At Home With Bernadette Cross of The Salty Home

At Home With Bernadette Cross of The Salty Home


Welcome to ‘At Home With’. In this series, we put the spotlight on DIY renovators and the incredible work, time and creativity they invest into making their space their own. Enjoy reading about their authentic experiences, learn some key tips and be inspired by their creative approaches to managing their own renovation journeys. 


DIY Renovation Tips, At Home With Bernadette Cross
The Salty Home is proof that with vision, creativity and plenty of hard work, anyone can create the home of their dreams. Having seen over two decades of DIY transformations, Bernadette Cross’ stunning coastal abode, located in the Newcastle region of Australia is home to her beautiful family of five. Bernadette and her husband have worked tirelessly to convert an original 1960’s brick miners’ cottage into a modern and character-filled space that perfectly accommodates their family's coastal lifestyle.

As a passionate advocate for creativity as a form of therapy, Bernadette immerses herself in interior design and DIY renovation as a creative outlet outside her busy work schedule as a Clinical psychologist specialising in women’s health. We spoke with Bernadette about her renovation journey, creative processes and how she has created a warm and inviting family home. Her love of white is evident throughout the home and forms the foundation on which texture is layered through a clever use of materials and finishes. From zelige tiles to hand-trowelled plaster wall finishes and rustic timber elements, Bernadette has authentically embraced the concept of wabi sabi to shape the look and feel of her home.   

Bernadette has generously shared her DIY experiences, providing plenty of handy tips for your own renovation journey and ideas for personalising your home using layered textures, negative space and natural elements.  


DIY Renovation Tips, At Home With Bernadette Cross

You have owned your home for over two decades and the space has seen a number of transformations. Tell us about how you have adapted your home over the years to meet the changing needs of your family?

Two decades! I can’t believe that. But then when I think about all the different looks and different uses for rooms, yep, I can see where the time went. I believe that any mother raising children can appreciate that their growth drives the changes in the home. As their needs change, the house has to change. I’m a problem solver by trade. So I love the challenge of always finding solutions to everyone’s needs. 

We initially bought the house in 2002. It was a small original brick miners’ cottage, built in the 60s. Orange and green tiles, internal servery windows, and 60s carpet. We stripped it back to the floorboards, painted it white, opened up the kitchen and renovated the bathroom. 

A couple of years later, anticipating as most do a growing family, we took the roof off and built out the back and across the top. Essentially turning it from one lounge, two bedrooms, and one bathroom, into 5 bedrooms, two baths, three living rooms, a dining room and surrounding Queenslander style decks. With two upstairs verandas, and views of the sea. My Dad gave us great advice back then to use cheaper materials, like tin roofs and weatherboards, and put our money into size. It was the greatest advice. We made our drawings but employed a great draftsperson who managed to alter all our windows to capture light and the northerly breeze. 

It was essentially a new build. Then in 2014, we started to feel it needed to have an overhaul in decorative terms.I wanted some uniformity and consistency with design and theme. So I decided to strip the floors back and paint them white, remove coloured feature walls (as was the big trend of the 2010s) and paint everything white. The last stage would be to redo the kitchen we did back in 2002, by bringing it out into the open-plan more, and featuring an island bench.


DIY Renovation Tips, At Home With Bernadette Cross
What are your tips for renovating over a period of time?

My hot tip would be what my Dad used to always tell me. He would say that a house is never done. Just as you think you’ve finished it, then the things you started with at the beginning now need fixing. I didn’t find this disheartening. I trusted in it. It gave us some relief that this was how we would live and that there was no pressure to get to an endpoint. Which was a great tip, because firstly while you take your time to renovate and your house is always changing, there are many opinions about how long you are taking, and questions on when are you going to fix that fence or paint the outside!  

I would also add that the memories come with time, and a home is only a home from the memories you make in it. It is ok to take your time because things happen throughout the evolution and all of that goodness is embedded in every step of the transformation. It’s a living renovation. That warms my heart. 

Finally, I think you need to take a moment and make a deliberate set of intentions to stay jovial. And flexible. Maintaining a sense of humour, expecting disasters and fatigue, rolling with the punches and having no real hard expectations is the touchstone to a joyful experience.


