A Sense of Belonging
Positive feelings come from being honest
about yourself and accepting your personality
and physical characteristics, warts and all;
and, from belonging to a family
that accepts you without question.
(Willard Scott 1934 – )
There’s an old rule of thumb regarding the purchasing of property which stipulates that it is the wise investor who will always buy the worst house in the best street rather than a good home in a streetscape that is less desirable. “Location, location, location” the pundits proclaim! And so, with such sound advice ringing in their ears, when it came time to hunt for a home to call their own, Paul and Debbie Banfield set about combing the best parts of their region of choice, content to find something that needed tender loving care … just as long as the site and setting offered a sound investment with good potential future return.
The Banfield’s mission ultimately led them to settle on a large residential block – with a wide, deep frontage – south of Sydney. With views to Lake Illawarra from the front verandah and mountain vistas of the Southern Highlands from the back of the house, they were content that the property they initially chose offered endless possibilities, especially in terms of the fact that its position meant they could never be built out, and the bones of the 1959-built residence offered the potential for extensive future renovation … their ultimate goal being to convert it into a cosy, welcoming residence with all the country trappings and aspirations they hold so dear.
The fact that Debbie is a talented decorator and Paul is a clever craftsmen has certainly contributed to the transformation of the property. But back at the very start – seven years ago – they certainly needed vision, determination and skill to undertake the project of creating country grace within a home that, by their admission, originally had none!
“We have always held to the belief that a home can be created within any space if there is attention paid to the finer details … things like good carpentry and paint treatments, collectables and memorabilia. If you put your heart into a home and work hard to make it your own, it will always feel all the more permanent, safe and significant” states Debbie.
“I guess my high regard of home has something to do with the fact that I was adopted as a child. This has given me a deeper understanding and perspective on what it means to hold one’s family close and to create a place for them to live together where comfort, safety and protection, plus the ‘making and preserving’ of memories is all the more important. It is essential for one to know where they come from and where they belong, and this has been at the heart of the work Paul and I have done to create a home for ourselves and our sons Cohan (28) and Jamal (20) over the years” she adds.
And so, with determination and a vision for what the house could ultimately become, the Banfields set about restoring and renovating when they first moved in seven years ago. And as is the case with most home improvement projects, they have continued improving, restoring, decorating and generally making the house their own ever since!
Initial modifications included the painting of the interior throughout in an off-white to work as a background foil for their extensive complement of furnishings and collectables. But instead of using a standard interior paint, Paul cleverly opted for an alternative designed for exterior use. “When used indoors, exterior paints harden better and certainly wear much longer. The only drawback is the fact that they can take up to seven days to cure. In combination with the off-white, we created a number of feature areas and walls with the use of a wonderfully moody red – ‘Egyptian Pyramid’ by Taubmans – and painted the bathroom Dulux’s ‘Light Straw’ to tone with the existing tiles and cabinetry” Paul explains.
With the richly contrasting off-white and deep red wall treatment decided on, the Banfields then elected to restore the door frames throughout the house – plus skirting boards, chair rails, and interior doors (most of which are Japanese Maple) – by stripping and then staining them a warm Golden Oak. Just under two years ago the ultimate ‘timber enhancement’ of the home occurred when they chiselled up Italian tiles on the floors of the main public areas of the house (the tiles were laid in the 1970s and made the interior feel somewhat dated and cold) and restored the existing cypress pine timber floorboards underneath.
(Pictured left, a work in progress as
the tiles were chiselled off the floor
to reveal cypress pine boards below.)
Around the same time, the kitchen was given a complete overhaul, with ‘Antique White’ MDF cabinetry, granite-look laminate benchtops and the installation of a range of new appliances and accessories to create the ultimate ‘heart’ of what has been transformed into a warm, welcoming and wonderfully spacious country home.
On the outside, the house has been painted a lemon-toned “Garden Picket’ by Dulux, with accents in a rich, deep Dulux ‘Indian Red’ and terracotta roof tiles freshly painted a deep terracotta red. With new laserlite roofing over the front verandah and on the back pergola, new balustrading and the creation of a handsome arbour to welcome all comers to the front of the property, the exterior improvements instantly proclaim to all that the people who live here really care about their home. The exterior has been further enhanced with the addition of fretwork underneath the awnings (which wrap around all sides of the home) and decorative fretwork corner brackets. It all adds up to being a world away from the original yellow exterior of the home, which also boasted pink shutters and lattice, concrete that was painted a bright blue and terracotta roof tiles that were painted a strong contrasting green!
Today, the front verandah not only provides wonderful lake vistas but also the perfect venue for the display of selected collectables and memorabilia which includes an original 1930s veneer sideboard and tin trunk, steel ladder which once belonged to Debbie’s great great aunt, birdhouses, vintage collectables and a very special pig figurine called Priscilla who has been in the family for over 20 years!
With the laying of a paved pathway – which leads from the front yard to the back of the property – and the installation of rambling cottage gardens, the exterior of the home has been both softened and made to feel wonderfully traditional and old fashioned at the same time. The wise selection of vintage-style and cottage garden plants has been essential in this process … species including azaleas and standard roses, agapanthus and camellias, daisies, magnolias, Japanese maple, hydrangeas, lilacs, chrysanthemums, rosemary, lavender, and a delightful ground-cover rose.
From the front verandah, the main entrance door leads into a hallway, with formal living area to the left and master bedroom to the right (at the very front of the house). Down the hallway are the main public living areas – family room, dining and kitchen – which can also be accessed from the rear of the house, via a wide undercover entertaining area covered by a shady pergola.
The covered area at the back of the house is not only the central location for entertaining and relaxing throughout the warmer months of the year (which, in this part of the world extends from early spring all the way through to late autumn), it is also the showcase for the Banfield’s ever-increasing array of weather-enduring collectables. There’s an old mangle and a number of vintage push mowers, billy cans and an old lamp once used on a prawn trawler, Singer sewing table and miniature metal windmill, Mrs Potts original sad irons and a car pump which once belonged to Paul’s grandfather.
There’s also old kero heaters and vintage buckets, vintage chairs and old scooters, a milk can filled with vintage walking sticks, old brooms, umbrellas and many other such collectables. The inventory also includes a wonderful old barrel holding carp and goldfish, the water feature being enhanced with an electric-powered vintage pump. To accommodate the Banfield’s love of entertaining, the area is furnished with two outdoor settings – one seating 14 guests and the other seating six – plus a marvellous custom-built brick barbeque which features a clever picket-fence style backboard which has been painted a rich Indian Red to match the other exterior trim.
