Today’s tour is the first home of actress-turned-photographer Gemma Peanut and her husband Matt. Like many young Sydney couples, they missed out on several apartments before securing this one, on the lower north shore. “Searching for any home is a path paved with excitement and heartbreak,” the former Neighbours actress says. “We missed out on a few places we loved but were big believers that the home you end up with was always meant to be!
“I definitely didn’t fall for it instantly; my eyes widened at the opportunity and potential to convert it into something wonderful. I think the reason we were able to secure it was because it was so poorly presented for sale that many people were turned off. It would’ve looked like a lot of work to most but to me it looked like one hell-of-a fun project to sink my teeth into.” Smart buying indeed!
The 3-bedroom, 2-bathroom, top floor apartment is in a small block of 11. On getting the keys, aside from feeling “like my bank account had been brutally violated,” Gemma felt overwhelmed with excitement. “Getting on the property ladder started to feel like an impossible dream in Sydney. We were elated when we finally signed the papers to our new baby. I don’t know if this is a common reaction, but a few weeks after the excitement of being home owners wore off, the reality of the huge job ahead of us started to sink in and nerves and anxiety about our renovations started to kick in.”
The renovations took 4.5 months, during which time, the couple lived with her parents. “We gutted the entire apartment and started over. We removed all the bathroom tiles, built in wardrobes, carpet, the works. We also removed one wall to open up the kitchen into an open plan living room and kitchen. Most 1960s building have kitchens hidden away in a tiny room and I’m a sucker for lots of light and open space. That was never going to work for me. Plus, when I entertain friends, I like to be in the kitchen prepping a meal and still be able to hang out with everyone.”
The couple wisely ensured they’d be able to remove the wall before signing on the line to buy the place as it was a potential deal breaker. Then Gemma got to work with a very clear vision in mind, with Matt giving her free rein on all design decisions, provided she stayed within their agreed budget. “The greatest challenge was sticking to the budget but I enjoyed this challenge. It forced me to be resourceful and really sniff out those deals. There were certain things we splashed out on and then found ways to save. It’s all about striking that balance of affordable mixed in with fancy.”
Removing that kitchen wall undoubtedly made the biggest impact, allowing much more light in. “I’m a light junkie,” says Gemma. “I work from home and need to be flooded with light constantly for my own mental health. So that wall removal was the ultimate game changer.”
Now it’s finished and furnished, Gemma describes the space as calming, modern and homely. “Many friends have come over and said it feels soothing and relaxing. I would say my interior style is clean and modern with a sprinkle of bohemian. Matt self-nominated to have zero say in the interior styling of our apartment but he surprisingly dug his heels in on one topic: carpet. That was the only time he piped up. I wanted to go for a light grey/oat coloured carpet and he passionately disagreed. He wanted a dark grey. And seeing as I didn’t have many battles to fight, I let him win the carpet battle. And since moving in, I have to take my hat off to him. The darker carpet is much more practical and contrasts nicely with our bright white walls and bed linen.”
Being that she works from home, creating the perfect space was even more important to Gemma, who has carved out an impressive career as a photographer over the last few years, also running a popular online photography course. “I have a desk but I tend to move locations throughout the day. I’m fidgety so I’ll hop from working at my desk to my dining table to the kitchen island and then tend to end the day working on the couch. I’m sure all this shifting is terrible for my back but I’m incapable of sitting still and staring at the same wall for hours on end.”
Gemma recently launched a print shop too, selling some of her favourite photos as high quality art. “I’ve always followed my heart. I was that girl who knew her mind and my parents didn’t stand a chance in hell of guiding me towards a sensible and risk-free career. I’ve always been a believer that you will spend a giant chunk of your life working so you may as well love what you do. And I’ve been fortunate enough to explore all my creative passions and work within them with ease (although never void of a lot of hard work, blood, sweat and tears). Transitioning to a business owner required a mammoth mental shift. I had to learn blind confidence and really back myself and belief that I could do it. There were a lot of growing pains along the way but I wouldn’t change a thing!”
Gemma loves art on her own walls too. “Art is where your can really express yourself and overtly share your personality. I like to make a statement, which is why my print shop offers large size prints with frames. I like people to solidly commit to my photography and go for something that takes up a lot of real estate and becomes a statement piece that can’t be ignored.
“My favourite is called Wild Love. It’s a picture of a maternal monkey breastfeeding her young. It brings such a grounding and earthy energy to my home. You can also walk straight into my apartment and completely understand my undying love for our natural environment. I love bringing the outside world inside. Hence all the indoor plant babies.”
With her renovating adventure now at an end, Gemma’s best advice from the experience is to pick a builder you like and trust. “You will spend a lot of time communicating and negotiating with them, so it’s important that you get on well and trust that they share your vision.
“My next big tip would be to stick with neutral tones when it comes to your kitchen and bathroom. You can express your love of colour through soft furnishings. Interior colours and styles move in waves and trends. It’s much easier to replace a pink cushion than it is to replace pink bathroom tiles.
“My last tip would be to plan lighting way ahead of time. This is something I wish I’d done sooner. The infrastructure needs to be set right at the start and isn’t something you can easily add in later. I wish I pre-empted that I might like a pendant light in my bathroom. Suddenly the bathroom was done and it was too late and too costly to add one.”