DIY Renovation Tips, At Home With Bernadette Cross
How did you prioritise the rooms to begin the renovation and what was your process in each room?  

It was more of a build and evolve as we went. We’ve prioritised according to our desperate need to live in a space first. So kitchen first. Somewhere to sleep. Then work around that. A renovation is very different compared to a new build. For example, you really just want to get that roof covering over the existing house before the rain hits!

In terms of styling, I tend to start with a shelf or a corner and work my way outwards. I think this came from years of breastfeeding and just staring at one corner that I knew I could jazz up when the bub was asleep. The room began to take shape eventually.

But when doing a large project, I always start with impact on entry. Standing at the spot where you first take in the whole space and find the focal point. I like to pick some statement pieces. I like to keep rooms relatively a blank canvas and adore white floorboards and white walls with white beds, sofas or cabinetry. Then the decor can move with the moods and seasons and needs of the family over time. 


DIY Renovation Tips, At Home With Bernadette Cross
You and your husband have tackled your renovations with your own hands, which is an impressive feat! How did you begin the journey of your home renovation, do you have any professional trade skills?  And what have you learned along the way? 

We have never really been interested in getting help unless we absolutely have to. And then often Connor works alongside them. We were a young couple when we had Scout. I was only 22 when I fell pregnant, and I was still at uni. So we had to try to make do, salvaging and restoring furniture. We grew up in our early 20s on shows like Backyard Blitz, Better Homes and Garden and the Block. We spent our weekends at Bunnings and I remember Connor teaching himself skills from textbooks. We lived in a kitchen for years we found at a council chuck-out on the side of the road. I loved that kitchen!

We loved being resourceful and it has helped us to keep our mortgage down when we saw people around us getting into great debt. We are also creative by nature and want to do it, and we love the sense of achievement. 

We don’t have any professional trade skills. But my husband built the house. We employed a carpenter but he worked alongside him, kind of like his apprentice. My husband did all our electrical work (again as his Uncle’s pseudo apprentice), our gyprocking, our tiling, our laying of floorboards, I mean the list could go on. He taught himself everything, and we’ve done a few different houses now and other smaller projects and I’m always amazed at how savvy and skilled he is. For someone who is in Marketing and Business Development by day, his skill set is really impressive.

I do all our painting and plastering and gardening. I tend to project manage everything, do the design, and sourcing and work with trades when we get them. I do the budget and yet I also jump on any equipment. I have strong memories of sanding our floors with a belt sander from Bunnings 8 months pregnant with Scout and falling asleep that night on bags of cement.

What we have learned along the way, hmmm, well here goes with my dot points!

  • Watch the light throughout the day, where it falls and where it comes in.
  • Feel the breeze. For us, it’s about capturing the northerly. Bunkering down from the southerly. Protecting plants from the westerly.
  • Wash your paint brushes. But if you’re exhausted at least glad-wrap them.
  • Collect and curate. Don’t just buy on impulse.
  • Raise your eye line. Don’t hang and buy only low-sitting furniture. Lift the door frames and art and put them on higher shelves. If you have high ceilings, take everything up.
  • If you’re tall don’t be afraid to take your benches 980 mm
  • Slipcovers all the way. Never buy an upholstered lounge, if you have kids. The only way to clean it is to bring in someone. A slipcover can go in the bath and the dryer. Kid-friendly living. It’s also the only way to live in a white house. It has to be easy to clean.
  • Lighting is a religion. Pendants sconces lamps. Anything except downlights. They should only be turned on to encourage party guests to head home or mop the floors. Or to look for something.
  • Draw sketches. For your partner and your trades. Not everyone can see what’s in your head. But you need everyone on board or the questioning of your vision can slow it all down and make you question yourself.
  • Save up for big-ticket items. Make do with an affordable lounge in the meantime for example until you can afford the dream lounge.
  • Always invest in art. And support new unknown artists. Save for originals.
  • Support local, handmade and women. That’s my jam. But it is also sustainable and good for the economy and equality.
  • Wait for no man. This one is for the ladies. I tell my girls if you can do it, don’t wait for your Dad or a man to come help, give it a go yourself. You’ll be surprised how capable you are and the autonomy is addictive.
  • Do one thing at a time. And break in between. It’s a marathon that never actually ends. Not a sprint.