Inside the house, the display of memorabilia and collectables is just as important as it is outdoors, the mission to show off the collected wares leading to the installation of a wide range of special shelving solutions, especially in the family room and kitchen where timber shelves have been added at traditional plate-rail height so that everything from cloth dolls and tins (the Banfield’s have a vast, ever-growing collection of both vintage and reproduction examples), electric jugs, birdhouses, English teapots and more! In the cookroom there’s also an overhead pot hanger used to hold bunches of dried flowers (Debbie had to remove the pots and pans it originally held as 20-year-old son Jamal found he was continually knocking his head as he grew taller).
The new kitchen – with its handsome cabinetry and benchtops, Blanco electric stove and fire-burner cooktop with ducted stainless steel hood overhead – is also home to the display of a wonderful array of kitchenalia, vintage scales, faux fruit and vegies, and is crowned with a large chopping block in the middle of the space. “The chopping block is made from recycled Oregon timbers from an old church. Its underneath section has been whitewashed to match the style of the farmhouse dining suite (with bench seats either side and cottage chairs at each end) which sits to one side of the open-plan family entertaining and relaxation area. “When we designed the kitchen it was important to optimise the amount of display space available, and so, in contradiction of the original plan which saw the overhead cupboards extend to the ceiling, we cut them short to create valuable exhibition space for even more of our ever-increasing kitchenalia collectables” Debbie explains.
By cultivating the beautiful
we scatter the seeds of heavenly flowers,
as by doing good
we cultivate those that belong to humanity.
(Robert A Heinlein 1907 – 1988)
(Images of the kitchen before Paul and Debbie worked their magic)
In the adjoining family room the array of collected wares – and their artful display – continues. Optimum seating is provided by two large leather lounges placed side by side, these being softened with throw rugs and a range of country-style cushions, many of which have been handmade. Despite working a busy job, Debbie still finds time to indulge in such creative pursuits, her particular passion being the crocheting of things like handtowels and blankets, doilies and even traditional milk jug covers.
In the middle of the family room is a large wooden coffee table with inlaid tile top which Paul made back when the couple’s eldest son Cohan was only three. It has thus served the family for over 25 years and is testament to Paul’s skill as a country craftsman. It’s also a sentimental feature within the space, other such pieces including a vintage singer sewing machine, an old wooden highchair which once belonged to Debbie’s now 65-year-old cousin, and a marvellous 50-year-old standard lamp which came from her parents.
Another vintage-style standard lamp is one of the star attractions in the formal lounge room at the front of the house where more memorabilia and sentimental collectables make an important contribution to the warmth and character of the space. A display cabinet – bought raw and stained a rich warm tone by Paul – sits against a panelled timber wall and displays a wide array of vintage china, glassware and treasures collected over a lifetime … each one having a special tale to tell. The lounge setting in the room has been covered in a gold-toned linen (and is dressed with throw rugs, tapestry panels and cushions) while an early 1950s armchair – given to Debbie by an old employer – is covered in a rich floral linen to tone with the other floral accents within the room.
The formal lounge is divided from the adjoining entrance hall by way of bifold doors, with custom shelving both above and either side of the doorway so that even more vintage china and collectable treasures can be put on full show. One of the Banfield’s favourite pieces here is an antique anniversary clock which once belonged to Paul’s grandfather. Nearby sits a display created around a vintage meatsafe and wonderful old pram which Debbie has had since she was a little girl. Here another prized possession is a 100-year-old rocking chair which the couple picked up at the Dapto markets some years ago for just $45.
The china cabinet in the hallway originally belonged to Debbie’s grandmother, having been one of her prized possessions when she was first married. The 1940s bow-fronted veneer cabinet holds a collection of Debbie’s favourite porcelain dolls and vases which came from her mother, vintage cups and saucers, as well as a gorgeous setting – covered in cherry blossoms – which Debbie was given when she was a little girl. Other treasures here include lovely old hat pins and brooches, and a glass dome – blown by mouth – which once belonged to Paul’s grandmother.
To the other side of the entrance hall, the master bedroom is a calm and restful place, made all the more so with rich warm red ‘Egyptian Pyramid’ walls and the warm tones of the timber furnishings. Paul has done much of the timber staining in the room to achieve the desired colour and stacked the bed with additional slats underneath the mattress to create the impression of the ‘high’ beds of old. On the wall above, a very special feature is a framed handcrafted doily – in the shape of a two-storey Gothic country cottage – which the couple procured from America.
Just off the bedroom, the main bathroom in the house is what Debbie and Paul refer to as their ‘work in progress’. While they have painted the walls a soft ‘Light Straw’ by Dulux, and added railway carriage racks to hold towels and other manchester, there is still a large number of renovations they have planned for the space … including the ultimate removal and replacing of the existing tiles and cabinetry. Meanwhile the space is given its charm and character by way of a huge haul of simple accessories – from framed Pears prints and vintage clothing to potted lavender, a drape of vintage lace over the side of an old timber-framed mirror and other such ephemera.
The bathroom, like all other rooms of the Banfield’s house – and the outdoors as well – is testament to not only the couple’s skill at designing and creating warm comfortable spaces which are imbued with traditional country character, but importantly, all parts of the house demonstrate the significance of achieving the look through the use of sentimental trappings and collected wares which make association with things and people of the past. As Debbie says “when you’re adopted, things that tie you back to a past and a personal history become even more important and significant. Being ‘chosen’ and raised by adopting parents makes one feel all the more special and loved, and this is the sense that Paul and I have worked so hard to create within our home … so that our own sons know this is where they truly belong, and all friends and visitors who venture within can instantly identify that we both love where we live, and openly welcome all who venture along. And really, adopting traditional country style is the only way we know to achieve such ends, as no other decorating genre represents the essence of warmth and love, of family and a true sense of belonging” Debbie adds.
I imagine, therefore I belong and am free.
(Lawrence Durrell 1912 – 1990)
Set On A Sentimental Course
Gonna take a sentimental journey;
Gonna set my heart at ease.
