At first glance

THIS FARM’S VIEW OVER THE VAL­LEY WON A FAM­ILY AS SOON AS THEY AR­RIVED.

Country Style - - CONTENTS - WORDS BAR­BARA SWEENEY PHOTOGRAPHY FELIX FOR­EST STYLING PHOEBE MCEVOY

A farm’s leafy view in the NSW South­ern Tablelands won the hearts of a foodie and an ar­chi­tect.

Open-air lunch: “We’re cre­at­ing a house within a park,” says Mary Ellen Hud­son. FAC­ING PAGE Vin­tage out­door fur­ni­ture on the ve­ran­dah.

The view over the val­ley in which Hugh Wen­ner­bom and Mary Ellen Hud­son live de­mands that you stop some­where along the rough, stony ap­proach to drink it in. And that’s ex­actly what hap­pened when the cou­ple first saw the 110-hectare prop­erty, Holm­brae. “As soon as we got to the gate, I yelled ‘Stop the car!’,” says Mary Ellen. “There had been a lot of rain and the place was so green. We both stood there and said ‘This is it’, even be­fore we’d seen the house.” Un­like the open, un­du­lat­ing coun­try that lies over most of the dis­trict, this small val­ley out­side Taralga, in the NSW South­ern Tablelands, is steep, wooded and shim­mers with light and shade. Tall, spindly eu­ca­lypts cast their shad­ows across the hills and, here and there, when the cloud breaks, are bright pops of sun­light. Hugh had spent lots of time roam­ing on his un­cle’s farm in Vic­to­ria’s West­ern Dis­trict, and ever since had han­kered for one of his own. “He was def­i­nitely the driv­ing force,” says Mary Ellen of the pur­chase in late 2006. Hugh, who was a well-known food prove­dore in Syd­ney, planned to farm Holm­brae and add his chick­ens, free-range eggs and pork to the goods he sold to restau­rants and home-de­liv­ery cus­tomers. It would also be a coun­try retreat for the Syd­ney-based fam­ily. Mary Ellen, an ar­chi­tect, and the chil­dren — Henry, now 17, Ade­laide, 12, and eight-year-old Wyn­ter — are regular vis­i­tors dur­ing the school term and de­camp to Taralga when hol­i­days ar­rive. “And we al­ways bring mil­lions of vis­i­tors,” Mary Ellen says. As he worked on the farm, Hugh hit on the idea of tak­ing his pro­duce di­rect to din­ers, cooking what he grew. For four years he had op­er­ated some of the ear­li­est pop-up restau­rants in Syd­ney, among them evenings at Café Guilia in Camperdown and a bowl­ing club in Bronte. His slow-cooked pork — from his own stock of Old English Blacks — had a cult fol­low­ing, as did his marinated chicken, and the potato gnoc­chi with green gar­lic and broad beans. Re­cently, Hugh’s busi­ness has be­come more stream­lined. He no longer does restau­rant pop-ups — “They were re­ally hard!” — and works with other farm­ers to pro­duce the Holm­brae chick­ens and ducks. He has ceased farm­ing pigs and has a manager to over­see egg pro­duc­tion, so he can stay in Syd­ney most of the week. The flock >

CLOCK­WISE, FROM ABOVE Mary Ellen and Hugh with (from left) Wyn­ter, Henry and Ade­laide; sad­dle­bag cush­ions from Cadrys in Syd­ney on the dining ban­quette, and a ‘Finch’ salad bowl from New Zealand’s Citta De­sign on the ta­ble made by the cou­ple; Ade­laide and Wyn­ter with kelpie Elsa and a friendly lo­cal, Bo the eastern grey kan­ga­roo; vin­tage stools in front of the kitchen bench, on which lies a vin­tage Turk­ish kitchen board from Syd­ney’s White Home; oak and pines tower over the back of the house; an an­tique but­ter­fly col­lec­tion hangs be­side a lamp from Syd­ney’s Nor­man & Quaine.

A vin­tage enamel lamp­shade, IKEA bed linen and a drift­wood sculp­ture from Syd­ney’s Gran­di­flora in the bunk room that sleeps six. FAC­ING PAGE A neigh­bour’s sheep heads home.

CLOCK­WISE, FROM ABOVE Scout the kelpie re­clines be­neath two an­tique but­ter­fly paint­ings; a lone gum near the prop­erty’s bound­ary; Mary Ellen says the trac­tor “is a re­li­able old work­horse that came with the farm”; an Or­refors brass and glass light fit­ting above an old cast-iron bath; Hugh rid­ing Buddy; re­cy­cled milliners’ rulers form hat hooks; an an­tique wool and silk rug in the living area near a fruit box fit­ted with legs that holds news­pa­pers for fire start­ing. FAC­ING PAGE In a guest room, vin­tage cush­ions and a lamp from Syd­ney’s Surry Hills Mar­kets.

of 300 Isa Browns nest in snug wooden boxes lined with wood chips — “They love it,” Hugh de­clares. In 2012, once Hugh’s busi­ness had found its feet, Mary Ellen stepped in. She had been keen to get her hands on the three-bed­room 1900s weath­er­board farm­house for years. “I said, ‘Right, it’s my turn!’ I wanted to in­ject it with new life.” In the five years she’d been bid­ing her time, Mary Ellen had drawn and re­drawn more than 30 dif­fer­ent lay­outs. “Pre­vi­ous own­ers had taken down walls, the wrong walls, and opened the cen­tre of the build­ing,” she says. “The house was dis­en­gaged from the gar­den. There was car­pet laid on ma­sonite in one room, pine floor­boards in an­other, brush box… It was a com­plete patch­work.” The ren­o­va­tion took six months, with Mary Ellen driv­ing down at 4am once a week with her crew. She laid re­cy­cled floor­boards through­out the house, re­in­stated the ex­ist­ing bed­room walls (gain­ing an ex­tra bed­room in the process), put in a hall­way and changed the func­tion of most of the rooms. “I wanted to de­sign it to suit a tribe of vis­i­tors — up to three cou­ples and as­sorted kids, and feel like there was enough room for us all,” she says. Mary Ellen’s de­sign was as con­cerned with what was be­yond the house as the in­ter­nal lay­out. It was im­por­tant for her to cre­ate a re­la­tion­ship be­tween the house and the gar­den and, be­yond that, the bush. “Here we were, in this great farm­house, and you couldn’t see out,” she says. It’s a work in progress, but al­ready she and Hugh have re­moved wa­ter tanks, hedges and fences from around the house to open up the view. Now, the sit­ting room has an out­look onto the rose gar­den and the north-east as­pect of the dining room is slowly be­ing opened up. “We’re cre­at­ing a house within a park,” says Mary Ellen. South­ern mag­no­lias have been planted around the house to com­ple­ment the mag­nif­i­cent oaks and pines, and there are plans to ex­pand the veg­etable patches and to plant an av­enue of olives. The reimag­in­ing of the gar­den stops there: be­yond are the pad­docks, pas­ture, poul­try and bush. It’s clear that some­one with an eye for de­sign has been at work, but for all the con­cep­tual so­phis­ti­ca­tion that has been ap­plied, this is still a work­ing farm­house, ro­bust and up to the task. “I didn’t want the farm to be pre­cious or over-styled,” Mary Ellen says. “And be­cause it’s not a se­ri­ous ar­chi­tec­tural project, I’ve been able to play.”

Pen­dant lights at­tached to branches from the prop­erty hang over a paint­ing by Taralga’s Jude Ni­chol­son.

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For in­for­ma­tion about Hugh Wen­ner­bom’s Holm­brae prove­dore busi­ness, email hugh@holm­brae.com.au

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