DIY Renovation Tips, At Home With Bernadette Cross
Can you please share some tips and any advice that you can offer our audience on how to begin their own renovation journey?

Where to begin? Well, I always say to clients in therapy, begin where you’re at. The hardest part is always reflecting on yourself, and developing insight. Where are you living? How are you living? How do you want to live? If you could get up in the morning any way you want, how would that look? Where would you sit to eat breakfast? How would the light fall around you? What kind of cup are you drinking from? Who are you with? 

If you can build a picture in your mind of your authentic self and where you are in your home, and how it all feels, researching the objects and sketching a picture, saving inspiring pics that capture it for you, writing the list of all the steps needed, is all so much easier if you’ve done enough reflection. It can take weeks to reflect. A morning to write a list and only a few days to complete a room. The work is in the reflection.

I think my advice when you are young is that you love so much and there’s so much at your fingertips and it's hard to know your style. It helps to look back at thumbnails of images and blur your eyes so to speak and see what consistent colours and themes and ideas keep coming up for you. 


DIY Renovation Tips, At Home With Bernadette Cross
Your home features an all-white foundation with elements of texture. Can you tell us a little more about the materials and finishes that you have chosen throughout your home? 

Ahh here is the white question! I know I am clearly a white advocate. You can't beat a white house for impact and for elevating the spirit. However, my home is filled with colour. It just isn’t too busy with colour. The negative space of white allows calm and a framing effect. The colour looks more striking against the white and then overall it's not too busy on the eye.

White is light. Light is the antidote to the daily grind. It lifts. A natural antidepressant. So white is essential but still needs to evoke warmth so texture gives white its humanity. Texture also beckons you to be tactile. To want to touch and feel your space. To want to dive in and live in it. It’s welcoming. 

My favourite way to add texture with white is with a feature wall or room in Mineral Fox Ibiza Lime Plaster. There are individual finishes to this product, and I’m a long-time fan... I prefer not to brush or sponge it back too much. I like the rough undulations and creases reminiscent of European stucco walls. I always paint it with Bauwerk’s lime paint as I prefer a very matt chalky finish. I have found that adding these elements in my house, in my entry, kitchen and soon to be our bathroom, gives a depth to white walls that is sensual and enveloping.

I’m a keen tile curator. I could spend hours researching tiles. I think smooth shiny tiles are a lost opportunity. With gyprock walls in abundance, it's an easy opportunity to add texture by using handmade tiles with their quirky irregularities. My love for Zellige and Moroccan handmade tiles goes way back, and I designed the whole renovation in 2014 around a selection of Moroccan bespoke tiles I found. Every aspect of our current palette goes back to those tiles. 

Rugs for that matter are also essential for texture. As is a worn floor. I spent hours chipping back my upstairs white floorboards to look like a New York warehouse, after a trip in 2008. A rug should move with the light and I try to find pieces that are one–of–a–kind. And always, always handmade. So texture is really my favourite medium. It’s hard to find a smooth surface in my house.

    DIY Renovation Tips, At Home With Bernadette Cross
    You have a distinct style for layering textures, warm tones and natural elements over your white palette. How do you describe your signature touches and why do you think they work well in your home?

    My signature touches…. white, texture, global, romantic, and soothing. You can travel the globe in one of my rooms. There will be an antique altar from China, doors from India, an Indonesian daybed, Queenslander VJ panelling, Ibizan plaster, British brass light switches, a rug from Morocco, linen from Italy, a pendant from Mykonos, and a ceramic dish from a small studio in Newcastle. I would say that my home is a living memory of our travels, and everyone is welcome to drop in and eat and feel for a moment like they are on holiday.  

    I like to create a space that is a refuge at the end of the day, mostly because of my work. But I grew up in a home like that too. It's important that when I come home I feel like I’m on holiday, a holiday that restores your soul. So when you wake the next day you have reset, ready for the wild world. 