Gonna make a sentimental journey,
to renew old memories …
(Bud Green, Les Brown & Ben Homer © 1944)
From the front gate to the back door and beyond, inside and out – and every nook in between – the home of Julie Craig and husband Andrew evokes marvellous memories of times past, of loved ones and special friendships, of happy days and distant recollections. It’s ‘old world’ and modern convenience all rolled into one. It’s treasures found and collections amassed, all artfully arranged with the panache of a professional. It’s testament to the love and passion of the people who live within its midst, it’s unabashedly sentimental … and Julie Craig wouldn’t have it any other way!
However, for all its essential charm and intimate personality which immediately reflects that of its owners; for all its bespoke features and eclectic elements, the irony of the Craig’s home is that Julie really had little interest in moving here in the first place! As she explains, she was more than comfortably ensconced in her previous home on South Australia’s York Peninsula. But when Andrew took her to look at the home on the outskirts of the Adelaide Hills about six years ago, she instantly knew that this is where she was meant to be. “Right down to the Victorian-inspired colour scheme and the floral wallpaper friezes, the mantelpiece in the lounge room and the rambling garden, I had an immediate ‘knowing’ that this was where we were meant to live” tells Julie.
The brick home – which is now about 15 years old – boasts four bedrooms, making it ideally spacious to accommodate the couple’s brood of visiting grandchildren, of which Julie and Andrew have nine, by way of their three married children … Leah who is 31, Peter who is 27, and 25-year-old Stephen. In addition to formal and informal dining areas and gorgeous lounge room (which is decorated in tribute to Julie’s passion for the English-inspired romantic look), there is also a marvellous country-style kitchen, impacting entrance and delightful undercover outdoor entertaining areas. In addition, a craft and rumpus room for the grandchildren has been created by closing in and converting an internal double garage.
Throughout the entire interior, the colour scheme is inspirationally rich and nostalgic, with deep burgundy and plums, greens and golds figuring prominently within the chosen colour palette. The main sleeping accommodation, formal lounge and dining area is warmed with a beige wool berber carpet while the rest of the house features a floating timber floor which is wonderfully serviceable and adds an important ‘country’ note. Various bifold interior doors feature leadlight insets and reflect the style of the home’s handsome leadlight front door which opens into a welcoming entrance vestibule that instantly extends the warmest greeting to all visitors. The style and feel of the entrance hall has then been replicated in the hallway at the back of the house which leads to a guests’ bathroom, sleeping accommodation and two ancillary rooms which are respectively used as offices for both the master and mistress of the house.
Indeed, the entrance of the Craig’s home, and the garden just across the threshold outside, make a strong statement regarding the decorating delights inside the heart of the home, and pronounce the sentimentality and sense of old world ideals which permeate the entire property. The front garden is dominated by a towering claret ash with underplantings of hyacinth, daisies, bluebells and other English-inspired spring flowers. The front portico has been renovated with ceramic tiling while a lush Boston ivy clings to the eaves above and adds an extra dimension of shade and greenery to the setting.
In other parts of the garden – to the sides and rear of the home – eclectic elements further reflect the decorating passions of the owners. Julie has taken the approach of adorning the outside spaces just as she has done indoors, creating delightful vignettes and special points of interest along the way. There’s a whimsical tribute to yesteryear washday blues; there’s an old bicycle and push mower display; there’s lots of statuary and potted colour; and in one corner of the garden there’s a very sentimental memorial to Julie’s late father. “I wanted my dear Dad to have his own special place with us here, and so, by way of a basket of his old tools, his hat and pair of Wellington boots, the rose head off one of his old watering cans and a geranium bush struck from a cutting that came from his garden in Moonta, I have been able to create a special tribute to a very special man” explains Julie.
The many eclectic and collectable wares throughout the outdoor areas of the Craig’s home offer just the tiniest insight into the huge cache of treasured items and sentimental ‘souvenirs of life’ which are the hallmark of Julie’s decorating style indoors. They greet all in the front entrance – where a collection of travel cases, resin shoes and hats, hatboxes, cabinet filled with Marie Antoinette figurines and a gallery of family wedding photographs are all artfully arranged – and accordingly populate every other room of the home beyond.
The main bedroom is just off the entrance at the front of the house, the room’s wide colonial-style window being dressed with opulent burgundy damask drapes which are topped with opulent fringed swags and tails. The walls of the room are a deep mushroom with a feature wall painted a rich burgundy, this being the perfect backdrop for a wonderful collection of vintage framed scriptural sayings. The room is softened with lots of collectables, teddy bears (one of Julie’s many weaknesses) and porcelain dolls (yet another) plus an array of vintage clothing (including wedding dresses), wedding paraphernalia, ephemera and endless memorabilia. It all adds up to make the room the most intimate and personal within the home, and certainly a cosy, safe bastion at the end of the day.
From here one enters the main formal areas of the home – the lounge and dining room. Both are decorated with walls painted deep plum to dado height and pale pink above, the two colours being divided by a rich floral frieze. It is within these two rooms that Julie’s passionate penchant for the English Victorian look really comes to the fore. “I don’t know why I love the period English look so much” she muses … the joke resting in the fact that she originally hails from Southhampton which is in England’s Hampshire region and, although she has been here in Australia for nearly 40 years, she still retains a wonderfully broad English accent.
Julie’s English origins certainly go some way to explaining her love of such things as gorgeous old floral china and handsome period furniture, lovely lace and all things romantic and sentimental. Ever since childhood she has been collecting things both ‘pretty and old’ and those which remind her of distant places and times long ago … especially of the days of Jane Austen when life was so much more genteel and cultured.
Thus the décor and style of the two formal rooms of the Craig’s beautiful home – from rich rosewood cabinetry to burgundy-toned floral upholstery on armchairs and a spring rocker, circular dining table and balloon-back chairs, elegant velvet drapes, a veritable shop’s share of china, bears and dolls, miniatures and a seemingly endless selection of sentimental collectables – is evocative of the drawing room or parlour of a traditional English manor home. While the dining table is arrayed with a permanent display of elegant floral china – ‘Rambling Rose’ by Maxwell and Williams – as well as vintage cutlery and a wide selection of faux cakes in readiness for that next ‘high tea affair’, the formal lounge room is a showcase for some of Julie’s very special miniature displays, many of which she has created herself. “I love creating miniature roomsets and shadow boxes as they mean that I can keep collecting and decorating even when the ‘real life’ house is brimming to the full. At Christmas time I even decorate all the tiny rooms just as I do the rest of the house, the whole process taking a good month … working at it every day, and at a steady pace” she laughs.
