At first glance
THIS FARM’S VIEW OVER THE VALLEY WON A FAMILY AS SOON AS THEY ARRIVED.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org