This week to give you a taste of Natalie Walton's beautiful new book, Home by the Sea: The Surf Shacks & Hinterland Hideaways of Byron Bay we are sharing an extract and home tour of food stylist Claudia Martin's (@dreamingclaudia) home 'The Simple Barn Bangalow' as it is featured in the book.
This is just one of eighteen homes belonging to interior and fashion designers, artists, makers and more. Home by the Sea tells the stories of these homes and the people who live there – uncovering, in the process, that there is so much more to Byron Bay than its natural beauty. This is a book about community and creativity, about living intentionally and the value of loving where you live.
'Byron means home, community, beauty, lifestyle, good energy and like-minded people. It means gratitude: we're so grateful to be where we are and not for one second do we take that for granted. In many ways we have downsized our life quite significantly and it's so simple now'.
Moving to Byron was always a dream for Claudia Martin, a food stylist who grew up in Sydney. When she was a teenager and at university she used to visit with friends. ‘It was always a special spot,’ she says. ‘It was somewhere I was drawn to and wanted to spend a lot of time.’
After she met her husband, Levi, a school teacher, the couple spent time in the area because his family is from Bangalow. His grandmother lives in Nashua, in the hinterland. ‘He has a lot of family history in the area,’ Claudia says. ‘His grandfather helped to build a lot of the town, doing labouring work.’
Claudia and Levi started their family on the New South Wales Central Coast, about ninety minutes’ drive north of Sydney, but began spending a lot more time on the far north coast when Levi’s brother relocated with his family. ‘For me it was always the dream,’ Claudia says. ‘All my friends on the Central Coast knew this was where I wanted to live and have a family.’
In 2016, after being contracted to style a cookbook, Claudia decided to put money aside so the couple and their two daughters, Evie, now nine, and Bindi, five, could rent a house for three months in Byron after she’d finished the contract. ‘We did that for a trial period and just loved it,’ she says. ‘It just felt that it was the right move for us. It made us work towards the goal of that definitely being where we wanted to be.’ During that time they met locals who remain their friends today.
After their trial stay, the couple moved permanently to the region in 2017. Other than the few friends from their three-month visit, they didn’t know many people. However, they found it easy to make friends at the beach and cafes. ‘It’s unique here, in the sense that a lot of people don’t have the support of family and grandparents,’ Claudia says. ‘All the mums can count on each other.’
For the first couple of years the couple rented homes in Newrybar and Bangalow. Eventually they found a block of land on which to build their dream house. After renovating a couple of places on the Central Coast, they were ready to build from scratch in Byron. During their trial stay, Claudia had met a friend who lived on the road where she now lives. ‘We went for a drive and fell in love with this area,’ she says.
When land was available to buy on this parcel, it sold out quickly, while they were still looking at various properties, trying to find the right spot. However, a year later, when they were ready to buy, someone pulled out and they were able to secure the plot. It was lot number three, which was the number on a favourite jar. ‘It felt as if I had manifested it,’ Claudia says.
As the block was on a new subdivision, it took time for services to be installed. While they waited, the couple travelled in their vintage caravan down the east coast of Australia and went on a trip to Portugal, where Claudia still has family. ‘I stayed at my grandmother’s house and she had so much render everywhere,’she remembers. ‘I really wanted to bring that in. The Portuguese–Spanish feel is culturally what I was brought up with.’
Claudia and Levi had a clear vision for their home- to-be. ‘We just kept calling it a simple barn. We really wanted easy living, and an open living space.’ The exterior is clad in blackbutt timber and inside the layout has been kept fuss-free. A corridor runs from the front door to the back of the house, where the living room, dining area and kitchen are located. The bedrooms and bathrooms run off the central spine. While the plot is five acres, the size of the house is modest at 180 square metres.
Less important than the size is the feeling that they wanted to create. ‘I love how bright and airy it is,’ Claudia says. ‘With all the windows, we get to enjoy both sunrise and sunset. It’s very open, and I love it in that regard.’ From the kitchen window she can watch her daughters playing outside, too. Shortly before they moved into the home, they welcomed their third daughter, Lulu, who is now two years old. That first year Claudia travelled between Byron and Sydney for jobs. But now she is more focused on family life and less on work. ‘I’ve been fortunate that I’ve been able to stay at home and it has been a good thing,’ she says.
Most days Claudia spends time catching up with friends and other mums with young children at the beach. Afternoons are for home projects and time in the garden. ‘We spend a lot of time mowing the lawn,’ she jokes.
But there is always something to enjoy and be grateful for. ‘Byron is just the most beautiful place. No matter how many times we go for a walk or to the beach, it never gets old how beautiful it is. The land, the soil, the scenery around us ... everything feels so rich. That was what we were initially drawn to.’