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In 2016 Nadia and Stephen Schembri decided to take on the renovation of Stephen’s childhood home, a classic heritage building in Coburg, North Melbourne. Perhaps not such an unusual decision to make, until that is you consider that they also made the choice to do all of the work themselves from designing and specifying the interiors to laying the floors and restoring the original features.

Faced with the challenge of marrying old and new, the couple looked to retain the heritage feel of the front part of the house and transition to a tasteful modern extension to the rear. The two parts are united with an expansive thermally-modified American red oak floor. 

The couple were first attracted by the colour of the timber at their local timber merchant, the rich, chocolate tones a perfect fit for classic and contemporary alike. However, despite American red oak being the most abundant species in the American forest, it is relatively new in Australia in its thermally-modified form and its use in residential flooring is still rare. The local merchant, lacking sufficient stock, tried to push them to other species such as hickory and to stain it dark. Not to be defeated, and being certain in the choice they had made, Nadia embarked on a hunt and quickly found the supply she needed from Richard Bugg and his team at American Hardwoods in Dandenong. 

The flooring was painstakingly laid by husband Stephen, a carpenter by trade, who skillfully tucked the boards under the original skirting so as not to cause any damage.  The couple had designed an unusual combination of thermally-modified and natural red oak for the hall creating an imposing entrance, offset by bright green paintwork. The two tones of oak are a twist on the more classic heritage pattern where the lighter timber surrounds the dark. The thermally-modified timber continues into the new extension where it takes on an immediately modern feel in a light and airy family area and kitchen. To minimise waste, the couple used tongue and groove end matched boards which were laid on a 12mm base of structural pine. Finished with a polyurethane satin finish, the flooring provides a visual anchor to the space. 

As a chef, Nadia took full responsibility for the kitchen design which includes a concealed chef’s kitchen for food prep and an innovative pressed metal ceiling. The family room is completed with both adjoining study and gym that overlooks a new in-ground pool. 

The project has taken over 2 years to complete, and somewhat surprisingly the couple describe the experience as relatively low stress. This they put down to the fact that they appreciated each other’s tastes and also weren’t afraid to make a decision. The outcome is certainly an impressive renovation which is sympathetic to the heritage of the building and all the childhood memories it holds for Stephen.

It is wonderful to see red oak being appreciated in Australia, where American white oak has been dominant for many years”, commented Rod Wiles, AHEC Regional Director. “Despite thermally-modified red oak being designed for exterior application, it is also perfectly suited to interior specification, where a combination of dark tone and pronounced grain is the desired look."