One of Julie’s favourite features within this part of the house – and what she considers to be the crowning glory of the property – is an elaborate timber mantelpiece in the formal lounge which features deep green tile inset and gas log fire. It truly creates the mood and feel of an English parlour and is a wonderful place to curl up and relax with a good book, especially when the ravages of winter set in.
More informal living is enjoyed in the central rooms of the home – with informal dining and sitting room arranged in the context of a handsome country kitchen. The relatively open-plan space echoes the colour scheme of the formal rooms with lots of freestanding timber cabinetry, Welsh dresser and Baltic pine cabinetry in the family room having been set in place to hold and showcase yet more sentimental collections, miniatures and other treasured possessions, photographs and souvenirs of a life lived. More china, vintage prams and two beautiful old dolls houses (meticulously decorated by Julie, right down to the handmade food and tableware she has fashioned from buttons, beads and Fimo clay) all make an important contribution to the colour and character of this key family gathering area.
Despite the fact that the kitchen looks – for all the world – to be created from solid timber cabinetry, Julie tells that it’s all a deception! “I didn’t know what to do with the cream laminate cupboards. They were so much at odds with the warmth and colour of the rest of the space, so I covered them with woodgrain contact! I then spray painted the cabinet handles black and gold and added a lifetime’s collection of wonderful old kitchenalia … transforming it into a wonderfully warm cookroom and undisputed heart of the home” she tells. To the side of the kitchen – in the informal dining area – a six-seater table and chairs accommodates adult diners while the Craig’s grandchildren have their very own separate dining suite alongside … in miniature!
As would be expected, even the main bathroom and laundry of the home is decorated in step with the nostalgic, sentimental look that permeates every other part of the home and gives it its unique sense of character, warmth and ‘heart’. “While some people say that paring back is the modern-day trend and that one should shed all that is unused or superfluous, to me there is nothing more wonderful than being surrounded by the treasures that have been amassed over a lifetime, each one triggering sentiments and memories of special people, happenings and past times. These are the things that confirm who we are, where we have come from and tell us just how blessed we really are” states Julie.
Blessings are indeed something that Julie Craig is always conscious of … and is always eager to share with others. And so, over recent years, she has evolved a programme of regularly-conducted morning teas where she invites a hostess to gather together a group of like-minded friends who are invited into Julie’s home to partake in what she refers to as “a celebration of friendship in a bygone era”. So successful have these gatherings been that, in recent times, Julie has been conducting a morning tea a week, with women from all over the region booking well in advance to enjoy a little slice of old world etiquette – and a good dose of frivolity – within the company of ‘jolly Julie’. Dressed as a Victorian housekeeper, Julie greets her guests at the door and provides them with an animated house tour before disappearing to quickly re-emerge in character as Hyacinth Bucket (pronounced ‘bouquet’) as the lady of the house hosts a beautiful morning tea – with all the trimmings – and lots of ‘good manners’ and guaranteed mirth. (If you would like to know more about these very special, unique gatherings, drop us a line via the website’s Contact Page and we’ll send it on to Julie for you).
If home is truly where the heart is, it is undeniable that Julie Craig’s heart is lost in another time and another place. It navigates a sentimental course – to renew old memories, and to make a world of wonderfully rich, new ones – as she opens her home to kindred souls, dearest friends and family alike, each one being blessed to share in the unique warmth, rich colour and character of the world created by a very clever country decorator who happily travels a ‘sentimental journey’ through life!
For Kindred Minds & Hearts
It is the home
that lonely children dream …
a meeting place for kindred minds and hearts
a holiday for souls.
Over the course of one’s lifetime, there are various occasions which cause one to stop and take stock … to refocus, think afresh and to determine what is – and what isn’t – really important. It’s all a part of the process of personal evolution and growth, and often leads to major reassessment and a renewed determining of one’s priorities, one’s interests and even one’s point of view. Within the context of the decorating world, this can mean completely changing one’s interior look and style … from simply paring down to tossing everything out and heading in a completely new direction.
The course of life – and the decorating persuasions – of Canadian-born Pam Taylor is certainly a case in point. An Australian resident for almost two decades, when Pam first moved to the land down under, her interior style focused on a recapturing of her homeland. By her own admission, it was all about warm woods, deep colours and all the other trappings which represented a cold climate. This was the style which she embraced when she first settled here with husband Rob. This was the style which has carried Pam forward but has, over nearly ten moves in twenty years, been modified as a consequence of so many unexpected changes and events in life, the most recent and dramatic being the death of her beloved mother back in Canada.
As Pam tells “Over nearly two decades, my style and interests have certainly changed and evolved. In the early days my decorating look was certainly all cosy and cluttered, but in more recent times it has transformed, becoming far more contemporary and streamlined, at the same time embracing lots of memories of loved ones and significant events of the past. When I think about it, I realised that it has taken many years to find my own unique style, not to mention finally having the confidence to embrace it.”
This ‘ultimate metamorphosis’ of her country decorating look and – by extension – her style of living, most recently ‘culminated’ when Pam and Rob made the decision to move from their former home and purchase a new, contemporary residence close to the NSW Hunter Valley. For Pam, the architectural character of the new residence dictated a final rethinking of how one goes about making a house into a home and the process of selecting the essential decorating trappings to create a secure, familiar and welcoming environment which is in step with the style of the building, at the same time reflecting one’s own unique interests, aspirations and heritage.
“When we saw the house for the first time, we were taken with the wonderful, open-plan feel to the spacious interior. And yet it still retains special interest areas and separate rooms which serve to make it both intimate yet free-flowing at the same time. I guess you could say that the house represents my ultimate assimilation into the Australian look and way of life. I really wanted to start with a clean slate and work with the open, fresh feel of the interior – maintaining the light and bright mood of most of its spaces – by keeping everything fairly neutral. Abundant creams, mixed with many hues of brown and lots of touches of green thus formed my core decorating agenda, ultimately creating a contemporary rustic country interpretation, with touches of French inspiration which, in turn, reflect my Canadian origins, especially given that Canada was equally colonised by the French and the English” Pam explains.
