Well-known Sydney and Potts Point identity, property developer and interior designer Heidi Onisforou gives me a masterclass in relaxed luxury, spatial design and how to survive and thrive when undertaking a renovation.
Her first acquisition was 32-34 Billyard Avenue, followed by 29 Challis Avenue and now 77 Macleay Street Potts Point.
Heidi, as a long-established resident of our beloved Potts Point, what is it that you love about living here?
I bought my first property in 2006. I love the history, the architecture, the urban environment, the village feel, the mixed demographic and the diversity of the buildings and the Parisian tree-lined Macleay street.
I adore heritage buildings such as the Macleay Regis. There’s also a trend towards maintaining and upgrading old buildings. It’s inspiring to see so many foyer upgrades and there are also a lot of exciting new developments such as Omnia, creating new residential precincts.
The lockout laws have also contributed to a more residential feel. It’s becoming more reminiscent of Potts Point during the 1920s when it was a glamorous place to reside. I’m creatively inspired by art deco jewellery and architecture. I’m a pearl grader by trade and I love to buy estate jewellery and remodel it, so it makes perfect aesthetic sense to live in Potts Point with so much heritage.
Your renovation of the Victorian terrace Saraville, which was built in 1893 on Challis Avenue, Potts Point sold for $13 million, setting a national record for Australia’s highest selling terrace house in 2016. You paid $5.25 million for it in 2014. That’s quite an achievement! What drew you to the property?
I followed a pretty simple property formula: buy the most run-down property on the best street. It was a dilapidated building, but it had the scope and size to do something truly inspiring. It gave me the ability to go in and use my trademark approach: proportion, light and space, in conjunction with some seriously exciting tactile materials to create something that reflects my design ethos and personality.
How did your expertise in spatial design and interior design come into play in this property?
Hotels and retail spaces really excite me and give me so much inspiration. I create my homes based on commercial spaces. I love that kind of scale. I’m inspired by architects such as Gio Pontie, Peter Zumthor, Kengo Kuma, and interior designers such as John Morford and André Fu. And the property was a vast canvas.
The terrace renovation was opulent and beautiful, but it wasn’t formal. People don’t want that stitched up level of formality anymore. Everyone loves understated luxury and beautiful finishes. People want to feel relaxed in their homes.
The level of detail in that property was just extraordinary.
During the renovations, my daughter had three major surgeries in New York. As you can imagine, it was a very stressful time. When she was sleeping, I’d be searching the internet or running around New York looking for finishes. I used my love for interiors as therapy to keep me sane in a period of great distress.
What was the standout feature for you?
There were so many, but I’ll single out the 50 square metre vertical garden in the piazza that covers the 6 metre high two storey wall and frames the windows of the guest wing. While some Potts Point properties have panoramic views over the harbour, I created an oasis inside my family home. When people walked in, it was that unexpected wow factor.
Six months after you completed the work, I made that fateful call that I had a buyer for your home. How hard was it to sell your dream home?
I never anticipated I’d sell, but as you know, it was an incredible offer. My kids didn’t speak to me for a week after I accepted!
I’ve just listed your magnificent renovation of 3C/77 Macleay Street. You’ve outdone yourself yet again!
Thank you! As you know, a lot of people at the top end have seen it all. Naturally, you’ve got to fit it out with all the bespoke finishes, but what is important is putting your personality into the space to create something truly unique.
At 260 square metres, this apartment has the feel of a large New York loft space. While most Potts Point apartments have a 2.7 metre high ceiling, this has 3.2 metre ceilings because I ripped out the false ceiling and made a feature of the exposed concrete.
I wanted to create it for someone who wants the proportions of a home but wants to be in the centre of the loud, buzzy Potts Point, with its restaurants and the close proximity to the city. However, I’ve designed something with the tranquillity of a stately home. People are shocked you could have something so substantial, smack bang in the middle of Potts Point. It’s like being in a treehouse. The apartment is on a corner so nobody overlooks you. However, you also have views down to the Harbour Bridge.
What are the different challenges between renovating the terrace and the apartment?
Challis Avenue was a heritage listed property, so there were constraints during the demolition and excavation processes that we had to work around. In the apartment, I decided to remove the curved window going onto the balcony. I replaced that whole section of the building with a beautiful curved glass sliding door. I had to crane it up four floors, which was an engineering feat in the centre of Potts Point! But it has proved to be one of my key features in the renovation.
What is your favourite place to eat in Potts Point?
You will often find me in Cho Cho San. The food is delicious, especially the Wagyu Beef. I’d also recommend Apollo for their Village Salad and Saganaki cheese. Fratelli for the everything.
So, what’s your next project?
I’ve brought a terrace on Victoria Street, and restorations are nearing completion. The demographics of Victoria Street are about to change drastically. My tip is that the backpacker hostels are going to revert to residential homes again. I’m passionate about Potts Point and would not want to live anywhere else.
Any tips for aspiring property developers?
Persistence. Persistence. Persistence. I can’t emphasise that word enough.