Two iconic Coast homes, two very different makeovers. But, what constitutes clever and responsive interior design? That’s the question salt posed to principal and founder of Box Clever Interiors Hilary Sharp.

She says it all starts with a pen and paper and a conversation between the homeowner and one of her team’s award-winning, qualified interior designers.

Hilary believes it is important in every project to understand and articulate the owner’s vision while making best use of the space and context of the home in situ.

Box Clever Interiors provides end-to-end design solutions from redesigning outmoded kitchens and bathrooms down to the placement of lighting fixtures and electrical sockets and everything in between, including window treatments (or dressings) and furniture procurement.

Kings Beach apartment

Hilary likes to call a recent makeover of a fourth-floor apartment on the Esplanade at Kings Beach ‘un petit bijou’ (a little jewel). The circa 1994 80 metre-squared apartment is typical of hundreds of older-style apartments dotted along the Coast.

It was a holiday let and had not been updated since it was built. The owner was planning to retire and make it her permanent home. It had to have character, be functional and make the most of the breathtaking ocean views.

“Everything about the apartment had to be empathetic of the fact that your eyes were drawn to the view,” Hilary says.

The biggest design challenge was how to maximise space in what was an incredibly awkward-shaped apartment. Hilary maintains that many of these older-style apartments were architecturally designed on the outside, but very little thought was given to how people would live in them or furnish them.

“This particular project was a huge exploration of using small space efficiently,” Hilary says.

“It’s something which excites me because I grew up in Ireland, and in Europe in general, we live in smaller houses, so a lot of that European design can be translated into the smarter design of smaller spaces. I really embraced that European aesthetic with this apartment.”

The original laundry, bathroom and separate toilet were a maze of doors. “It was just a (design) disaster really.” These separate spaces were knocked down and reconfigured into a space that was functional and flowed.

The ensuite and robe in the master bedroom were also redesigned to create more space, especially in the shower area.

“In both bathrooms, we raised the vanity off the floor, and this again was to give the illusion of more space in that area.”

The beating heart of the home – the kitchen and living area – was completely revamped.

“We put in a brand-new kitchen with integrated appliances because the kitchen and the living space were right beside each other. We didn’t want to do a beautiful kitchen and then have a big fridge stuck in the middle of it, so everything was hidden behind doors and tucked away.”

The addition of banquet seating in the dining room was another example of where form meets function – the extra storage space maximised the space available.

The living room, however, was quite difficult to design because of the angle of the walls. Hilary said there was only one possible wall that a TV could be mounted on, but having a couch face that wall would compromise the commanding ocean view. So, she suggested not having a couch in the living room at all and opting for occasional chairs instead.

The client was receptive to the idea so the living room now features a round rug, curved swivel occasional chairs and a round glass coffee table. The space feels open and invites flexibility and functionality.

“It’s a little jewel because every aspect of that small space was thoughtfully curated to maximise its potential.”

Twin Waters

At the other end of the design challenge spectrum was a grand canal-front home at Twin Waters. According to Hilary, sometimes the fixtures and finishes builders throw into homes of this proportion really don’t reflect the opulence or the price tag that these houses have, or, more importantly, the aspirations of the owners who live there.

Hilary says the important thing was to ensure the design reflected her client’s lifestyle and desire. It is a holiday home for a Canberra-based couple. It was built in 2004 and due for its 20-year refresh.

Her clients had spent a lot of time working and living in Asia and had amassed a collection of objects and artworks from the region. Their existing furniture was classic in style.

“For me, it was important that the design was sympathetic to their style. And while it’s a more formal and classic interior, it’s still light and refreshing, and that works for a canal-style home without being beachy.

“There are elements of tropical Queensland that we can bring into our interiors too. It’s important for people not to feel like they’re going to be pigeonholed and think, ‘Oh, coastal, I need to use rattan, I need to use bleached oak, I need to whitewash everything’.

“You can still have a very formal kitchen and interior, and yet it can still have a relaxed elegance.”

The original brief was to redesign the kitchen. However, in a similar process to the Kings Beach apartment, the team analysed the space and made “a few different smarts out of it”.

The laundry door, which was straight off the kitchen, was concealed to make it look like it was cabinetry, and a huge, tall wine fridge was likewise concealed behind a door to “create something really different and beautiful”.

The clients also embraced porcelain slab for their benchtop and splashback, which is not only a beautiful product but is moving with the times as the use of engineered stone is being banned in Australia.

The master bedroom, which looks onto a canal terrace, had a huge flat ceiling, so they put in a bulkhead with lighting all around it to elevate it “from a good three-star hotel look to five-stars”. The ensuite was also reconfigured and given a beautiful and elegant New England vibe. Custom bedheads, bedspreads and cushions were added to enhance the feeling of luxury in the master bedroom.

“We like to think outside the box and be bold, be different and our clients were happy to go with our new suggestions,” Hilary says.

Both clients (Kings Beach and Twin Waters) were living elsewhere, so the team found them a builder on the Coast and helped manage the builds.

“The builder would contact us if he had any design-related queries. We could walk around the property several times to make sure everything was going okay.

“With renovations, cabinetmakers and builders can run into tricky design details that only become apparent when things are ripped out, but we just troubleshoot that with them,” Hilary explains.

She stresses these were two projects where the team did everything from start to finish, down to working out where to place that finishing touch – a cushion on the couch.

“That’s the final icing on the cake.”