The purchase and subsequent decorating of the Taylor’s new Hunter Valley country residence led Pam to not only reassess and determine her own unique interior style and – by extension – her priorities for the future, it also led her to make a range of hard decisions regarding what to maintain – and what to discard – in the process of furnishing and equipping the place. As she explains:
“Having moved every two years over the past two decades, I wasn’t sure if I was running towards or away from something. Now that my daughter Amy has grown up and married and my daughter Brooke is well on the way to maturity, life has marked a certain coming of age. And with the death of my beloved mother, it has been a season of taking stock … working out what is important and what I want for the future. This new home is so wonderfully ‘Australian’ – low maintenance and geared to entertaining – and yet has allowed me to integrate special trappings and vignettes which speak of my Canadian origins and what is important to me from days gone by.”
Another important influence on Pam during this process of ‘revelation and consolidation’ has been the words of a very special piece of prose which she read many years ago and, in this time and stage of her life, is now finally understood and fully appreciated. It encompasses and explains Pam’s belief that her new home is truly a retreat for the soul. Written by contemporary Australian poet and raconteur Nan Witcomb – author of the renowned ‘The Thoughts of Nanushka’ collection – it reads:
There is a place
where gold and ruby leaves,
still lingering on Autumn vines,
make patchwork patterns
on earthy brown and pale green velvet hills
to decorate the edges of the sky.
Where honeyeaters dine
on scarlet berries
clinging to the hawthorn hedge,
and crisp, clean air is gently scented
with rosemary, eucalypt and pine.
There is a homestead
where the warmth and welcome
is so much more than log fires
glowing on polished wood,
or wine and music,
flowers and feather beds,
or a book lying open
in the lamplight’s pool of gold.
It is the home
that lonely children dream ..
a meeting place for kindred minds and hearts
a holiday for souls …
The Taylor’s contemporary country home encompasses four bedrooms and two bathrooms, plus a main open-plan living area which is an extension of a wonderful kitchen designed for optimum entertaining. This, in turn, spills out into a marvellous al fresco eating area off the kitchen where meals are taken throughout the warmer months of the year. The main ‘gathering space’ of the house features raked ceilings with integrated downlights, the mood being further accentuated by a vast array of lamps, leading Pam’s daughter Amy to lovingly dub the home the ‘house of lamps’. “In addition to all the intimate pools of electric light, I burn dozens of candles which help to create the most romantic, tranquil atmosphere … one that immediately puts all at ease. Add the sound of trickling fountains by day and birdsong – which is contributed by my two gorgeous cockatiels Pretty Boy and Squeaky – and you can instantly understand why it is so easy to feel completely at peace in this very unique space” Pam explains.
The house also boasts a special dining area and formal lounge room which is furnished with a distinctive double wingback settee and matching single wingback armchair, both having been recovered in a striking cream fabric to match the soft, neutral tones of the home. For more informal gathering, there is a separate television-viewing space which is furnished with olive green wingbacks that Pam bought from Canada and had recovered to match the new scheme. This is typical of so many of the furnishing pieces to be found throughout the entire interior … they have a sentimental connection and yet have been revived to match in with the cosy contemporary style of the Taylor’s new abode.
“So many of the pieces we own have a story to tell. Many came from trash and treasure markets or embody wonderful memories and thus have significance and meaning. And this is the way that I have approached the overall concept of decorating as well” states Pam. “My mission has been to create fresh, interesting looks within the overall scheme of neutrals and fresh earthy tones. Working against a backdrop of tinged white walls – ‘Green Tea’ by Dulux – married with hardwood flooring throughout the main public areas of the home and olive green carpeting in the bedrooms – I have selected furnishings and accessories which have enabled me to create vignettes that represent less of a following of fashion and more of a personal journey” Pam explains.
Such is seen in the way in which old timber furnishings have been given a new lease on life with fresh coats of paints in creams and shades of beige. New door knobs and handles have further contributed to the ‘new from old’ feel and again embody Pam’s decorating outlook that the mission to adorn one’s home should be less about slavishly following fashion and more about making the most of one’s much-loved possessions, breathing new life into them with fresh paint finishes and up-to-date accessories to make them ‘light and bright’ rather than dark and heavy.
And mixed in with the array of ‘rejuvenated’ pieces throughout the interior of the Taylor’s country home there is a wide selection of individual items and old wares that have been left in their original condition – to demonstrate their integrity and to serve as a direct reminder of distant times, past loved ones and the many stages of the journey of life. Such things are embodied by a sewing machine table in the kitchen which originally belonged to Rob’s mother and was used to make the clothing of her twelve young children. There is a rocking horse in the guest bedroom – which is regularly used by the Taylor’s grandchildren Ruby (4) and Jacy (12) – which was specially commissioned by Rob. There’s a vintage wooden writing desk in a corner over which hangs a collection of images of the family’s dearly-departed pets Beamer, Blue and Shadow who had been a significant part of their lives for nearly two generations. There’s collections of duck figurines and geese in various parts of the public rooms which signify Pam’s Canadian origins and tell of her country persuasions and passions.
As Pam tells “In so many ways, this house is the perfect assimilation of Canadian and Australian influences as it represents an integration into new surroundings and environment and thus signifies new beginnings. At the same time it’s wonderfully familiar, sentimental aspects serve to remind me of where I have come and how far I have travelled, making it a true retreat for the heart … or as Nan Witcomb would call ‘a meeting place for kindred minds and hearts – a holiday for souls’.”
In The Care Of Custodians
Our ideals, laws and customs
should be based on the proposition
that each generation in turn
becomes the custodian
rather than the absolute owner of our resources –
and each generation has the obligation
to pass this inheritance on in the future.
(Alberto Moravia 1907 – 1990)
For as long as she can remember, country decorator and avid collector Rhonda has been in love with a unique heritage property in the NSW Blue Mountains. With its sprawling rooms and verandahs that provide views to the gardens which envelop it, its 12 foot ceilings and cedar wainscoting, beautiful fireplaces and endless period features, the graceful residence epitomises the very best in country living typical of a time gone by. But the dream of living here was very nearly dashed several years ago when the graceful manor house was almost razed to the ground as a consequence of a fire which destroyed a significant part of the main structure, and led the company which insured the property to declare that it should be written off and subsequently bulldozed. But for the efforts of the local heritage advisory committee, a significant piece of Blue Mountains history would have been lost. Thankfully, due to the commitment and dedication of the home’s owner – working closely with the builder who possessed a great passion for the property and a determination to see it returned to its former glory – the property was saved, and is now a sanctuary for Rhonda and husband David … the pair regarding themselves as the fortunate custodians of a very important slice of local heritage.
