It’s no surprise that Alanna Smit’s home is a lesson in considered and livable style. The structural interior designer and mum of three has mastered the fine art in combining function and style when it comes to family living, and the end result speaks for itself...
“My home is very special to me, built by the hands I love (my husband built our home) for the ones I love. It always will be more than enough for me. It has the charm of a quintessential Pittwater cottage but is still completely unique and like no other. It has my stamp on it now and has lots of room to grow,” explains Alanna of the island inspired home she shares with husband Mike, daughters Maisie and Penelope and son Sam on Sydney’s northern beaches. Although her motherhood journey came somewhat unexpectedly at age 24, Alanna embraced new beginnings with a hefty dose of determination and positive thinking thanks to her “can do” attitude. “In the period of one week I discovered I was going to be a mother, subsequently lost my job (which I loved) because I was pregnant (nice, right?) and lost my financial independence. Within that same week I got engaged, moved in with Mike (mind you, the first boyfriend I ever lived with and a long way from friends and my former life) and we started a business together.” Read on to hear more from the inspiring multitasking mother on everything from her top tips for combining a stylish home with three kids (hint – storage is everything!) to her top gardening secrets and what working with your husband is really like. Words: Marisa Remond | Photography: Grace Alyssa Kyo | Go to www.alannasmit.com.au
How would you describe yourself in three words?
Passionate, resilient and extremely unpredictable.
What has been the most challenging part of motherhood?
Motherhood came suddenly and very unexpectedly to me at the age of 24. Finding out I was pregnant for the first time and then having three children under three – coupled with the massive change in lifestyle from my career days to becoming a mother – has been one of the greatest challenges I’ve ever encountered.
What qualities do you always try to foster in your children?
I want them to enjoy this time they have together as siblings and build the foundations for what will be the longest relationships they will have in their life. Play, learn, create together, depend on one another, share and encourage one another, be the most important people in each others’ lives. To always be kind, be brave and have a go, take responsibility for your actions and be mindful and empathetic.
What are your top time management tips?
Generally, I see it and I do it. I try not to put off what can be done right here, right now, otherwise things tend to get on top of me. Our line of work is very unpredictable – dozens of new issues arise daily that have to be dealt with immediately. This reactive necessity of the design/building industry means it can be difficult to schedule proactive work into your day – I sometimes find myself spending 12 hours troubleshooting and solving problems and not getting anything marked off my to-do list. I find this incredibly frustrating and sometimes unmotivating as not all tasks you set are getting completed. On the flipside, this has taught me to, quite frankly, get shit done quickly and efficiently. It’s a blessing and a curse!
How do you keep your home in order with three kids?
I am very tidy! I do like a clean and functional home environment and thankfully ours is an easy home to keep tidy. Everything has a place with lots of clever storage solutions to hide mess I can attend to later if I need too. I try to go to bed with the house looking like it did in the morning most nights (tidy), so keeping on top of it that way certainly works for me. I’m definitely not a minimalist, I love collecting antiques and beautiful pieces to furnish our home and make it interesting. But I curate these pieces very carefully – I’m pretty fastidious about the pieces we have dotted around the house, so there’s not a sense of clutter, more a sense of a well-lived in, interesting home.
What do you love about where you live?
What completes our home is our community, bursting with amazing families, businesses and countless beautiful locations to share. It’s like a small town and you can’t escape people you know! It’s common occurrence to go out for a family dinner and end up joining half a dozen other families. The kids have an absolute ball together! It’s comforting to know so many people have your children’s interests at heart and vice versa.
How would you describe what you do…
In short, I’m a structural interior designer. I work on residential and commercial renovations and new builds and on projects of all sizes and scopes. Right now, I’m designing a gorgeous bunk bed configuration for a Southern Highlands cottage (small job) and also working on the complete overhaul and extension of an expansive Newport home with breathtaking ocean views (big job!). I get great satisfaction from both the large and the small projects – as long as I have the opportunity to exercise my creativity and create something that is as functional as it is beautiful. I have just finished filming the design and construction component for a new Foxtel TV series… a dream come true and certainly the closest I’ve come to achieving one of my big-picture career goals.
Tell us about your garden…
I love a tropical garden. Like any good interior, it’s the layers of foliage and texture that create such an effortless environment. I am lucky to have Mike’s mum who is an avid gardener to bounce ideas off, we have different styles but her input has been invaluable. I love having flexibility in the garden, like unfitted furniture that can be rearranged inside a room. I tend to go for a mix of structured hedges and garden beds, an organic style planting of plants that are moveable or propagate easily, along with pots that I can adapt for a more seasonal look.
Can you share three tips for someone looking to redo their garden?
1. Look around your neighbourhood and see what grows well and what doesn’t. 2. Be bold and just like shopping for artwork or furniture, select plants you like and are drawn too. 3. Let it evolve – be patient and most importantly treat it like any other room of your home.
What’s it like working with your husband?
The pure, honest version? There have been days he has wanted to throw me in a hole and bury me, and in turn days that I have wanted to stab him in the neck with my pencil. BUT I can honestly say that working with my husband is one of my greatest achievements and when things are running smoothly I love it and wouldn’t change it for the world (when things aren’t running so smoothly you’ll find me looking for a very sharp pencil…). I admire his work ethic, drive and attention to detail. He inspires me to always try harder and I’m very proud of our working relationship. Like any relationship it always needs work and it’s certainly easy for us to always be in work mode – it would be great to put more boundaries around that side of things. With this in mind, I’ve recently opened a beautiful new studio space in Newport in an effort to leave my work in the ‘office’ at the end of the day.
“ Working with my husband is one of my greatest achievements and when things are running smoothly I love it and wouldn’t change it for the world ”
What’s your favourite thing to do on the weekend?
We love pizza Fridays, a tradition we started when we had three under three and lived on a renovation site. I needed one night a week where someone would bring me food and wine and clean up – it was a necessity for my sanity at that crazy time in our lives! These days though, we love to have pizza night at home with lots of friends, sitting under the frangipani tree in our backyard and feeding pizza after pizza into the woodfire stove Mike built. In summer it’s all about the water – beach, surfing, fishing, boating, BBQ’s repeat as many times as you can before it’s Monday.
Describe your Inbox…
Currently it’s a nightmare. Please don’t remind me, perhaps if I ignore them they will go away!
If you could go back and tell yourself some advice when you were pregnant with your first, what would it be?
It’s ok to make it your own journey, be kind to yourself and try to get a grip on your craving for desiccated coconut and maple syrup.
What’s your approach to health and wellbeing?
I wish I could say I exercise regularly but I don’t. There just aren’t enough hours in my day. I do enjoy being active with the kids and I love taking a walk or run if time allows but that’s about it. We do eat pretty healthily but by all means we eat what we like and love chocolate and cheese! Mike and I have a bit of a “tradie” diet on our work days with “smoko” being a larger meal – lots of fresh protein and green vegies – and we eat dinner together as a family by 6pm everyday (otherwise Mike would pass out).
How do you unwind?
Another area I probably need to work on is making time for myself – I have always struggled with this. I used to love playing the piano, drawing and painting… I am aiming to bring some or more of this back into my life one day. I let go of a lot of work angst and general stress with a spontaneous dance session with the kids in the kitchen while I’m supposed to be cooking and they are supposed to be doing homework… so rebellious and fun! A cup of tea or a glass of wine also works wonders, as does a good book.