Close to the city but away from it all, treetop living was the answer for this busy family. Looking for a home that was peaceful and central, Michael and his wife Angela were drawn to this secluded property, perched high on a rocky escarpment, for its light and bright living spaces. “Living here is like living on the Central Coast, but I’m literally 15 minutes from work,” Michael says of his home on Sydney’s North Shore.
With its open-plan kitchen, dining area and separate lounge, the home was designed for family living – perfect for Michael and Angela’s two young children, aged 9 and 11. “Most of the family activity takes place in the kitchen diner,” Michael says. “Angela and I enjoy the separate lounge, as it’s a little bit of a sanctuary.”
Clean lines and contemporary design create a focus on the bushland setting, with huge windows taking in the expansive nature views. The entrance opens onto floor-to-ceiling glass for instant impact and the master bedroom, with windows on three sides, is one of Michael’s favourite spaces.
“It’s like a glass igloo in the treetops,” he jokes. The north-facing balcony, with bi-fold windows, adds to the feel of indoor/outdoor living, functioning as an outdoor room. “We pretty much live out there in the summer,” he says.
A neutral colour scheme was the perfect backdrop for the couple’s selection of contemporary designer furniture, so little redecoration was needed. “Part of the appeal was that we could move in and just start living,” Michael explains. “I’m always conscious of how much work I have and didn’t want a huge renovation project.” The couple’s collection of artwork and pieces acquired on their travels add interest to the interior, with soft furnishings chosen by Angela.
“Angela says the interior is quite masculine,” says Michael, who chose much of the furniture. “There is a lot of black, wood and leather, so she adds the soft touch.”
Michael picked furniture from interior design stores, such as Space. His involvement in restaurant design put him in the perfect position to find interesting pieces. “I often buy furniture for new restaurants and like it so much that I order the same pieces for home,” he says. “The Charles Eames chairs in the dining room, bentwood chairs and coffee table in the lounge were connected to restaurants I have had before.”
OLD AND NEW
A bar in the lounge area was bought at auction from a restaurant and restored by Michael. “It took three weeks to strip, re-stain the veneer, polish the chrome and varnish,” he says. “My father is a funeral director and my first part-time job was polishing coffins; I drew on that experience when restoring the bar – that’s a skill I never thought I would use again!” The original bar was in two pieces – yin and yang. “I only have half, as the whole piece was too big a unit to use in a home. I’m not sure where the other piece has gone,” he says.
“Our style is very clean and functional. This is not a cluttered or chintzy house,” Michael explains. “It’s quite streamlined and easy to keep that way – even with kids in the house and entertaining, it only takes an hour and a half or so to get the house back in order.”
The expansive exterior deck lends itself to outdoor living and entertaining, when Michael may cook a fresh and simple seafood ceviche of scallops and tuna, followed by something on the barbecue. The couple share the cooking at home. “Angela cooks for the family – she has a higher strike rate with the kids,” Michael laughs, “while I do the cooking when we entertain.”
The focus on light and healthy eating is the subject of Michael’s new book, Blood Sugar, featuring recipes for diabetics with an emphasis on family food and fresh ingredients. As both a diabetic and a chef, he has a unique perspective on cooking for diabetics. As he explains, these recipes are simple and delicious and can be enjoyed by all the family.
After suffering a stroke, Michael felt inspired to write Blood Sugar. “Something needed to be done, as people with these challenges in their lives need inspiration and guidance to get them out of the gastronomic wilderness they live in. As cooking is my life, I’m a living, breathing example of how to do this,” he says. “The book has been hugely successful. People living with diabetes have told me that they’ve been eating the same menu for years and are so excited to find these recipes. We suggest food that’s good for everyone to share; tasty, healthy food for all the family.”
This fresh and healthy eating style is a way of life for Michael’s own family. “I will be cooking this type of food for the rest of my life now,” he says. And there are several more Blood Sugar books in the pipeline.
“When I create a dish, I’m always writing a book in my mind. I am able to totally cook in between my ears. I could be walking past a fruit shop, or eating in another restaurant, but I can build a new dish in my mind. I only ever taste a dish to confirm that it tastes as I thought it would,” he explains.
Cooking fresh food is a family tradition. “My mother and both grandmothers were
great cooks and all our food was freshly made. When I look back, I realise what a great influence they were and what a great grounding they gave me, although I felt ripped off by all the fresh food at the time!” he laughs. Michael is passing this focus on freshly made food to his children, with his daughter currently making her own sweet cook book. “We do a recipe together, photograph it and file it,” Michael relates. “She’s never interested in cleaning up, though!”
“Blood Sugar is my second book and both books have been shot here at home,” he says. “The idea behind the book is to create great home recipes. When we were looking for a studio to shoot the book, we decided to shoot at home using the great natural light.” Michael and his head chef cooked all 70 recipes in the family kitchen, making him something of an expert when it comes to kitchen design.
Michael’s kitchen includes contemporary features, such as Caesarstone benchtops and a glass splashback. Pots and pans take centrestage, along with the family’s three
coffee machines. “This kitchen has so many drawers and cupboards, that things can take a long time to find!” he says. “I cook in a great many kitchens, and every kitchen the world over has a drawer full of junk – teaspoons, headache pills and bits of string!
Although storage is a great thing in a kitchen, you still need good main areas. The most important aspect of a kitchen is two sinks to wash and rinse properly. I like to cook with gas, but a good induction hob consumes less power and gives less radiant heat,” he says. “A combination of gas and induction is probably best, with two ovens if you are serious about cooking. A big, open bench that you can spread out on and that is easy to clean is also great.”
Michael prefers the softness of Caesarstone benches to commercial stainless steel. “Stainless steel gets scratched and marked, and reminds me of work!” he says. “It also requires a fair amount of maintenance, although a textured stainless ssteel splashback can be nice, but even these lose their lustre after time.” The family dining table has a white Corian tabletop, which Michael finds a practical choice. “Every year we can cut it back and re-polish,” he says. “Unless you crack it, Corian is one of the best surfaces around.”
BEHIND THE SCENES
Michael’s tip: “Start with a mood board and have an idea of what you like – luckily my wife and I tend to have the same style. A home is really about the people who are in it; otherwise it’s just a collection of furniture and a place to put your head.”
Favourite feature: A yellow splash painting, created by Michael and Angela’s daughter’s year one class and bought at a school art auction is one of Michael’s favourite artworks. “So many people ask about this beautiful piece,” Michael says, “but it’s been done by a bunch of five-year-olds! I am always amazed by what kids can do.”
STORY KATE WILLIAMS
PHOTOGRAPHY RYAN HERNANDEZ
STYLING KATHRYN BORGLUND