As Rhonda explains, the home was originally built at the very start of the First World War. Fashioned in the Edwardian Arts and Crafts style so popular in the day, it was constructed as the residence of the local church minister and his family. The crowning glory of a sprawling property and surrounded by stone fruit and citrus orchards, the house consisted of four large bedrooms, kitchen – complete with copper and IXL wood fuel stove – and internal bathroom, plus an office for the Reverend, separate formal front parlour, large dining room, and a breakfast room for the family. There was even a separate storage room just off the back verandah for stowing dry foods. Verandahs on each of the other three sides of the home allowed for gracious summer living and entertaining. By all standards it was an impressive, comfortable residence that was, at the time, at the very heart of the local community.
“The home also originally boasted the finest period detailing which really set it apart” states Rhonda. “The tall 12 foot ceilings allowed for transom windows above many of the interior doors, each one finished with coloured bubble glass. Ornate plaster work adorned the ceilings in the main public rooms of the house, while the walls – which were originally a plaster-style fibro board – were finished with timber wainscoting and timber battens above, all in the traditional Arts and Crafts style. The cedar wainscot was complemented by beautiful hardwood floorboards throughout.”
The couple have gleaned much of the story of the home from local history records and, importantly, from the elderly grandson of the Minister who originally owned the residence and surrounding land. Today, he lives on a neighbouring property and tells that many of the original inhabitants are buried in the local church cemetery. Although, over time, parcels of the surrounding land were sold off for development, the core property remained within the founding family until its first change of ownership in the 1970s.
“It was not until the Reverend’s elderly daughter-in-law – who had ultimately inherited the home – could no longer manage to live here on her own that the property was sold and transferred into the hands of second owners who set about ‘modernising’ it in accord with the fashions of the day” Rhonda tells. Being the 1970s, this ‘modernisation’ included altering the interior décor in a manner that was hardly in sympathy with the heritage and style of the original structure. “I mean, how could a psychedelic colour scheme of hot pink and green – painted all over the beautiful cedar woodwork – ever work within an elegant Arts and Crafts heritage house” Rhonda poses! At some point around this time, the back verandah was also glassed in to create an indoor/outdoor living space, with French doors to the garden … an alteration which was, thankfully, a little less ‘insulting’ to the original architecture!
In 2001, the home was sold again and the property’s third owners set about attempting to reverse the damage done to the décor and to restore it back to its original graceful style. Their efforts also encompassed modifications which would enhance the home’s appointments and make it wonderfully comfortable for modern living. These included a revamping of the old kitchen and bathroom, plus the conversion of the original storage room off the back verandah into an ensuite for one of the main bedrooms. This process also included the revamping of the adjoining walk-in pantry, a section of which was surrendered to ensure the spaciousness of the neighbouring new ensuite bathroom. The third owners – who worked in sympathy with the original architectural style of the house – also took the opportunity during the course of their restoration programme to add a cedar staircase leading to the attic space in which they created two small, cosy bedrooms.
But as fate would have it, they had not long finished their work when these industrious owners were transferred interstate and were thus forced to once again put the property on the market. From this point on, the story of the home would have been very different if it were not for ‘the fire of 2006’ which gutted the entire back of the house. As Rhonda reports, the fire is believed to have started in the old breakfast room and, fuelled by all the structural timbers, engulfed the back section and then raced up the cedar staircase to destroy the entire upstairs bedrooms and roof.
Between the fire and the enormous quantity of water that was used to douse it, the company which insured the property was intent on writing it off and having it bulldozed to the ground. Such would have been the fate of the home if it were not for the efforts of the local heritage advisory committee. Through their efforts to save this significant piece of local heritage, the home’s new owner and the insurance company were obligated to secure the services of a talented team of tradesmen who were enlisted to undertake the arduous task of restoring the building – as close as possible – to its condition prior to the fire
The work – which stretched on for many months – entailed extensive work to the interior. While the exterior and yards (which, after years of subdivision and change, now encompass about half an acre) had not been affected by the fire, the inside of the house had been decimated. The kitchen subsequently required a complete refit. Throughout the interior only five of the rooms retained their original floorboards and so the rest had to be replaced with six inch cedar planking. The same applied to the cedar wainscoting. Architraves and fretwork had to be fashioned – much by hand – to replace the original; two fireplace surrounds were re-created; the entire roof was re-tiled with a terracotta tile which so closely resembles the original that the change is hardly detectable.
The restoration also allowed for the creation of a spacious bedroom in the attic – replacing the two earlier small rooms – and the installation of a large dormer window which has helped to achieve a warm, welcoming space that fits in perfectly with the original architectural style of the home. Throughout the interior the walls and ceiling were painted three different strengths of Haymes’ ‘China Doll’ … the pale white-grey colour getting lighter as it goes from the area above the wainscot, to the picture rail and then the lightest shade used for the ceiling.
The process of bringing the home back to its former glory took the best part of a year. Once completed, Rhonda and David were then afforded the wonderful opportunity to take up residence – something that Rhonda had first dreamt of doing so many years earlier. With their cache of superb furnishings and collectables, family heirlooms and treasures handcrafted over the years – many by the hands of Rhonda and her talented mother Rita – the couple has, since then, been able to turn what is a graceful property into a truly beautiful country home that is testament to not only their decorating skills but also their passion for the property and their respect for its important heritage and place within the local community.
“We consider ourselves to be the custodians of an important piece of history and are ever aware of the property’s past and the story of those who have lived here before us. The fact that the home was so nearly lost to fire and then later, to demolition, makes it all the more significant as we never lose sight of the fact that it is a precious treasure well deserving of being safeguarded, and loved!” states Rhonda.
Love is indeed what Rhonda and David has lavished on the home since moving here. They have painstakingly restored the lawns and gardens back to their former glory … and then some! David in particular has worked tirelessly to build on the backbone of original plantings and has added many new plantings and outdoor aspects (such as metal objects, wooden birdhouses and an array of garden stands crafted by Rhonda’s father Ray). David’s work has been enhanced by the availability of a good supply of underground water which is stored in an original brick well which was installed as part of the original build all those decades ago.
David and Rhonda have adorned each of the rooms of the house with beautiful furnishings and fittings that are a testament to their passion for vintage country style, not to mention their love of collecting, and their skill at restoring and creating clever decorating ‘tableau’. This has meant that, within each interior space, a very specific interpretation of the traditional country look has been artfully presented … from gracious Victorian to vintage Edwardian, from the cosy cottage look to a salute to the American civil war.
