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Leanne Grinder and her husband Peter have worked on restoring her Davy St cottage since 2015. PHOTO: KELLEY TANTAU

From grungy cottage to ‘grande dame’

There’s a motley collection of colours, textures, and eye-catching items; an aesthetic of excess that can’t be seen from the roadside.
A step from the quiet footpath of Davy Street in Thames, where a buzzing reverberates from the lavender bushes, there is a quaint cottage that looks a picture – its white facade a fresh backdrop against the roses that have not yet bloomed.
But inside there is an eclectic fusion of neon and floral; the maximalism effect of interior design that makes each corner of the restored villa interesting.
There’s a lamp in the shape of a gold pineapple, a neon flamingo and an ornamental rabbit. As ‘Born to be Wild’ plays around the room, a tiger-printed cushion makes itself known.
“I’m not a shrinking violet when it comes to colour,” Leanne Grinder says.
Leanne and her husband, Peter “the paperhanger,” purchased the property back in 2015.
Early photos show it being a high-ceiling fixer-upper that was on its way to becoming someone else’s sanctuary – with the pinks filtered throughout the home either on wallpaper or rugs or throws having a stronger significance than just their shade.
The villa’s previous owner was diagnosed with stage four breast cancer, and ended up being tended to by Sweet Louise, a New Zealand service that provides support for those living with incurable breast cancer.
When she passed away, Leanne and Peter took over the house as a deceased estate.
“Proceeds of the sale were donated to Sweet Louise,” Leanne says, “and I just thought: ‘You know what, I’m going to do this place justice’”.
In mid-2022, Leanne was given her own breast cancer diagnosis. She says she caught the cancer early and, after six months of treatment, is now clear.
“So, there is this strange kind of synergy with the home,” she says, “but when I first walked in, it had this amazing feeling to it. I mean, the kitchen bench was still sitting in the lounge room, but it had all ‘the feels’.”

Leanne Grinder’s heritage home perfectly blends history with vibrancy. PHOTO: KELLEY TANTAU

Passing into the dining area, there is a large bouquet of flowers that sits proudly when cats Dexter and Felix aren’t trying their paws at floral arranging.
Opposite it, there’s an ornate gramophone, and on the other side of the room, sitting on the custom built-in, is a record player.
Leanne says the gramophone works but sounds a bit scratchy, while the record player has around 700 different records to choose from.
“Music has been a part of my life since I was a teenager. I was the girl who made the mix-tapes. I’m the one who makes the playlist for the party,” she says. “Music has been the one constant throughout my whole life.”
There are also items of nostalgic significance for Leanne, like the gold standing globe in the living room.
“When I was growing up, I had a school desk with a world map on it, and instead of doing my homework, I used to study the map and I got really good at knowing all the capitals around the world,” she recalls.
“I just wanted to create my own vibe here and then I discovered there was a word for it.”
That word was maximalism, and it describes an interior design trend that mixes different colours with different patterns and prints. It pays homage to ‘more is more’.
“The house is full of things I just really love,” Leanne says, “and I wanted to embrace the heritage, too.
“I think if we moved out, and you didn’t have all this stuff here, it would still look like a really beautiful house in tones that suit the age of it. The decor is what’s giving off another vibe.”
The couple had to completely remove and reinstate the front verandah because people had to be careful where they stepped. They took all the walls back to the exterior to be able to install insulation, and they also put in new windows and doors.
Leanne has even added fretwork to separate the living and dining areas, and the quality harks back to the home’s 100-year history. There’s also a study and a bathroom at the back of the house that has been rebuilt from the ground up.
“Heaps of people have watched this [renovation] since day one, and they always comment on how much they love what we’ve done to it. It’s really lovely and rewarding,” Leanne says, “and I think this house will be good to go for another 100 years”.
Leanne has spent some time studying towards an interior design diploma, and her goal is to finish it off now that she has the “all-clear” regarding her cancer diagnosis.
“When I was in high school, I did technical drawing, and my career goal was to actually go into drafting or something to do with plans,” she said. “So, all of the things I’ve done here, these projects, I’ve pretty much made those plans.”
While not an architect, Leanne still dabbles in colour and design on the daily. She owns the Pollen Street salon Walter & Co, but says her public-facing job can sometimes be akin to a goldfish bowl. That’s why it’s so important for her home to be her sanctuary.
“This job needed to be done right. You can’t cut corners on a house this old,” she says. “I’d love to know its whole history – it’s got a story of its own to tell – but I just wanted to turn it from a grungy miners cottage into a grande dame.”
And when it comes to the feminine aspects of the villa – the floral wallpaper and duvets, and the lavish pink bouquets, Leanne says her husband doesn’t feel emasculated by any of it. In fact, her design flair has even rubbed off on visiting tradesmen.
And for people who want to expand their design know-how and move away from minimalism, Leanne says to take it one step at a time.
“If you’re a little bit scared of colour on the walls, then be a bit braver with your furnishings perhaps,” she says. “I do think homes like this do suit colour, so if you’ve got a heritage home and you ever want to be brave with it… it really is so lovely to live within.”