There are some homes that accumulate the memories of their inhabitants, as they move through history
Judy and Michael Douglass moved to Mount Lawley 42 years ago, to create their version of the Aussie dream. They bought a historic house that had been building character for over 60 years, one they could shape until it became their ideal home. And with each renovation and each year that passed, more memories were infused into the fibre of the house—the definition of a labour of love.
Beginnings: four rooms and an outdoor bathroom
When Judy and Michael bought their house in 1981, it was still the original 1920s Plunkett Homes design—the iconic four equal-sized rooms, a makeshift sleepout, an outdoor bathroom, and an open stretch of backyard dotted with tall weeds and orange trees. Mount Lawley was a different place then, quieter, and most of their neighbours were people like the old Italian lady who lived across the road and brought them vegetables she had grown on her 800 m2 block.
They were making an investment in their future.‘I wanted to live in an inner city suburb that was developing and becoming more valuable, and I knew Mount Lawley was an up and coming suburb,’ explained Michael.
An inner-suburbs oasis
Today, their street is overhung by lush trees, limited in growth by power lines but robust with the age of the suburb, perhaps even older than the line of carefully manicured historic houses they shade. Behind the red-brick facade of their home, a short entrance hallway opens out into a bright, carpeted living area. And from this vantage point, there are views of the warmly lit courtyard through the rest of the modern extension.
As their pool’s water feature splashed gently in the background, Judy and Michael, now in their 60s and 70s, looked back on the 40+ years they’ve spent in the house. It was a conscious decision to buy a small, historic home and slowly breathe new life into it, tweaking until the house became their dream place. ‘People used to do that; buy a house and spend all their lives in it,’ said Michael matter-of-factly. He was 30 and Judy was 20 when they bought it, and unlike young couples now, who according to Michael, are looking for large modern homes with ‘marble bathrooms and two sinks’, they preferred the central city location to the sprawling outer suburbs of Perth and valued the character of a historic home.
The memories a house holds
The house was so brimming with life’s moments, that when they looked around, they couldn’t pick just one. But then, they remembered that they actually got married in the house. ‘We were together for ten years before we got married. Neither of us wanted a big fancy wedding, so we got married here and just had a party,’ said Judy. After a small ceremony in the living room, they set up a marquee in the backyard, with a cocktail bar, and ‘turned the music up loud’. ‘Because that was us, we didn’t need anything else,’ said Judy.
Soon after, in 1990, they had their daughter Jennifer, who brought even more memories to the home—and even though she lives in Bedford with her husband now, the signs of her childhood feel ever present. The list of heights on the laundry door, drawn on yellowing paint… As Judy said, ‘It’s our history.’
Investing a lifetime in your home
Judy flipped open one of Jennifer’s old school papers from year 7—a project called My Home. ‘I remember doing the project with Jen; I think I enjoyed it more than she did!’ she laughed. There was a Certificate of Title, the Plunkett Homes sale listing in a 1924 issue of the West Australian, and a collection of faded photographs featuring their first renovation in 1981.
Of this renovation, Michael said, ‘We made it possible by doing 95% of the work ourselves.’ It was the first time they extended the little house and began to transform it into what they envisioned. And every spare cent went into the project. ‘For a year, we ended up with no glass in the windows, because we couldn’t afford the glass.’ Michael said. Judy added, ‘And concrete floors. It was a very gradual process—it grew with us.’
Why wouldn’t you want to live like this?
Judy and Michael’s passion is evident in the way that they speak about their home and the lives they’ve lived within it. The dart of an eye to a corner of the room you would hardly see as significant—but they know the labour and intention behind it. Michael said it simply, ‘Why wouldn’t you want to live like this?’
In this historic home, memories mingle amongst traces of history, baked into every brick and beam. From the old stove and chimney that’s now a wine nook, to the deep crack that runs along the verandah and up into the frame of a window—a memento from the 1968 earthquake. Withstanding nature’s forces and adapting to new ways of life, this 100-year-old Plunkett home has held generations of Australians defining their version of home.