Essential to achieving such looks is Rhonda and David’s impressive cache of collectables. “I first commenced collecting when I was about 16. It all started with an American coffee grinder, and since that time, has mushroomed to encompass everything from American Civil War regalia to vintage linen, antique and vintage photographs to kitchenalia and vintage clothing” Rhonda explains. Her collections also encompass old furnishings and ceramics, books and ephemera, old artworks and miniatures, these being essential to the wonderful displays she has crafted throughout all rooms of the gracious heritage home – looks which are adapted and changed with the season, especially at Christmastime when her huge collection of Christmasalia – drawn from the four corners of the globe – helps to transform the interior into a veritable festive wonderland.
The couple’s collected wares are also complemented by the widest array of handcrafted pieces which, like collecting, Rhonda has been undertaking since she was a young teenager. “My greatest teacher has been my mother Rita who is an accomplished seamstress, not to mention being extremely talented at the art of knitting, embroidery, appliqué, patchwork and most of the other gentle arts. She is the greatest housekeeper and certainly the best teacher that anyone could ever have” states Rhonda.
To the many disciplines she has been taught by her beloved Mum, Rhonda has added her own special mark with a wide array of beautifully-executed oil paintings which – inspired by the masters of old and militaria artworks – she has framed in a variety of antique-style frames to replicate the look of centuries past. Painted china pieces, handcrafted porcelain dolls and traditional handcrafted fabric dolls also add their own special qualities and further represent Rhonda’s great belief that creating unique things by hand is the best way of truly transforming a house into a home and to make it one’s own.
Thus, it is certainly an understatement to say that Rhonda and David consider it a great honour to be the custodians of such a significant piece of local history … one they don’t take lightly. And importantly, as the home has once again become the centre of family life, it’s a legacy of ‘preservation and care’ which they continue to instil in not only their own children but also their beloved grandchildren … Christian (who is just four and fast becoming a diligent groundskeeper as he delights in working in the garden alongside his grandparents) and baby Ruby Ray who has, ahead of her, a lifetime of learning and loving the things of the past … as Rhonda and David guide these young ones to understand and embrace the importance of looking to the past and preserving it for today, and the future.
A Place Of Enduring Happiness
The lesson I have thoroughly learnt,
and wish to pass on to others,
is to know the enduring happiness
that the love of a garden gives.
(Gertrude Jekyll 1843 – 1932)
“But, why on earth would you want to move?” It was a question that Avis and Bill McLeary were asked time and again when they announced they were selling their gorgeous heritage cottage in the middle of the NSW Blue Mountains and moving … around the corner!
Devotees of Rick Rutherford’s Country – the printed version of the magazine – might recall we showcased Bill and Avis’s aforementioned cottage within the pages of the glossy title a couple of years ago. The home – called ‘Pick’s Cottage’ – was a testament to the creative skills of the pair, not to mention the building craftsmanship of Bill who had almost single-handedly converted and extended the once run-down little house into a comfortable, spacious abode that oozed country character and appeal at every turn. From its gorgeous leadlight windows and crisp white façade with blue trim, to its sunny cookroom and manicured gardens, the cottage was the epitome of comfort and old-world grace.
So why did the couple decide to give it all away … to ‘up sticks’, organise the finance and buy an alternative property, literally around the corner? As Avis explains, when the pair first made the decision to leave the big smoke and relocate to the peace and crisp air of the Blue Mountains, they viewed many properties. One in particular – called ‘Chiltern’ – captured their hearts. But practicality – specifically the price – prohibited their purchase. And so they chose an alternative in close proximity and set about converting and restoring, turning it into the shining jewel of the entire streetscape.
“But the attraction of ‘Chiltern’ never faded. The architect we employed to draw up the plans for ‘Pick’s Cottage’ owned and lived in ‘Chiltern’ and so we were able to really gain a proper appreciation of the property when he asked us to inspect the beautiful heritage home and gardens” explains Avis. “At that time he had finished major refurbishment works on the house and wanted us to get an idea of the style and standard of his work. He and his wife had also undertaken significant improvements on the garden, doing major landscaping, terracing and planting many of the species which are now its backbone. Because of the work they had done, towards the end of the project, they were approached by a local real estate agent who had another party interested in purchasing a property of the same standard and style within the area. As it turned out, they bought ‘Chiltern’ then and there, the property thus having never been officially listed for sale” Avis adds.
The history of the house goes back much further than this though. In fact, it dates back to just over 100 years. Built by a professional builder as a weekender and place to ultimately retire to, the house was sold by the builder’s widow after the fellow’s untimely death. Sadly, he never got to live permanently within the home which, within its original configuration, consisted of one bedroom and living room upstairs (centred around a large fireplace) with bullnose verandahs and a kitchen in a downstairs cellar.
The second owners were a middle-aged couple and their unmarried daughter. They converted part of the rear verandah to create a second sleeping quarters and, later during their ownership, added an upstairs kitchen and small bathroom off the main living area. As the years went on, the couple grew old and ultimately passed away, leaving ‘Chiltern’ to their spinster daughter. They also had another daughter who married and lived in Victoria. She would often visit in the company of her son who, in recent years, recounts that the house was always a wonderfully homely, cheery place … something that Avis and Bill identified the very first time they crossed the threshold, and was the reason why they always felt drawn to the heritage homestead.
Sadly, under the ownership of the old couple’s daughter, the house and garden slowly fell into disrepair as she had neither the financial or physical resources to maintain it. It was not until her death – when ‘Chiltern’ was sold to the aforementioned architect and his wife – that the property was brought back to life. With a passion for restoration that complements the style and grace of the original structure, the new owners set about breathing fresh life into the marvellous old mountain jewel. The architect, in fact, did most of the alterations and restoration work himself, putting in two deep bay windows and upstairs bedroom, modernising the kitchen and upstairs bathroom and putting in a staircase leading to two newly-created bedrooms and ensuite downstairs. And of course the couple undertook major works on the garden which sprawls across over an acre of surrounding land.
After the time the architect and his wife had sold the home to its new owner, the property underwent little major structural change, being maintained in its restored state. Bill and Avis continued their interest in the property even at this time, making friends with the owner and regularly being invited to inspect the garden. Such was their declared affection for the place … a declaration that was to ultimately see the owner offer the pair the opportunity to purchase when she finally made the decision that its upkeep was beyond her means.
