An 1891 manse on the NSW South Coast gets another lease on life with colour and pattern.
IT’S OFTEN THE WAY that even the best-laid plans can change. For Lucie and Duncan Stanford, this happened in 2003 when a stately old manse, occupying the highest ground in the South Coast town of Berry, NSW, came on the market. Only a couple of years earlier the couple had bought land at Berry Mountain, where they were designing a modern and sustainable home. Then curiosity got the better of them. “We went along — with most of the South Coast — for a little stickybeak,” Lucie recalls. “It was a beautiful home, in a beautiful garden, on an acre of land in a lovely part of Berry. Initially, we thought we could convince our friends to buy it — then we thought, well, maybe we should have a shot at it. We turned up at the auction — and we walked out with it!” They duly sold their land and moved into the old manse with their then baby daughter, Amelie, now 15, and their second daughter Eloise arrived two years later. “We moved into the house on Australia Day, with a futon, bookcases, two sofas and that was about it,” says Lucie. “Our student-type pieces looked like dollhouse furniture, so the next thing was collecting furniture of an appropriate quality and age.” Lucie and Duncan, both doctors, met at a Sydney hospital when they were each furthering their medical training. In 1998 they married, holding their reception at Lucie’s family farm at Marshall Mount, south of Wollongong, and were keen to set up home on the South Coast. The two-storey brick manse had been built in 1891, next door to the Presbyterian church, as a residence for the church ministers. But, in the 1930s, the church was dismantled and a new one built in the heart of town — supposedly at the >
behest of a congregation who thought it too far and too steep to walk to the church. In the 1950s, the manse was considered too costly to maintain and was sold into private hands. Come 2016, after 13 years of nurturing their family, the Stanfords knew the old house needed freshening up. “I wanted more textiles and pattern, and liked the idea of using wallpaper for the texture it added,” Lucie says. “And also, importantly for me, it makes an excellent backdrop to display art!” It’s not just any art that she refers to, but the work of her great aunt, Dame Eileen Mayo, who produced art in a diverse range of media, but is best known for her printmaking and designing stamps and iconic travel posters. British-born, she lived in New Zealand from the 1960s until her death in 1994. Lucie has been collecting Dame Eileen Mayo’s work for more than a decade and holds the world’s largest private collection. “I have strong memories of growing up with her artwork on my parents’ walls and she always had a presence in my life,” says Lucie. “I started collecting children’s books that she wrote and illustrated in the ’40s and then a print of hers came up on ebay. That started the collection, which has taken me all over the world — and led to connections and meetings with extended family members, art academics, art dealers and collectors.” To refurbish the interiors of the house, Lucie consulted with Melbourne-based interior designer Adelaide Bragg of Adelaide Bragg & Associates. “I like her work and share her aesthetic and taste. And I like that she allows her clients to retain their own pieces, and works with the bones of whatever might be there.” For Adelaide, working with Lucie’s love and knowledge of fabrics made the collaboration all the more successful. “All the soft furnishings are new and slightly eclectic — looking like it hasn’t been ‘decorated’,” Adelaide says. “Lucie was also game for colour. There’s a warm beige-caramel palette throughout the house, and it’s got that layered look. We looked at the art and were mindful of how it would hang. But it’s also a family home and I loved that.” Above all, Lucie loves the fact that The Old Manse is imbued with the legacies of past residents and richly layered with stories. A storybook cottage used as a guest studio sits in the large garden with mature trees that were mostly planted in the 1970s. In spring, enormous jacarandas carpet the driveway with their mauve flowers and a single pecan tree, planted by a previous resident, towers over a paved courtyard. “Back then the husband was in the navy, as HMAS Albatross is nearby, and his wife was American,” Lucie says. “In the ’70s it was very hard to find pecans for Thanksgiving in Berry, or anywhere around here. So when he was out on deployment in Hawaii, he smuggled back some pecan seeds on HMAS Melbourne, then one of the daughters planted the pecan tree. I got that story via my Instagram from one of the daughters and I loved it.” The Old Manse is on Instagram @lifeintheoldmanse