I had been project manager for a privately-owned, up-market commercial property developer, when the owner asked me to manage the construction of his own house, right behind the Bondi Icebergs.
It was a narrow and extremely challenging site, to be resolved by a simple, elegant design proposed by Phillip Mathieson of Redgen Mathieson.
We put the project out to competitive tender, but after John Fielding’s initial presentation to the project team, Bellevarde was not the front-runner. Then I was invited to go with John to see some of his houses and meet his clients.
I came away thinking he was the right builder—primarily because John’s primary driver appeared to be his passion for the houses he builds.
This was an unusual approach for me, but I was struck by the commitment to ‘quality above all else’ that seemed to be the hallmark of Bellevarde. After further appropriate negotiation, we awarded John the contract.
It was apparent that John is not used to working with external project managers, especially commercial ones—whereas my training has all been in commercial development, where time and money inevitably drive the agenda.
This contract required something of a leap of faith from both of us: for John, uncomfortable with an external project manager; and for myself, awarding a cost-plus contract primarily on quality and, unusually, on the grounds of the builder’s drive and passion.
The key Bellevarde people—John, Daniele and Ashley—fully respect time and money, but are driven primarily by their commitment to building to the highest quality and as beautifully as it can be done.
The first couple of months of construction were a real struggle for us all, not just in communications and differing expectations, but because we encountered a major problem that the engineers’ surveys had missed, and which posed significant challenges.
It was encouraging to see Bellevarde’s willingness to focus their efforts on resolving the issue as quickly and efficiently as possible, without looking to exploit the very uncomfortable position the client was in. We settled on a solution amicably and were able to move on.
The attention to detail in the construction is extraordinary. Two examples: some exquisitely-patterned Calacatta marble was selected at the quarry in Italy so that it could be both book- and end-matched, then imported directly; and artisans were engaged to execute the bronze patination for wall cladding, stairs, doors and other fixtures.
We all contributed, including the owner, whose fresh eyes gave us some seriously good design breakthroughs. There was a sense of ownership by all parties—everybody wanted to contribute to building the best possible house. This culture comes straight from John and pervades his organization. It was evident that all participants had a sense of great pride—again, very rarely the case on a commercial project. I think John’s people love working for Bellevarde.
A magical location, a stunningly elegant design—built and finished to world-class standards by a team of us who, it turned out, all love creating beautiful buildings.
It has to be one of the most satisfying projects I have been involved in.