Happy is the person who knows
what to remember of the past,
what to enjoy in the present,
and what to plan for in the future.
(Arnold H. Glasow 1905 – 1998)
Nowadays, too often too many people buy an old home and strip it of its period character and integrity in the pursuit of creating a house fit for modern living. Karen White is not one of them! When she purchased ‘Voysey Cottage’ in the foothills of the Blue Mountains in the middle of 2005, she determined from the very start that she would enhance the inherent vintage integrity and style of the property as best she could – starting from the front gate and working her way from there.
Karen’s decision to safeguard and preserve the period detailing and spirit of her country home comes from not only a personal passion for the past, but has also been fuelled by an insight she has gleaned into the background and heritage of the home, as revealed in an intriguing historical report on the family history of the original owner, George Voysey.
As records reveal, back in the early 1900s, George Voysey owned a large block of land – with an original cottage on part of the holding – with dual street frontages. When he died in 1920, his two sons Charlie and Percy inherited the property and made the decision to divide it between them. Charlie kept the original house and adjoining block of land, while Percy and his young wife Ida carved off the neighbouring two blocks, on which they built a modest iron roofed, weatherboard cottage … the heart of what Karen now calls ‘Voysey Cottage’.
As the written history of the home – by Winsome Phillis (nee Voysey) – tells, the cottage consisted of “two bedrooms, a kitchen, dining room and bathroom/laundry, with small front and back verandahs. The lower half of the inner walls was finished with varnished wood; linoleum covered the wooden floors … The house cost about £400, some of which was borrowed (from a local solicitor). Repayments were made monthly, as much as you could pay off the loan. You didn’t have to pay a set amount.”
This intriguing account of the early days of ‘Voysey Cottage’ documents how the home was modestly furnished and the gentle flow of early family life within its walls. From the ice chest standing on the back verandah to the ironing done atop a blanket with flat irons heated on the kitchen stove; from the piano in the living room (bought by Percy as a wedding present for Ida) to the laundry hung on lines held up with props in the backyard, the early story of ‘Voysey Cottage’ reflected the pattern of domestic life seen throughout most parts of Australia in the 1920s.
As the years passed, Percy and Ida had several children – Gwen, Elaine, Winsome and Howard – and lived happily in the modest little cottage until, in 1935, the couple shared second prize of £1000 in the lottery. The winnings enabled them to undertake a range of extensions and improvements, including adding a glassed-in back verandah, new kitchen and bathroom/laundry, as well as installing a new fuel stove, an electric cooker and later an electric refrigerator (after electricity was connected to the area in 1934).
With Percy’s brother Charlie and family living next door, with chook runs and vegetable gardens dividing the two holdings, it was an idyllic picture of extended family life … with house parties, dances, movies, Sunday night tea gatherings and a world of other such social happenings further enriching the life of the Voyseys. As Winsome reflects, after the parties of adolescence came the engagements and then the weddings, each of the four children ultimately giving birth to grandchildren for Percy and Ida and thus ensuring that ‘Voysey Cottage’ would remain at the heart of the family for another generation.
After Percy’s death, Ida went into a nursing home in 1977 and finally passed away in 1993, leaving the house to be ultimately sold to new owners. These new proprietors – like Karen after them – proved to not only be enchanted by the heritage and history of the home which had formerly been within the same family for over 70 years, but were superbly sensitive to the task of restoring the residence and extending it to create a considerably larger dwelling.
As Karen tells “the people who purchased the home after Ida’s death obviously fell in love with the heritage and story of the property as they undertook a range of improvements in sympathy with the original part of the house. At the same time they were able to create what can best be described as a comfortable, contemporary country-inspired residence. They added an open-plan family and dining room plus additional bedroom to the back of the house, as well as creating an attic within the ceiling space. They enlarged the kitchen, created an ensuite off the main bedroom and generally renovated and restored throughout.”
And then along came Karen some eight year later. In the time since, with an enormous amount of effort, love and passion, the task of ultimately transforming ‘Voysey Cottage’ and bringing it back to life has been completed. And as already stated, she commenced the process at the front gate and worked her way from there.
“I started by pulling out most of the garden, replanting it with a distinct cottage theme. The backbone of plantings includes foxgloves and roses, lavender and camellias, with lots of annuals – such as petunias and pansies, violas and such – included for splashes of seasonal colours” she explains.