But it wasn’t a straightforward ‘buy and move in’ arrangement. As Avis explains “We had finished the restoration work on ‘Pick’s Cottage’ and were very comfortable. The price of ‘Chiltern’ was beyond us – and we were planning on going overseas – so we tried to persuade everyone we knew who was interested in mountains’ property to purchase it. We simply wanted to see it in the hands of someone who would love it as much as we did. We then set off for three months touring England – my first trip home in 20 years – and put the idea of ever being able to purchase the property out of our minds. However, on our return, the owner – a lady named Selena – had still not sold ‘Chiltern’ and so, knowing our interest, she entered into discussions. She made us the incredibly generous offer of not only reducing her asking price but also allowing us a year to sell ‘Pick’s Cottage’ so we could come up with the finance. With the ultimate sale of ‘Pick’s’, as well as a small investment property we owned, we were able to raise the funds we needed and thus ultimately became the very proud owners of ‘Chiltern’” Avis states.
The love of the home which Bill and Avis harboured from the very start is now well and truly revealed … from the cosy, welcoming interior to the beautifully-maintained gardens, drystone walling and cobbled pathways, pond and romantic bridge (so delightful it rivals the one in Monet’s Garden at Giverny, France) and various other structural and aesthetic improvements. They have added an ensuite bathroom off the upstairs bedroom (thus creating the perfect retreat for their ongoing parade of overseas guests) and moved the clawfoot out of the original bathroom off the kitchen to create a traditional scullery. A potbelly stove in the living room hearth has been moved to Bill’s workshop and replaced by a more efficient slow combustion wood fire.
Bill has built a marvellous carport at the front of the property in keeping with the original architectural style of the house, and a fabulous weatherboard-clad workshop-cum-studio in the midst of the back garden with a fabulous vegetable patch adjoining, its neat beds overflowing with plump species throughout most parts of the year. Extensive fencing and ongoing improvements to the garden further reflect the McLeary’s love of the place they now delight in calling home.
Indeed it is the garden which is the focal point of the home, it being viewed from every window of each room. Its colours have been used to inspire the shades selected for interior finishes and decorative treatments on furnishings and accessories. Avis’s sister-in-law Erika, who is a talented watercolour artist, visits from England or works from photographs sent to her and has created the most beautiful series of paintings of a huge array of flowers from the garden, these adorning the walls throughout the interior. From the back of the house the view is down into the garden and then, across the tree canopy of the adjoining National Park while the front verandah has a fabulous vista of built-up beds and shady shrubbery which was initially selected to complement the style and period of the house.
“In recent times we have been delighted to be asked to show the garden in the local Open Garden Scheme … something that has brought us much joy as people have been able to share with us in the beauty and tranquility of ‘Chiltern’. This past year the event also led to us making contact with the grandson of the old couple who were the second owners of the house back in the early part of the 20th century. He was able to give us valuable information on the heritage of the house, as well as confirming our feelings that it has, from the very start, always been a cheery and enchanting place. Even the previous owner, Selena, annually comes back to ‘Chiltern’ to view the garden and experience its magical charm” states Avis.
The ongoing maintenance of the garden is aided by the input of the McLeary’s dear friend – and talented horticulturalist – Marion, who has helped in more recent times with plant selection and the almost-weekly garden upkeep. Much of the work she has done on the property has been performed in exchange for building work undertaken on her property by Bill, once again proving the value and effectiveness of the old-fashioned barter system. Avis’s great nephew Alex, who visited from England, has also made a major contribution to the work which, during the McLeary’s time of ownership, has not only included all the aforementioned improvements but also seen the removal of various conifers and the installation of an 8000 litre rainwater tank.
As a compensation to the marvellous garden views, most windows throughout the home have been left unadorned, or simply curtained so as not to impede vistas of flowering shrubbery, lush underplantings and the many inspiring vignettes which have been created with statuary, quirky signs and other such outdoor accessories. All the internal walls – which feature vertical tongue and groove panelling to dado height and then horizontal configuration to the ceiling (which is also tongue and groove) – are painted white to play up the cheery disposition and enhance the effects of the abundant natural light that streams in.
The flooring throughout much of the upstairs, staircase and downstairs bedrooms is a wonderful traditional thick-profile coir while the living room features the original timber floorboards, softened with large carpet rugs. The kitchen is covered with a hospital-grade linoleum which also features in the new upstairs ensuite. Well sealed and running up the walls to even create a kick-back, the linoleum provides an efficient and cheaper alternative to traditional tiles. Quarry tiles feature in the downstairs ensuite.
All the wonderful vintage, mismatched furnishings which Avis and Bill brought with them from ‘Pick’s Cottage’ have fitted into ‘Chiltern’ perfectly … as Avis states “all as if they were meant to be here and had been bought or made especially for the place.” Along the way they have added a few extra pieces to finish off the rooms … such as a wonderful church pew in the main living area, a collection of vintage pressbacks, and similar vintage timber items, most of which have been restored by Bill.
Quirky collections and treasures both bought and found, inherited and given by friends further add to the quaint heritage charm and atmosphere of the home. There’s a dresser which houses a collection of plates which once belonged to Avis’s mother and were brought out from England; an array of vintage oil lamps; Bill’s treasured collection of vintage planers which are aligned to his profession as a builder; a diverse selection of old and antique china pieces; framed watercolours by Erika on most walls; vases of fresh blooms and silk flowers combined … all working to further enhance the homely cosiness and character of this delightful place.
Testament to the couple’s decorating skill and creative vision is seen at every turn … from the many items that have been handcrafted for the house (including a wonderful verandah table setting made with a slab of rough-sawn camphor laurel) to the found items they have modified to fit within the house and add important finishing touches (from vintage sash windows that have been recycled for Bill’s workshop to a marvellous arch and banisters which were retrieved from a local clean-up and used to create a sense of division between the living area and kitchen upstairs, and to frame the top of a bay window downstairs).
In all, the way everything has so beautifully come together has conclusively proved to Bill and Avis that ‘Chiltern’ was always meant to be theirs … despite the protracted process of purchase. As Avis states “sometimes in life, if something is meant to come to pass, all it takes is to hold the dream … and have both steadfast belief, and lots of patience!” In its restored state, ‘Chiltern’ is certainly testament to the belief, talent, creativity and vision of its passionate owners.
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