When Collette Dinnigan shut down her fashion business three years ago, she wanted to change her whole life, not just her work one.
She sold her historic sandstone cottage in Sydney’s Paddington, her neighbourhood of more than 20 years, and swapped an urban lifestyle for the seaside calm of Watsons Bay. Collette and her husband, Bradley Cocks, wanted plenty of space for 11-year-old daughter Estella and energetic three-year-old son Hunter. The family walks everywhere and can get to the beach in two minutes, where Bradley dives for lobsters and abalone. “If you look at this house, it reflects how I want to live,” says Collette of the family’s new home, a 1920s-era former Masonic Lodge with views of the Harbour Bridge and out to the Pacific Ocean. “I have made such dramatic changes in my work, so I needed to make a personal change, too.”
Rather than adopt a particular aesthetic, Collette wanted the home’s style to be expressive but “flow with an understated simplicity.” Moreover, the imposing three-storey house needed to be an oasis. “Work is a bit more intellectual, more commercial, and everything needs to be edited and considered – whereas for the home, it’s emotional and you’ve got a feeling it comes together anyway,” she says.
While their former home was quite rustic, this one has more of a European sensibility with its soaring ceilings and classic architectural details. “It has a sort of 1930s elegance and the scale is amazing,” says Collette. The previous owner had done a stylish revamp, but Collette found it a bit too hard-edged. “I wanted something more feminine – with more layers and more textures.”
She started at the front door, where a 20-metre lap pool on the boundary robbed the house of any sense of arrival. Collette shortened the pool and brought in a palm tree, which sits alongside new steps that suit the grand entry. From the threshold, you see a huge turquoise-beaded chandelier, which she persuaded the seller to leave behind. “I can’t imagine it being anywhere else and going so perfectly in the space,” says Collette, who tied everything around a blue theme that reminds her of the Amalfi Coast.
Collette wanted the home’s style to be expressive but flow with an understated simplicity
Structural changes included turning a mezzanine into a guest room and bathroom, and laying reclaimed tallowwood flooring upstairs. The main bedroom runs the length of the house and has five-metre ceilings, but feels intimate thanks to the exquisite lilac paisley-patterned linen used for the curtains, valance and bedhead. On the top floor is a casual lounge with a rooftop balcony. “When the storms roll in with lightning and rain, it’s quite dynamic,” she says.
The challenge downstairs was to break up the vast space and give each zone more character. In the living room, she installed a chimney flue, blocked off doorways and created a cosy sitting area around a new fireplace with an 1840s marble mantelpiece. At the other end of the room, two couches recovered in a green-and-white Schumacher fabric add a quirkiness that’s echoed in the artwork. “Even though it looks simple, some of the pieces are quite bold,” says Collette. “Those Chinoiserie couches are so not me but it needed something to make it a bit more eccentric,” she says. “The 12-metre-long painting of a whale by Jonathan Delafield Cook makes the dining area feel very contemporary.”
This inveterate flea-market shopper thinks nothing of hauling back furniture and delicate objects from her travels. “What I buy is emotional,” she explains, recounting how she bought two 19th-century glass-fronted cabinets from the Marché aux Puces in Paris. Her dining chairs came from a maharaja’s palace in India and are placed around a Danish oak table she has had for 15 years. She culled some furniture that didn’t suit the new house but still has her favourite bits and pieces.
This year-long project has given Collette time to reflect on the parallels between her stellar fashion career and her burgeoning design and interiors business. “Everyone knows me for my feminine aesthetic, for the fabrics and prints and delicacy of my designs. But I think I have a good feeling for space, proportion, colour and getting the balance exactly right.”
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Photography: Felix Forest for Living Inside | Styling: Victoria Collison | Flowers: Grandiflora | Editing: Nikey Cheng