In Sydney, Simon Devitt finds Derek Henderson in a century-old cottage with a mid-century twist, furnished with art made by friends
This sandstone cottage expertly mixes heritage and modernist style
The home of New Zealand born, Sydney-based art photographer Derek Henderson sits on a leafy Bondi street, behind a brick wall that contains a cool, verdant courtyard.
Henderson and his wife Kate Austin, with their children Theodore and Lola, moved here almost five years ago, attracted by its nicely worn condition and unusual mix of heritage and modernism. “As soon as we walked into the house, we fell in love with it,” says Henderson. “It’s mainly to do with the openness of it – it has a very high ceiling in the living area, and a Japanese feel. It feels a lot larger than it really is.”
Built in 1893, the sandstone cottage was home to government architect Peter Tate for close to half a century. Behind the heritage façade is a beautifully worn mid-century aesthetic created by Tate in the 1970s, when he added a soaring timber addition out the back, along with bespoke cedar joinery in the kitchen and bedrooms.
In essence, the house is two tall pitched roofs. Just inside the front door, a long narrow hallway leads into the home. Switching back, narrow stairs run up to the master bedroom, which is built into the pitch of the roof. Downstairs, the hallway leads past bedrooms, the kitchen, a study and bathroom, and out to the living-dining area. Here, a soaring roof and cleverly placed windows bring in shafts of light but keep out the sun.
Since moving in, the couple has done little more than add walk-in wardrobes, rework the bathroom with a cool, white-on-white aesthetic, and add a new deck in the courtyard between the house and the garage, accessed down a lane way behind the house. Inside, the house feels both organic and refined, simultaneously welcoming and elegant. Outside, the courtyard and deck face north, there’s an outdoor shower for when the family return from Bondi beach – a 15-minute walk away – and five kentia palms “that work like umbrellas swaying in the breeze”.
The art in the home is genuine, bought only because it is loved. There’s no value-accumulating strategy, simply an intuitive attraction to a piece. Many of the artists are Henderson’s old friends – there’s an attraction to landscapes, raw forms, the natural set against bright abstracts and graphic, modern pieces: a Martin Poppelwell painting is topped with his own ceramic and hung alongside Jake Walker’s ceramic-framed oils, or a large-scale Dennis Morris’ portrait of Sex Pistol Johnny Rotten, a punkish yet unexpectedly peaceful note among the landscapes, abstracts and organic forms.
It’s a house of simple delights. “It’s very close to the city and we love living in Sydney,” says Henderson. “It’s a warm and inviting family home. That’s about it, really.”
Q&A with Derek Henderson
What do you love most about your collection?
Going to the galleries, shows and auctions and meeting like-minded people who engage in art. Seeing the collection every day at home and getting something new from the pieces over time. I always gravitate towards work that, at first, I might not like or understand and slowly, after spending time with it, it grows on me.
I often use my book collection for reference and scan the bookcase for something I haven’t looked at for a while – it can inspire me or remind me of something I was interested in, and now I feel I can tackle that idea.
What do you love about the light in your home?
Our living area faces north so we have direct light coming into that room all day, and I always enjoy watching it change through the day. It’s the same in our bedroom: I often just sit in either room and watch the light falling on objects. I think that’s why I like shooting still-life, because of the way light falls on things.
What do you love most about where you live?
Being close to the beach: it’s inspiring and uplifting. Again, looking at the light by the seaside gives you fresh ideas. Also being able to throw yourself into the sea is exhilarating and throwing the kids in is even more fun.
If you could do anything to your home right now what would you do?
Build a studio on top of the garage so I could have a space where I could leave things set up for a while.
What do people say about your home when they visit?
Nice things or they don’t get to come back!
What do you love most about returning home?
Seeing my kids come running down the corridor to meet me.
Words by: Natalie Smith. Photography by: Simon Devitt.