Tania Handelsmann and Gillian Khaw, the creative forces behind interior design studio Handelsmann + Khaw, were immediately taken with this charming Leslie Wilkinson-designed home on the coast of Sydney. “Our goal is always to capture the spirit of a home, and when it has this much history, it makes our job a lot easier,” Gillian says. It took the client, who also happens to be Tania’s brother-in-law, 18 months to find the perfect home for him and his family to put down roots. The pre-existing level of trust between the family and Tania meant that the team had close to full reign over the interior redesign; “we have essentially gone ahead and created the sort of house that we would love to live in,” Tania says.
The portrait overlooking the dining table is of the owner’s Hungarian relative. She passed away in 2019, leaving the painting as a memory of her glamorous life.
Stepping into the Past
An interior palette of browns and greens reflects Leslie’s signature exterior of terracotta-coloured rendered brick and green shutters. The late architect used houses in the South of Spain as inspiration for his designs, which Handelsmann + Khaw have chosen to highlight in the 21st century. Elements like the handcrafted timber tables in the dining spaces and the coloured zellige tiles in the bathrooms and kitchen are a nod to this part of the world and what it meant to Leslie. “We wanted it to feel like you’re stepping into the past while still portraying a youthful energy,” Gillian says. “So instead of chasing ‘shiny’ and ‘new’, we opted for ‘warm’, ‘layered’ and ‘inviting’.”
While the owners were won over by the heritage charm of Wilkinson Villa (not to mention its expansive garden), there was no questioning that the layout was outdated and in need of reprogramming. The front of the building used to house the bedrooms, which Handelsmann + Khaw have since joined together to create one large garden-facing living room. The once dark and disjointed rear of the building has been transformed into an updated kitchen area with an adjoined dining room, breakfast nook and TV room. The first floor has been converted into three bedrooms, two bathrooms and a study, each of which opens out to the garden through Leslie’s quintessential green shutters.
Custom patterned and chequerboard zellige tiles tie into the home’s playful aura while also referencing traditional Spanish architecture. “While zellige tiles are on trend, we wanted to use them in a timeless way,” Tania says.
The Chateau Marmont in Los Angeles inspired the large living room at the front of the villa. The exposed beam ceiling is a souvenir from the original building, which Tania and Gillian liken to the one in the Chateau bar. The squiggly border that wraps around the ceiling is a gesture to the home’s youthful energy; “we wanted something to signify upon entry that the interiors are playful and quirky and don’t take themselves too seriously,” Tania says. This inspired the team to fill the space with an eclectic mix of vintage finds, contrasting patterns and whimsical shapes, creating an atmosphere reminiscent of old Hollywood.