Around twelve years ago we found a weekend farm less than two hours drive from the city. The house was quite old, with great views, some cottages, a barn and other outbuildings. I walked onto the property and knew ‘this is it’.
We tidied up the main house and cottages, and over the next few years progressively made small improvements. Then a few years ago we acknowledged that the children would soon be leaving home—and that this was our opportunity to rethink the whole place.
I realized I truly wanted a new main house. One that would let in lots of light, take in all the views, meet our needs, simplify our lives, and focus on the things we love. Also, we could reconfigure and modernize the three cottages so that our children would each have their own small house whenever they visited.
Over several months I immersed myself in the project, steadily working my way through every aspect of what we really wanted the property to become. Because we had lived there for twelve years we had come to understand the ideal relationships between the various buildings; the best sight lines; the optimum location, length and width of the verandahs; and which woods work best, ageing beautifully over the years, inside and out. We knew the varying impacts of the direction and strengths of the winds, and the rains that swept up the valley.
It was a long process but, as our understanding grew, it was deeply satisfying. The best way I can describe it is that it kept becoming more and more simple until it all came together as a vision. One that felt just right.
When we got Rob Brown and Antje Mahler from Casey Brown Architecture in and walked them through the place and our vision, they understood—then added some wonderful new dimensions. They drew up plans, and suggested Bellevarde as the builders. We agreed immediately, as we knew their work from modifications made at a ski lodge we belonged to in Perisher, which had been a very good experience.
John Fielding and Steve O’Ryan, Bellevarde’s country manager, spent time looking over the property and the plans. In constructive discussions with them, Rob and Antje we finalized the plans and agreed a detailed budget and a build time of 18 months.
From the start we all worked as a team. I was on site every weekend and Monday.
Rob, Antje, Steve and I met formally once a month to review every element of the project in the short and longer term, all the budgets, timelines—everything.
Steve was on site virtually all the time. He is hands-on, highly capable, well organized, very observant and reassuring—always happy to offer well-thought-out solutions to any problem, and to explain and discuss what’s going on, and listen to my concerns. A perfect example: although Rob and Antje had thoroughly checked all the local rainfall records before designing the drainage around the house, building-in a substantial margin for error, our own years living there indicated that local records were inaccurate for our property.
Luckily one weekday it suddenly and dramatically poured torrentially for 45 minutes. Steve immediately called Rob and Antje and asked them to double the capacity of the drains. I didn’t actually say ‘I told you so’, but I must admit to having a grin.
We all worked so well together, nothing was ever a problem. Best of all, over time I got to know all the team and was able to become immersed in every stage of the building process. It was a joy.
The house was finished two weeks early and it has captured our vision perfectly.
It is a farmhouse, all timber and local stone. It is strong, clean-lined, practical, understated and superbly executed. Everything lines up, everything works, because everything has been done right by committed tradespeople. There is effortless attention to detail everywhere.
A favourite was Steve’s idea: that the edges of the wooden door frames leading through to the kitchen should be discreetly edged with a barely-visible strip of brass, to guard against accidental damage. Perfect.
Rethinking and building our house has been a deeply satisfying experience on every level. I just love what we have accomplished.