Before Geoff and Analee Isbister moved into their current home and business five years ago, their Carrington warehouse on Wilson Street was a first a coal-testing facility in the 1980s and then a work space for an environmental sound engineer.
When Geoff started cleaning out his new home he looked like a chimney sweeper. Coal dust was everywhere, even on the rafters of the building, he said.
The first engineer who looked at the space recommended that the couple knock it down. But, as Swannell Group builder Kipp Flack-Suttor pointed out, you can’t create space like this without the history that comes along with it.
The couple decided to keep the warehouse and redesign, renovate and refit it to meet the needs of both Analee’s cake-baking business and their eight children and two cats. (Geoff is a professor at the University of Newcastle).
Half of the warehouse is their home, and the other half is her company, Cakes To Dream On. Delicious cake-baking wafts are a part of daily life at the Isbister household.
“We’ve invested a lot in this place, we love it and we never want to sell it,” Analee says. “We’d love to have our grandkids here.”
Fire-engine red double doors catch your eye as you approach the warehouse, as does an enchanting pergola covered with lush green vines. Protruding boxed windows were recently built upstairs and overhang the front of the warehouse. This part of building serves as the kids’ new entertainment room. It has east-facing windows that catch the sea breeze and let the light in but give plenty of privacy.
Also called the teenage retreat, this upstairs room is only part of the massive undertaking brothers Nathaniel and Jonathon Swannell took on as they built an entire second floor in the warehouse, complete with an upstairs kitchen and deck.
The new outcropping space was built with Laminated Veneer Lumber (LVL) and housed with COR-TEN. COR-TEN is a heavy material that eliminates the need for painting and, after a few years of exposure to the weather, forms a consistent rust that doesn’t fade and protects the structure. This COR-TEN gives a great industrial edge once you’re inside the house too. It is also used on the splashbacks for the family kitchen, and Analee speculates that theirs might be the only home in Australia with a COR-TEN kitchen. The rust colour harmonises with the bright doors and splashes of red throughout the house.
Musical instruments are everywhere, as each child plays.
Adding to this vibe are sculptures, art work and even functional furniture by local artist Lloyd Kellett. All of Kellett’s pieces are made from discarded metal, timber, furniture, machinery.
Like Kellett’s work, the Swannell business also specialises in reusing materials as well as sustainable building and design. With the exception of the deck, which was built using a spotted gum left to go grey, every piece of timber used on the renovations is recycled.
“At the very beginning of every job we pull a place apart, put the timber in piles and go through and de-nail everything,” Nathaniel says. “The timber from this warehouse is 100 years old, and the trees they were made of were 100 years old; you can’t get anything like this timber anymore.”
The timber stripped from the warehouse was used to build the pergola and the tables you see when you first walk into the warehouse.
This is the first warehouse conversion the Swannell brothers have taken on, and they’re now working on a similar job. They expect more to come, due to the lack of new building blocks in inner Newcastle.
“It’s a unique space that was constructed for industrial purposes and has been re-imagined in a way sympathetic to its past, but also to the needs of its new occupants,” says Flack-Suttor. “It was a challenging build, beginning with complex engineering required to create a structure that nestled into the bones of the old building.”
The Ibisters are pleased with how the builders have helped them realise their vision. The bright colours, industrial designs and recycled and vintage decor – combined with the smell of baking and sound of musical instruments – make the home not just a roof over their heads, but a place for innovation, ideas and creativity.