Apartment Chic in the Burbs – Interior Designer Nola Charles

We first met Nola Charles when we featured her stunning rural home in Lower Mangrove. Full of sweeping open spaces that were perfectly suited to entertaining, Nola had built her dream home and filled it with her favourite things. Nola and her husband John are now “townies” and rather than build from scratch, they took on the task of renovating an ugly duckling.

The Central Coast has many of these older style homes, built on challenging blocks to take advantage of stunning water views, and perfect for a complete overhaul. Nola and John found their gem situated on a high bluff overlooking Brisbane Water – a small-roomed , three bedroom home of glaring red brick with bright blue trim, dating from the early 70s. A true renovator’s delight! With outdated décor but a relatively simple layout, and extra space to utilise, the home was the perfect canvas for an update.

Nola’s renovation has cleverly embraced the fact that living in these modestly sized, elevated homes is essentially apartment living. Rather than extending to try and accommodate large living areas and multiple bedrooms, Nola has used the home’s original footprint to create a home that feels rather like a luxurious hotel suite – spacious and serene but also very practical. This approach is quite a feature of Nola’s design. She’s been commissioned to design many large and luxurious hotel interiors and is well known, and sought after, for bringing an element of that holiday luxury to her client’s homes.


Nola’s first step was to change the internal layout. The home is a narrow rectangle sitting lengthways on a steeply sloping block. Upstairs originally featured an open plan kitchen and living area running along the back of the house to take advantage of the view, and open onto a large deck. The front of the house had a small entrance hall, two tiny bedrooms and a dining nook. A third bedroom and bathroom at one end completed the main rooms of the home.

Nola’s new floor plan simplifies the space, with a generous entrance and living room in the centre of the home, kitchen and dining area at one end and office and laundry at the other.

While many would be tempted to create a larger, open space, Nola’s design shows how delineating spaces with well-thought-out walls can actually add to the feeling of spaciousness.

You enter the home through a large, double doorway (another example of largesse that works incredibly well in limited space) and find yourself in a cool and stylish black tiled entrance. Far from being a waste of space, this creates a sense of calm and expanse as soon as you enter. It’s also a practical addition, giving you direct access to the kitchen from the front door and forms a traffic area for downstairs and the office and laundry (formally the main bedroom and bathroom).


The main living space of the original home is now the living and dining rooms. This is still essentially one room but the astute addition of a two-sided fireplace divides it without compromising the view or sacrificing space. Another partial wall divides the living room from the entrance hall. This wall features a seamless mirror – a design trick that Nola often uses for clients. It provides subtle division between the entrance and living room, reflecting the light and view. The addition of a large artwork cleverly diminishes this not-quite-there wall even more.

Removing the three bedrooms from the top floor has been a major advantage in the quest for a more elegant and livable space. The two small bedrooms at the front of the home have been knocked through to create a generous kitchen and to enlarge the original tiny entrance. The kitchen, like the entrance, features dark, dramatic tones, defying the general opinion that smaller spaces need lighter colours. Both areas feel cool and spacious, and give the home a feeling of solidity and structure. The darker tones also shine a spotlight on the living areas, drawing you into the home, another clever spatial trick.

Originally downstairs featured an open room and some storage space within the foundations. You now descend the stairs to a generous hallway featuring some of the couple’s art collection. Two large bedrooms and a substantial, indulgent, bathroom have been created from what was unutilised space, with the bedrooms opening on to a large terrace with more stunning water views.

The bathroom features Nola’s signature luxury fittings and echoes the dark finishes in the kitchen and entrance upstairs. The bedrooms are serene, uncluttered rooms with large beds and metres of sumptuous, rumpled linen. This whole floor feels like a very expensive hotel, down to the thick pile carpet that muffles any footfall, and must be a delight to retire to.

Nola has brought this home into the present and also redefined suburban coastal living, which, in this home, has all the style of a grand European resort.

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