To the gardenscape Karen has then integrated a number of significant vintage features, including a section of old four-poster fencing; a wonderfully rustic handcrafted bench seat on wheels; galvanised buckets and planters sourced from markets and garage sales; and various other old outdoor curios and whimsical vintage wares. To the garden beds she has added miniorb and sandstone block edging, painted a pergola in the back yard a rich ‘Clotted Cream’ by Wattyl (with Dulux ‘Gridiron’ steely blue trim) to match the outside of the house, and even decorated a children’s cubby house in the backyard to replicate the look and colour scheme of the exterior.
Leading from the front door into the entrance hall, a similar colour palette of cream and moody blue trim is revealed … a theme which goes throughout most to the interior (with the exception of a rear bedroom which is painted a dusky pink and the nursery which features a slightly darker ‘Bluestone Rock’ treatment on the wainscot and pale blue on the walls above). The entrance also reveals just a glimpse of Karen’s eye for detail and skill at creating clever country vignettes … something that is carried through all other rooms of the home. With its array of vintage collectables and framed images of loved ones near and dear, it’s a statement of respect for the past and passion for the sanctuary and security of this special place she has created.
The entrance hall leads into a sitting room to the left and then large open-plan living and dining room and kitchen beyond. A vintage meatsafe and utility cabinet holding antique children’s clothing; a bow-fronted china cabinet (found at a garage sale for just $100) that holds Karen’s grandmother’s and beloved mother’s old dinner set and crystal collections; an eighty-year-old cast iron pot belly stove which Karen’s grandmother once used daily to cook meals; an heirloom Singer sewing machine and various other quirky vintage collectables all combine to make the entrance sitting room a cosy and sentimental place.
A doorway from the sitting room leads into the main open-plan living area at the back of the house … this being the main section added on to the original cottage by the former owners. Key furnishings here include a robust two- and matching three-seater lounge dressed in a rich beige suede. A third two-seater from the same ensemble sits in the cosy sitting room off the entrance, this serving to further visually link the two areas. A colonial-style eight-seater dining setting marries with a timber television cabinet which Karen has cleverly turned into a sideboard (with gingham curtaining on the inside of the glass doors to soften the look).
A robust coffee-table chest and matching television console complete the retinue of key furnishings here. To this Karen has artfully added a collection of special vintage pieces and clever contemporary-created country collectables to create a picture of idyllic country style that is a little bit ‘now’ and a dash ‘then’!
Looking into the living and dining area across a robust counter which divides the two spaces is the spacious country kitchen which was also revamped and extended as part of renovations by the former owners. The handsome cabinetry has been treated with a cream distressed paint finish and farm-style hinges that again speak of a past era. There’s an integrated plate rack for the storage of everyday china and lots of space above the wall cabinets for the showcasing of Karen’s impressive tin collections and old kitchenalia. It was these features, combined with all the other generous cookroom appointments, which helped make up Karen’s mind to purchase the house in the first place.
As she explains “I loved the house from the onset … its heritage and integrity of character. But once I saw the kitchen I was certainly sold! This is where my love affair really began. I adore cooking and the kitchen is not only wonderfully appointed – with an ideal work triangle – it also has abundant places in which I can display all my favourite vintage wares … old bits and pieces I have been collecting for at least 15 years.” Principal amongst such things is Karen’s mum’s old Sunbeam Mixmaster, and another which her father purchased with his very first pay packet for his beloved mother. There’s also old scales, vintage bottles and tins, antique kitchenalia and so much more.
The display of vintage and antique wares to extol the period character and integrity of the home, as seen in the kitchen, make an important contribution to all other parts of the home. – They also reflect Karen’s love affair with the past simplicities of domestic life, as well as make an important statement about her own personal heritage at the same time.
In the main bedroom a 1930s dressing table (bought for the bargain price of $75) sits beside a vintage chair that serves as a bedside table. Vintage crystal and nostalgic clothing adds another important note of the past. In the nursery a vintage bassinette and old clothing further adds to the period feel.
A claw foot bath and vintage wooden basin, a meatsafe used to store towels, and a smaller metal version decorated with old lotion bottles and medical supplies create the period magic and mood in the handsome bathroom while an original old wringer washing mashing stands on the back landing to immediately bring to mind a time gone by when doing the laundry was one of the many arduous household chores faced weekly by the lady of the house.
Add to the collections already mentioned other significant pieces such as vintage skates and old childhood board games, vintage toys and books, household tools and gardening wares, enamelware and old sewing paraphernalia, juvenalia, vintage clothing and a vast array of other elements connected with the things of everyday life of yesteryear and one can easily deduce that ‘Voysey Cottage’ and Karen White were indeed made for each other. In the here and now things are just as they might once have been, back in the day!