Homes of the Hunter | Islington | Photos

In the past three years, Clare Downie has gone through some big changes. 

Originally from Sydney and the Blue Mountains, the broadcast producer moved to Newcastle where she worked in animation and project management.

After arriving in Newcastle she met her partner, James Ross, a Kiwi, and about a month ago she gave birth to their son, James Junior.

While the partner and child are a lovely result of the move, her original purpose for moving to Newcastle was to be able to afford a house.

They are now happy in their charming weatherboard in Islington.

She had girlfriends already living in the city and that made the decision to move easier.

“I love it, the pace of life is so much better than Sydney, so much less stressful,” she says.

“In Islington, I’m close to everything that I need. I’ve got the dog park and a cycle way to Carrington. I used to mountain bike quite a bit before I got pregnant.

“Glenrock is right there. It sounds like such a cliché, (but) everything is at your fingertips.”

Downie went to university in Melbourne where she studied multimedia and industrial design. 

Later she moved to London to work in film and visual effects.

Her background in the creative industries has given her an eye for all things design, and she’s been studying interior design locally while simultaneously launching her new business, Zilla Interior Design.

She styled her own house in the industrial style that she loves.  

Over the past year, she and Ross (who is a handyman) installed the whole kitchen, laundry and bathroom. The only thing they had help with was plumbing and electric. 

They’ve recently done up the nursery too.

“(James and I) are a very good team, we bounce off each other a lot, he will listen to my opinion, he’ll run things by me,” she says.

“We work well together.” 

Originally there wasn’t a window in the kitchen so Ross built some windows from scratch. They stripped up the carpet, and she ripped up five layers of linoleum and then decided to paint the floorboards. 

She’s quite happy with the dark look on the floor. She also loves subway tiles and does all her own tiling.

She has always decorated her rentals, but this is her first opportunity to truly DIY.

Everything is upcycled and secondhand apart from their custom-made cupboards.

In the laundry, the bench is made from old floorboards. 

She restores furniture too, and she sanded and oiled the sideboard in the lounge room. 

She and Ross love searching on Gumtree and locally for ways to enhance their home. 

“I’m always sourcing my stuff from auction houses, garage sales and recycled building material.” she says.

She has a lampshade she bought from a really seedy market in Melbourne.

“There’s a story behind them. Everything has been given a new life again; it’s all from somewhere else,” she says.

“I’m not limited to this, but there is a focus on upcycling and recycling.” 

She’s always had an obsession with built environment and would love to have her own warehouse.

Her father painted the painting of the Sydney Harbour in her lounge room. She said he was a prolific painter, and sadly he has since passed away.

“He always lived in warehouses. I think that’s why I have an obsession with warehouses,” she says.

The sign with black letters in her kitchen came from Crabapple Vintage and is from a real train. Called a train roll, it would sit at the front of the train, and when the driver was going to the next destination he would flick it over to the next town. 

She loves it because of the old typography and because it reminds her of her cousins in England.

Starting her business from her home appears to be working nicely with her recent pregnancy and birth. 

With Downie’s attention to detail, the house has been transformed.

“My old housemate posted a picture on Facebook of the kitchen (from) a few years ago I was like ‘that’s awful’. Now it’s so nice, every room is light and airy,” Downie says. 

“This weatherboard house is probably 100 years old. It’s been treated really badly. 

“So I’m just trying to restore it to its original glory, bit by bit.”

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