How Geneva Vanderzeil Transformed a 150-Year-Old Workers Cottage in Brisbane

Welcome to The Makers. Each week, we celebrate innovators, artisans, and crafters of all types by taking you on a private tour of their creative spaces. For this installment, we head to the workers cottage of author and DIY-influencer Geneva Vanderzeil.

Geneva Vanderzeil is a DIY enthusiast, to put it lightly. The professional crafter turned author first began sharing her upcycling skills online (on her website Collective Gen and Instagram) before writing two books about how to incorporate simple hobby projects into your day-to-day life. 

With this as a backdrop, you can just imagine what her home looks like. In 2018, Vanderzeil and her partner purchased a workers cottage in Brisbane and went about slowly, but surely, renovating it to their tastes. The major remodel, which involved lifting the house, adding a second floor and extending the building, took almost a year. Since that task was completed in 2019, Vanderzeil has gone about designing and decorating the space in the only way she knows how: through crafting, DIY projects and upcycling preloved pieces. 

Shop Geneva's look with our White Tablecloth.

Vanderzeil describes her interior style as “balanced”. What she means by that is drawing from different styles—she’ll throw together antiques with more modern pieces of furniture, use paint and artwork to direct the flow of a room, and place potted house plants in every corner, just to bring life into a space—in order to achieve a home that feels personal and intimate. One of her most recent craft projects was adding a little something ‘extra’ to her bedroom by painting a khaki green headboard directly onto the house’s white paneled walls. “Honestly, whenever I feel like a room needs a little bit extra, paint always comes to the rescue,” she wrote on Instagram.

Her next project will be building out the styling on her deck, a wide and open space shaded by an enormous fiddle leaf fig. “I’m all about finding a balance between different styles, so a home feels layered and lived in,” she explains. “I like to piece together DIYs, vintage pieces and new designs to create a space that’s beautiful and comfortable.”

Hi Geneva! This series is called The Makers. What is it that you make?

I’m an avid DIYer and upcycler, and recently wrote a book called Home Is Where You Make It! I run the website Collective Gen which is all about getting inspired as a home, style and life maker.

How does the act of “making” relate to your personality and who you are?

I’ve always been interested in experimenting with how things are made, and been drawn to the creativity of creating something by hand. It’s what makes me truly happy!

Tell us about your career journey to date. Did you always know you wanted to pursue this line of work?

Ever since I was little I was really into making things, experimenting with closed and home decor. So it’s definitely in my DNA. But I studied to be a town planner and worked as one for 5 years before I started my first blog. It took two years of working on that to be able to leave my job and work full time. That was 10 years ago and I have enjoyed this journey immensely, making and creating every day is a dream for me.

Talk us through your creative process. Where do you start?

The crux of my business is creating content that inspires people to get creative. So I’m always looking around for ideas that reflect what people are interested in, but make it easy for people to do it themselves. I like to take simple concepts and techniques and use them to create projects that wow. There’s lots of trial and error, and sharing it online properly in various formats is key too. There are lots of moving parts!

Shop Geneva's look White and Terracotta in our Build Your Own Bundle.

What’s been the single most crucial tool or strategy you’ve used to grow your creative business?

I’ve really focused on building a community, and empowering people to be creative. I’ve tried to avoid trying ‘hack’ the growth of my business, and instead focused on consistently creating good and useful work.

What’s been the most challenging lesson learned since you started your business?

Not everything you do will be great, but you slowly get better.

What’s been the best thing that’s happened to you since you started your business?

Doing what I do is fairly uncharted territory, so pretty much everything I have achieved have been things I could never have imagined in preceding years. Writing my two books were major pieces of work that were so satisfying to see finished!

Do you have a single piece of advice you’d give to your younger self/ someone looking to start their own business?

Start now and do something consistently, and you’ll see progress.

Shop Geneva's look White and Terracotta in our Build Your Own Bundle.

Now, the home stuff. How did you initially know this was the space for you?

We loved the character of the workers cottage and knew it would be a lovely place to live. 

Did you do any renovations or make any big changes after moving in?

Yes! We lifted the house to create two levels and extended it. It was a big project that took almost a year to finish.

What are your favorite pieces in the home? 

We splurged on an incredible antique work bench that we use in the kitchen as an island bench. It’s just so functional for someone like me who is always making.

Do you have any special décor pieces you’re looking to add?

I’m restyling the front deck at the moment so looking to make and buy some nice updates.

Shop Geneva's look with our White Tablecloth.

Which is your favorite room in the house?

It’s so hard to choose. The main room that encapsulates the living, dining and outdoor space is pretty special!

What are your top tips for a well-styled bedroom, and home generally? 

I think you have to start by decluttering, and then make your bed the focal point of your room. I adore linen sheets that make your space feel cozy and perfectly undone. 

Do you have any projects coming up you want to talk about?

I’d love to give a shout to my book, which is a room by room guide to making a home you love, whether you rent or own. In the book I take you from room to room, starting at the ground up to show you how to create spaces that not only look great but work well too.

I share more than 50 DIY ideas, along with hundreds of styling hacks, ideas for upcycling and repurposing, and guides for dealing with common room challenges (tiny spaces! ugly carpets! dark rooms!). It’s a handbook for any decorator or DIYer, and has ideas for all types of homes, regardless of whether you rent or own.

For more from Geneva, follow her on Instagram at @genevavanderzeil.

Loved this home tour? Step inside artist Madeline Jovicic's Sydney apartment, which feels Like a European holiday.

Discover more of Australia's most beautiful homes in our series, The Makers.

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