beautified. “It exemplifies understated elegance for me,” she says. “When you get up close, you discover this chalky, textured plaster finish with the most perfectly machined brass endcaps. It doesn’t scream at you; it’s more of a gentle whisper in the background.” Objects around the house—Mass Productions’ curvaceous Puddle coffee table in the sitting room, alongside Giorgetti’s Hug armchair, in all of its sumptuous curves and flowing timber bars, for example—complete a scene that nods to the surrounding seascape without sinking into facsimile. The home is evidence that the best way to create an interior connection with the outdoors is to channel the feeling rather than duplicate. At Ultramarine, the inside and outside flow together—harmonious, calm and breathing the same air.