Before renowned WA artist Ian de Souza even opens the door to his lush Fremantle home, its artistic nature is evident.
The first hint is a sensuous floral painting on a glass wall tucked behind the entry gate, set high enough to catch the eye. Its deep colours and evocation of nature set the tone for a unique living space that peacefully connects with its environment.
De Souza said he approached his home like a blank canvas; continuously playing with hues, lines, textures and forms, and adding layers and spaces to suit his and wife Ros' evolving needs.
"This is a house of constant evolution," he said. "I treat it as an art piece. My front gate is my front door, the walls are the fences around the property."
The most recent structural addition was a glass-and-steel art studio, built in the dead space of the former driveway. Featuring the aforementioned glass painting from de Souza's 2009 Wildflowers series, the studio is a quiet space for work and reflection - custom-fitted for his professional requirements - with a peaked ceiling and glass walls to allow the outside in.
Lush tropical plants shade the walkway leading to a central courtyard. A second courtyard at the back means the cottage is flanked by two outdoor spaces. Cafe blinds and stacked glass doors were installed as flexible windbreakers that could be shifted to create a single space.
The couple built the one- bedroom home in 1990 - the first rammed-earth cottage in Fremantle - and began renovating it in 1994. It has since undergone several reformations. Perhaps most inventive was the addition of a vintage dairy and vegetable railway carriage, which de Souza found "half buried in sand" in the Swan Valley in 1986, and had transported to Fremantle for use as a bedroom and, recently, as an office and storeroom.
He said the carriage's character "gave rise to the concept of a railway station", which he referenced in the cottage by repeating the curved ceiling in the lounge. He also built a long wooden table with wheels which can roll along the rail track he had fitted into the alfresco area's paving.
De Souza's ingenuity and handiwork are evident throughout the home, such as in a teardrop-shaped copper Indian fruit bowl from Empire's Fremantle store, which he converted into an ensuite basin by drilling a drain hole. He used garden taps for the faucets and applied lime wash paint for a rustic look, then had it professionally plumbed in. Many other materials were similarly repurposed, often using objects found at salvage yards such as the timber and metal for the railway table.
When relaxing, de Souza said he enjoyed reading in the loft nook in the bedroom, which is accessed by ladder and flooded by sunlight.
The lounge room showcases the couple's eclectic selection of beloved items, including Turkish rugs, coconut chairs, 50s-style dining chairs, books, artworks, collectibles and sculptures.
With such a unique spirit, it's not surprising the home has garnered interest from house- and-garden enthusiasts over the years, including a US documentary World's Most Extreme Homes, which featured the property in 2006.
De Souza said the home continued to appeal because it was always changing. "It's a moveable feast," he said.
Ian and Ros de Souza's tips to approach your own home in a creative way:
•You don’t have to spend a lot of money to achieve your aim. Try thinking of an artistic use for items you already have, such as converting something decorative into a functional piece. Experiment with items you love and make them your own.
•If you have an interesting feature in a room, try repeating it elsewhere to create a theme and reference point.
•We cannot copy or beat nature but we can be inspired by it. Try to capture the essence.
•Salvage yards are great for sourcing materials. You never know what you’ll find.
•Placing mirrors on our courtyard walls created the illusion of space and connection between rooms. We used the mirrors off an old wardrobe.•Layer your home over time; don’t feel like you have to take things away. It’s like life: it will only make it richer.