An open secret: At home with lifestyle entrepreneur Shelley Simpson

Huge glass sliding doors, double-height ceilings, concrete floors… Not your average Victorian terrace! Lifestyle entrepreneur Shelley Simpson reveals how she transformed a dilapidated townhouse into this bright, airy family home.

Shelley Simpson, founder and managing director of interiors brand Mud Australia (mudaustralia.com), her husband James Kirton, the company’s executive director, their children Violette, 22, and Spencer, 18, and Paris, the family’s cavoodle, live in the Sydney suburb of Newtown. Their 1860s four-storey terrace house has three bedrooms and a studio. 

Shelley Simpson home
Shelley in front of a vintage poster of Jacques Tati’s Mon Oncle, one of James’s favourite films. Image: Petrina Tinslay

For Shelley, founder of interiors brand Mud Australia – much loved by the likes of Gwyneth Paltrow and Nigella Lawson for its vibrantly hued, hard-wearing porcelain tableware and home accessories – her move into a new home was an opportunity to create from scratch a multitasking space for relaxing and entertaining. ‘We love to cook for family and friends, so it was really important that there was a great casual-feeling, warm and welcoming flow between all areas of the house,’ says Shelley. 

Shelley Simpson home
Violette and Paris by the kitchen’s sliding doors, which have a view of the garden and local church. Image: Petrina Tinslay

To this end, she and her husband James thought nothing of sacrificing part of the first floor to build a double-height, open-plan kitchen and dining area (‘it’s where we spend so much of our time’), nor losing a room to create a master bedroom upstairs which stretches across its full 25-foot width, complete with capacious bathtub and walk-in wardrobe. 

Shelley Simpson home
The stainless-steel kitchen unit is by Bulthaup (bulthaup.com). The overhead ventilation and storage – painted in aluminium – was designed by architects DesignOffice (designoffice.com.au), referencing US artist Donald Judd’s three-dimensional works. All cabinets and storage areas are made from American ash, with a Corian work surface. Image: Petrina Tinslay

The house is a long way from how it looked when Shelley and James bought it in 2014. ‘It was untouched since the 1970s,’ she remembers, ‘it was cold and damp, with walls painted in high-gloss burgundy, raw floorboards and a pocket-handkerchief kitchen.’ The renovation took 18 months but it allowed the couple to customise every little detail to complement their needs. Each floor was remodelled, the attic converted into Spencer’s bedroom and a studio in the garden built for aspiring artist Violette. 

Shelley Simpson home
The ‘Martini’ room is the perfect spot for enjoying an aperitif and playing music. The two 6910 armchairs and T111 coffee table were designed in the 1960s by Horst Brüning for Kill International (pamono.co.uk). Image: Petrina Tinslay

For consistency, the same American ash has been used for joinery throughout the house – ‘it feels contemporary and fresh,’ says Shelley. So, too, does the way she’s lined door architraves with steel and created marble thresholds between each room. The exposed brick and polished concrete floors of the kitchen and dining space add a modernist touch. 

Shelley Simpson home
The generously proportioned entrance hall creates a warm welcome. The table is from barberosgerby.com. Image: Petrina Tinslay

The furniture, lovingly collected over many years, is a combination of classic designs and comfort: for example, Shelley describes the BDDW sofa (bddw.com) in the front living room as James’s ‘midlife crisis’ piece – eye-wateringly expensive, she admits, but worth every penny. 

Shelley Simpson home
The master bedroom’s grey-blue walls, painted in Dulux’s Endless Dusk, provide a serene backdrop to a painting by renowned Australian artist Paul Worstead. For a similar vintage rug, try frenchconnection.com. Image: Petrina Tinselly

While Shelley is known for creating colourful hand-finished plates, bowls and mugs in bright shades, at home she favours dusky greys and creams for a more muted mood. ‘Here, I want colour to enhance – not dominate – my life,’ she explains. ‘The more time I spend here the more I never want to leave.’ 

Report by Fiona McCarthy