Soul mates: a fam­ily falls in love with an old farm­house



WHEN SI­MONE AND Ben Mathews erected site fenc­ing around the farm­house they had pur­chased at Ger­ringong on the NSW South Coast, the lo­cals were none too pleased. “At first we got a few dirty looks and no­body smiled at us be­cause they thought: ‘Here’s an­other de­vel­oper come to put up units,’” Si­mone ex­plains. “Then, as peo­ple re­alised we were restor­ing it, ev­ery­one be­gan smil­ing, bring­ing us pho­to­graphs and com­ing to talk about the his­tory of the place.” Us­ing this col­lec­tive com­mu­nity knowl­edge, Si­mone, 39, and Ben, 40, were able to piece to­gether the his­tory of Vic­to­ria Cot­tage, which was built in 1880 for the Cooke fam­ily, well-known pioneers of the dis­trict. How­ever, Si­mone ad­mits the half-acre block in a pop­u­lar res­i­den­tial street, just a stone’s throw from Werri Beach, was an un­ex­pected pur­chase. “We were in Ger­ringong for a friend’s 40th and weren’t re­ally look­ing for a place, but I walked past this place and said: ‘Wow, I love that house.’ When I reached the main street to meet my girl­friends, it was for sale in the real es­tate win­dow. So we say the house found us.” As part­ners in Bam Con­struc­tions — a build­ing and in­te­rior de­sign firm — Si­mone and Ben knew they had the skills to trans­form the fad­ing farm­house. Early last year, they moved from Cronulla with their four boys — Mar­ley, 12, Archie, 11, Tully, nine, and Koah, five — to make a start on the 10-month ren­o­va­tion, ini­tially living in the house un­til the dust and lack of space forced them into a rental. “The per­son we bought it from had done a bit of work but it was still very much in orig­i­nal con­di­tion,” Si­mone says. “My sons loved play­ing with their cars in the bed­rooms be­cause the floors were so un­even.” Fast-for­ward to to­day and passers-by now of­ten pause at the frangi­pani flank­ing the front gate to ad­mire the home’s meta­mor­pho­sis from weather-beaten to im­mac­u­late. Out­side, the orig­i­nal cedar boards have been re­paired and re­painted in Du­lux Mt As­pir­ing and the di­lap­i­dated roof was re­placed with Colorbond steel in Mon­u­ment. Inside, four bed­rooms, all with en­suites, have been built in the orig­i­nal part of the home. “We didn’t plan on raked ceil­ings in the bed­rooms but when we pulled down the old ceil­ings they were too good to hide,” Si­mone says. “The bed­room walls are V-groove, some of which is orig­i­nal. All the rooms in the farm­house were orig­i­nally pan­elled and we wanted to recre­ate that clas­sic look.” Out the back, a gen­er­ous ex­ten­sion fea­tures more dra­matic raked ceil­ings and sky­lights that cap­ture views of the neigh­bour’s her­itage trees. “The big open-plan kitchen/ lounge/din­ing space is where the out­side kitchen once was,” Si­mone ex­plains. “We’ve made that the hub of the home to pay homage to how it would have been back in the 1800s.” A fo­cal point is the basalt fire­place that was re­vealed after they chipped back the ren­der. “Our whole colour scheme works around the fire­place, which threw me at first be­cause the stone is quite dark and orange,” Si­mone says. “We also had to re­build parts of it, so we lit­er­ally got stone out of the ground at the farm­house and from a friend’s lo­cal farm.” Si­mone has cu­rated an easy-go­ing, coastal style us­ing nat­u­ral tex­tures, and cre­ated myr­iad places to kick back and re­lax. Along with two ex­pan­sive lounge ar­eas, an en­tic­ing out­door fire­place — the oven of the orig­i­nal kitchen — beck­ons on cooler evenings. “It’s a mag­i­cal place to sit around, Ben would stay there for days if he could.” >

How­ever, the farm­house is not their for­ever home: “We ummed and ah­hed about whether to make it our home or our hol­i­day home,” Si­mone says. “But then we thought: ‘Imag­ine if we could share it, not just keep it for our­selves.’ We had a vi­sion of a place where peo­ple could make mem­o­ries and a prop­erty that could show­case what Ben and I can do.” It is now avail­able as guest ac­com­mo­da­tion, called Soul of Ger­ringong, with two com­ple­men­tary build­ings added to cater for larger groups. Soul Barn fea­tures rus­tic un­fin­ished doors and floor­ing from the orig­i­nal farm­house, while Soul Ca­bana has plan­ta­tion-style bat­ten and board to match its charm­ing pool­side lo­ca­tion. Si­mone says in a way they are mir­ror­ing the Cooke’s en­tre­pre­neur­ial spirit: “They were the first peo­ple in town to own a car and be­gan op­er­at­ing the farm­house as a board­ing house. They would pick up peo­ple from the sta­tion, take them to the farm­house and then drive them back to the sta­tion a few days later. So it’s kind of like we are restor­ing the home back to its past.” And while the cou­ple orig­i­nally planned to move back to Syd­ney, they dis­cov­ered the house has trans­formed them as much as they trans­formed it. They are now living in and ren­o­vat­ing the farm’s former butcher’s shop (lo­cated on the same par­cel of land as the farm­house) and have long-term plans to stay in the dis­trict. “By the end of last year we re­alised that it suits us here bet­ter,” Si­mone ex­plains. “It’s a little bit old school — the kids can go up to the shops to get bread and milk, and walk around the streets to see their friends. It’s a pretty amaz­ing area — you have the green hills and cows on one side, and the beach and the waves rolling in on the other. It’s like you re­ally get the best of both worlds.” For more in­for­ma­tion, visit soulofger­, or fol­low @soulofger­ringong on In­sta­gram.

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