Soul mates: a family falls in love with an old farmhouse
AFTER STRIPPING BACK A FADING COASTAL FARMHOUSE, THIS COUPLE DISCOVERED A NEW FUTURE FOR THEIR FAMILY.
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 soulofgerringong.com.au, or follow @soulofgerringong on Instagram.