    It's super important to me that I create a therapeutic environment for my kids, so they not only want to be at home as they get older, but they want to open up and talk here, and that they feel their home is their sanctuary. Children always see their home and their parents as an extension of each other. I try to be mindful of that every day. Creating a space for them, cooking generously, and asking questions, is my way to show my love.


    DIY Renovation Tips, At Home With Bernadette Cross
    You have used The Dharma Door collection throughout your home, can you share a little more about this and why you think it is important for us to consider how and where our purchases are made? 

    I’m a considered buyer and collector. I have a love of antiques. I love history. And I want to honour sacred memories. And I want to keep something going. I don’t want to always be throwing things out for a trend. I want to live sustainably. What I love about The Dharma Door is that they’re sustainable and ethically produced, handmade signature pieces, that ticked so many boxes for me. They come with meaning and purpose and they support women. When I started our major renovation back in 2014 I centred the whole downstairs around the large mandala art piece. I knew I didn’t just want art and photographic prints, I wanted something with texture and soul to be the focal point. But I wanted it to be neutral and easy on the eye over many years so I could decorate with colour and smaller items around it and it would go seamlessly with everything. I also loved how you could look at it for hours and never get sick of its intricate workings. It is one of the most beautiful pieces in my house. And one of the most photographed. 

    And when they hear about the brand and what is behind the brand it really moves people. And fits into the culture of our space. Over the years I slowly added to my Dharma Door collection. From the jumbo tassel on the stairwell wall to the Puspa wall hanging in my daughter's bedroom. I also find that the silvery tones of all the woven baskets are a welcome change from the standard rattan weaving that’s overly accessible today. It partners well with the Malawi cane from Africa that features throughout my house. There’s a thoughtfulness to the design elements that appeal to my love of details.


    DIY Renovation Tips, At Home With Bernadette Cross
    What are your top five priorities when designing and decorating and why? 
    • Negative Space. I am a massive advocate for negative space. Which is not really what people think of when they see my abundant textured and layered style. But without negative space, the details get lost and the head gets busy when you look at it and the feeling of peace is gone. Hence white. White is negative space. And well I could talk about white all day. That requires a whole other interview!!!
    • Texture. Bring in life and warmth. Texture shouldn’t be too colourful though. The neutrality makes the texture even more alluring. Keeps it subtle and makes you want to reach out and touch it.
    • Handmade. You can’t have wabi-sabi without it. It's sustainable and brings soul. It is also excellent for energy. It brings vitality to a space, unlike a machine-made product.
    • Meaningful. Create a space intentionally. Buy meaningful products. Perhaps use an anniversary to justify a pricey artwork. Attach stories and memories to what ends up living in your home.
    • Evocative. Pick your emotions and the purpose of your home. What type of home are you trying to achieve? Curate accordingly and choose elements that are consistent with the feeling that you are trying to evoke.


    DIY Renovation Tips, At Home With Bernadette Cross
    We understand creativity is incredibly important to you? Can you please share more about this?

    Any question about creativity gets me excited. When I get asked that kind of question my profession automatically makes me consider what happened as a young person in my life to lead me to this point. I grew up creating, with an interior loving mum, and a creative family despite their cognitive daily roles. It was always instilled in us to work hard, do things ourselves, not be afraid to try, and value the art of creation. My childhood instilled in me a value that creativity was self-expression, and imperative for a healthy mind and free spirit.

    In Psychology, creativity is also valued. I encourage all my clients to be creative, as we have long understood the benefits of preventing mental ill-health through the forms of creative expression and exploration. It's important to carve out time each day for creativity. And like most things, it's important that I practice what I preach. I have long sought different creative means to relieve stress and keep my head clear. From pottery to watercolours, dance and cooking. But interiors are my staple mode of creative outlet. Being creative is both a great cognitive distraction and a connection to the heart. 

    For me, I can be my most creative when designing interiors, painting and building during renovations, pulling together a space for living in, or for someone else to enjoy, or especially for a photoshoot. I think it initially started as a distraction after a long day, scrolling through endless images, reading design and interior magazines, drawing sketches, sourcing products, and researching methods such as plastering. It was a way to cope with my day job. And my home was the perfect experiment for all these ideas.


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