Justine Tyerman slips into another life at a glamorous yet homely property on the edge of Sydney Harbour.
Standing in the kitchen-living room of the harbour-edge Wharf Birchgrove in Sydney, I'm mesmerised by the play of the sun's rays shining through the windows.
My head is on a swivel as my eyes absorb the layers of texture, subtle colours, artwork and custom-made furniture in this beautiful three-bedroom, four-bathroom home.
It's like living inside the pages of a glossy design magazine. And yet the place is warm, welcoming, cosy, tranquil, light-filled and above all inviting. It's a cherished home with a myriad of personal touches . . . not a hotel suite.
The glossy white kitchen is a gorgeous show-piece, startling against the dark matte charcoal walls and grey slate tile floor. The mirror surface of the splashback brings images of harbour life right into the house, and a free-standing mirror cut into bevelled-edged rectangles creates a kaleidoscope of reflections.
The mood is relaxed in this part of the house, an area the owner extensively redesigned, joining two parts of the original dwelling to create space for an informal dining area.
I walk through glass doors to the formal lounge just as sunbeams begin to flood the room from the 7m-high atrium which extends the full height of the two-storey house. Glass walls enclose an internal courtyard, an oasis of green where tropical palms thrive in their sheltered microcosm.
Up a step from the lounge, is the stylish formal dining room where the Tasmanian dark oak flooring imbues the space with a warm glow.
Recessed behind the formal dining room, is a state-of-the-art catering kitchen with metres of bench space and facilities that would be the envy of any top chef. Perfect for large-scale entertaining.
A lavishly-appointed ground floor guest bedroom with ensuite opens onto the courtyard and a harbour and bridge view.
To reach the top floor, guests can take the private internal lift or the grand gang-plank style stairway which anchors the nautical theme of the house. The lifts also goes to the secure carpark at road level.
An impressive artwork Flaming June — a copy of an 1895 oil painting of a sleeping woman in a voluminous orange gown, by Sir Frederic Leighton — hangs at the foot of the steps.
Opening off the main entrance is the master bedroom with its palatial ensuite and dressing room, and a pretty powder-blue guest bedroom with a white-tiled ensuite bathroom and sunny balcony.
Strategic positioning of windows and glass walls to maximise views and light is one of many clever design features of the house. The guest bedrooms and formal lounge look right through the transparent walls of other rooms to the harbour.
At night, I watched the winking red lights on the arch of that rather famous bridge and the reflections of the city's nightlights, distorted by the wind and the wash of wakes.
The furniture, joinery and cabinetry are all custom-made for the house. No expense is spared.
What is included in the price at The Wharf Birchgrove is astounding. I can see I'm in for some tough decisions so I mentally steel myself for the days ahead. I could take up yacht director and captain Luke Magennis' invitation to cruise the harbour on the sleek and powerful 50ft MV Birchgrove moored a few steps from the door; explore the historic suburbs of Birchgrove and neighbouring Balmain; ask chef-to-the-stars Clancy Atkinson to rustle up a gourmet dinner party; or soak in the glass-enclosed heated infinity pool on the patio, watching the hard-working ferries criss-cross the satin waters.
It's a tall order . . . but I manage to do justice to the lot.
The Wharf Birchgrove, built in 2009, is located on the site of a former shipyard owned by the Stannard Brothers boat building company, and sits directly above Sydney's largest private wharf. Constructed in 1946, the 70m jetty was once a working wharf handling all manner of goods, and home to boat sheds and garages for ship repairs.
A number of antique fixtures such as a derrick crane, hand winch and fire-fighting equipment have been salvaged and retained, acting as a fascinating reminder of the wharf's colourful past life.
Yacht director and captain Luke Magennis' pride and joy, the 50ft MV Birchgrove is moored mid-way along the jetty opposite another sea-going beauty.
The Norwegian-built Windy Triton Sports Cruiser holds the distinction of being the first luxury charter yacht in Australia with IPS drives (Inboard Propulsion System) in Australia.
Luke suggests a sunset cruise on the harbour . . . Moet included. Who could refuse?
The blustery conditions put the grunty twin Volvos to the test, skimming the choppy winter waves with ease. In fact the conditions gave Luke the opportunity to display his superb captaincy skills, manoeuvring the boat effortlessly into the jetty with winds of up to 25 knots.
He took us on a fabulous guided tour of Goat Island, Darling Harbour and Cockle Bay, under the harbour bridge and past the opera house. The iconic shells of the roof were glowing pink and gold in the fading light.
The Windy Triton is pure luxury. With a spacious, well-appointed galley and lounge, two televisions with Foxtel, WIFI and Bose, the three-cabin, two-bathroom boat can sleep six and has ample entertaining space for 12.
Luke is a versatile fellow. He used to work as a skipper for one of Australia's wealthiest families, travelling with them all around the world, and has also had considerable event management experience. He's just as at ease behind the wheel of a super yacht as he is overseeing cocktails and canapés for 50 on the patio by the pool . . . but I suspect he prefers the former.
Next time we're in Sydney, Luke has promised to take us whale watching — he has an excellent spotting rate judging from his photos of humpbacks breaching the waters off the coast.
IF YOU GO
Getting there: Air New Zealand flies direct to Sydney from Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch and Queenstown.
Need to know: All reservations with Luxe Houses include airport transfers, personal greeting and Dom Perignon Champagne on arrival, housekeeping, Appelles bath and spa products, bespoke Cocolux candle scents and access to the Luxe concierge. Wharf Birchgrove includes a daily butler service for up to six hours, a housekeeping and turn-down service, private chef, food shopping and preparation. A two-hour sunset cruise on board Birchgrove MV with a bottle of Moet is inclusive when a guest at this property.
In addition Luxe Houses concierge services can arrange (at additional cost) private charter jets, helicopter transfers, yachts, launches, jet-boats, private chefs, waiter staff for guest occasions, butlers, drivers, bespoke spa treatments, experienced nannies, guides, personal trainers and anything else to help make your stay flawless.
Justine Tyerman was a guest of Luxe Houses, at The Wharf Birchgrove. JUCY Rentals assisted with transport.