There are pockets within Byron town where creativity and community come together as a welcoming gesture. The kerbside acts as an offering of poems and posies. Wander a little further and you might find any number of community initiatives, founded with the humble idea that we are better together.
‘Byron Bay is such a welcoming place. So many people arrive from somewhere else, leaving family and friends behind. Often they travel here for a holiday and don’t leave. This was my story, and the story of so many.’
After living in a large timber house high on the hill in Coopers Shoot, and with all the responsibilities that come with living on a property, Yvonn Deitch was keen to move into ‘town’, as locals call Byron Bay. She wanted to be able to ride her bike and walk to the shops and cafes. But Yvonn is the type of person who doesn’t do anything halfheartedly. Every gesture is considered, and executed with poetic flair. Recently she had the words ‘be a poem’ tattooed on her forearm, and this sums up her approach to life and creating a home in Byron Bay.
Yvonn was born and raised in Germany, but fifteen years ago decided to take a year off work to travel and see a little more of the world. ‘I hadn’t taken a gap year and felt it would be wonderful to travel and explore beyond Europe before settling down,’ she says. ‘After spending six months in Southeast Asia, I was very excited about visiting Argentina. Australia was to be a little stopover, I thought.
I met my husband and the father of my children in the Byron Bay post office and never left. It took a lot of courage, after only a few weeks with David, to make the decision to stay in this country. My English was so limited and I didn’t know anyone here.’
However, she found Byron to be a welcoming place. ‘I love how you can easily start a conversation with a stranger,’ she says. ‘There is so much eye contact while walking the beaches and you give away smiles freely. That’s something you will not find in many places.’
About two years ago Yvonn built a new house from scratch. ‘David and I separated, and I am still in awe about the fact that we have been able to build this place together, for the children and me.’
She calls it her ‘new old house’ because Yvonn wanted it to have the feel of an established home. While their Coopers Shoot house had been large and expansive, she wanted this home to feel intimate and personal for her young children, Matilda, ten, Frida, eight, and Leon, five.
‘I always wanted a kitchen nook where the kids, being so little, can snuggle in the morning waiting for breakfast, instead of feeling lost at a huge dining table or elevated on bar stools around a kitchen island,’ she says.
‘The shower downstairs is more of a kids’ car wash with three showerheads, so there is no fighting over whose turn it is, and the sunken bath can fill up and often the kids stay longer and play with Lego. We sometimes hang gum leaves, eucalyptus and lemon myrtle branches in the shower and it feels like a moment in the rainforest.’
The bathroom upstairs pays homage to a run-down French hotel, where Yvonn once stayed in her twenties. ‘I love how the northerly wind blows the curtains horizontal,’ she says.
There are many personal touches throughout the house, including a tiny door that connects Leon’s bedroom to Yvonn’s through her walk-in-wardrobe. Matilda has a secret compartment in her bedroom wall, behind a picture frame. ‘These are some of the little playful touches you can make when building a home,’ Yvonn says. ‘I hope the kids will always remember them with a smile.’
Outside, a boat that was saved from the Hawkesbury River has been transformed into a cubby house in the garden. However, not every feature has been designed solely for the children. The courtyard was supposed to be a place to park cars, but has been converted into a terrace overflowing with bougainvillea, and herbs and blooms in terracotta pots. ‘We have the most beautiful lunches with family and friends, and it feels like a little European holiday,’ Yvonn says. As she knows all too well, each moment provides an opportunity to create beauty in the everyday.
This is an edited extract from Home by The Sea by Natalie Walton published by Hardie Grant Books, out now. Photography by Amelia Fullarton.