My Mum (the Serial Renovator) and The Room That Could Tell a Thousand Tales

Blog from Amelia Lee, The architect behind Undercover Architect:

When I was 8 years old, my parents got divorced. We moved from a very palatial, large 2-storey home on a large block, to a smaller, single-storey one on a fairly busy road, about 5 minutes around the corner.

My mother, Maryland (like the American state, not the chicken!), who has always had a creative streak, and has also always been a very hard worker, set about making it a home for us. Painting walls, being creative with furniture arrangement, making things as comfortable as possible.  (She did this a few times over the years we lived there – always on a shoestring.  No sooner was the paint dry on one coat around the house, she’d start up with a new ‘look’ – a serial renovator!)

However, what was important was the decision my mother made first.

Before she even looked at the house, and well before she bought it.

She decided she wanted a house with a north-facing garden.

She wasn’t going to look at anything else.


It’s the only way I’ve ever known her to buy houses (she’s onto her seventh one since I’ve been around – renovating and selling!). She knows that when you buy a house with a north-facing garden, it enables a better quality living environment, through creating the opportunity for light-filled living spaces that open out onto these gardens.  In her opinion (and I tend to agree with her), it sells better too, when the time comes.  Her ability to establish her own financial independence through renovating and selling, with this approach as a key strategy, is testament to this.

I’ve explained before that one of the true joys of designing a home is that the movement of the sun across a house, a block of land, is predictable down to every minute on every day of the year, with an understanding of location, topography, season and time of day. The sun rises in the east, and sets in the west, and in the southern hemisphere, moves through the north. So if your garden faces north (and the living areas that open onto it), it will be sun-bathed for most of the day.

Yes, Australia can be hot. Moreso in certain locations. Let me be clear – what I’m NOT talking about is capturing heat. What I’m talking about, what I’m singing from the rooftops, and dancing in the streets about is … EVERYONE! LET’S LIVE WITH LIGHT! Natural, lovely, beautiful light.  Natural light that keeps your energy bills down.  Natural heat that keeps your winter heating bills down.  Beautiful, gorgeous light.

So my mum bought this little brick house with a north-facing garden and made it our home. About four years after we’d been living there, she’d saved up enough to put a room on the back. It was a fairly boxy space which provided a large, casual living area, dining area, bathroom and a study zone. She positioned it so its long side faced north, with two sets of simple, sliding glass, aluminium framed doors. These opened out onto a paved area with outdoor furniture. You stepped down from the existing house (which was elevated above ground level by about 1m) and she kept the ceiling of the new extension fairly high, so you got this great sense of expansion – of things opening up – as you moved from the old part of the house into the new. You moved down 3 or 4 stairs into the new extension and immediately felt the openness, which was created and enhanced by the glass sliding doors that opened up the view of the garden, and let in lots of light.

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Undercover Architect

191 Musgrave Road,
Red Hill QLD 4059

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