Basalt stone fireplace

Soul of Gerringong

Peeling back the layers of an old farmhouse on the NSW coast brought problems and challenges as well as bringing treasures to light.

Photo courtesy BAM Constructions


Ian Bushnell

The thing about renovation is that you never know what you might find when you start peeling back the layers, especially if it’s an old farmhouse. ‘They’re quirky,’ says Simone Mathews, who with husband Ben forms Sydney building firm BAM Construction Group.

Simone, the interior designer, and Ben, the builder, fell in love with the charm of an iconic NSW South Coast farmhouse that dated from the 1800s.

They wanted to restore the Gerringong property and create a new standard of coastal accommodation, moving the whole family down from their Cronulla base for what was supposed to be a working holiday.

But immediately there were challenges when the project kicked off in 2017.

The floors were on a lean so the house had to be restumped, the kitchen, lounge and dining spaces were riddled with asbestos, and then they discovered there had also been termite damage.

While the front part of the farmhouse could be restored, the heart of the home and rear had to be rebuilt from scratch.

But there were also treasures to be found such as the raked ceilings, which had been covered up over the years.

‘As soon as we found them we thought right we have to create them as a feature,’ Simone says.

Then there is the stone fireplace, which Simone calls the hero of the space. It was only about half its original size and left standing in no man’s land when the rear of the house came down.

Basalt stone fireplace
‘All the inspiration for the colour palette was drawn from the stone in the fireplace’
Photo courtesy BAM Constructions
Farmhouse kitchen
Inside, they wanted the farmhouse to be full of light
Photo courtesy BAM Constructions

‘All the inspiration for the colour palette was drawn from the stone in the fireplace. Every part of the home is built around it,’ she says.

From the dark engineered oak floor from Big River, to the oak shelving and joinery, the inspiration flowed from the basalt stone fireplace.

It was rebuilt from stone found on the property and nearby, which reflects the Mathews’ philosophy to reuse and repurpose materials as much as possible to pay homage to the original property.

And to use local trades, such as the stone mason and cabinet maker. Only a single BAM team member and the tiler on the project were from Sydney.

Cedar was the timber of choice to rebuild, matching the original, and to construct two other self-contained accommodation spaces at the rear – the barn and the cabana.

‘It shows that natural grain coming through, especially on the farmhouse where we’ve used the white. Then on the barn we’ve contrasted and painted Dulux Black … the texture that you get coming through from the natural cedar is the perfect material for this project,’ says Simone.

Inside, they wanted the farmhouse to be full of light, installing Velux skylights in the rear and deploying Stegbar feature highlight windows, custom made to recreate the original windows that had been beyond repair.

‘We spent a lot of our budget making sure those features were put back into the property,’ says Simone.

The three accommodation spaces together form the Soul of Gerringong, but each has a distinct personality

It was also about framing the outside from inside, ‘so when you’re in the main living-dining room when you look up through the skylights we’ve actually framed the iconic pine trees that are out the front of the property. We really wanted to blur the inside-outside line’.

The high ceilings and open plan living space, with Dulux Natural White paint throughout accentuate the sense of space.

But the bedrooms can be closed off for privacy and climate control, issues that Simone says a lot of people don’t think about when they’re building and designing.

The three accommodation spaces together form the Soul of Gerringong property, but each has a distinct personality.

The farmhouse has a classic coastal feel with wall panelling, high ceilings, and grey and white timber tones in all the bathrooms.

The barn is rustic boho coastal style, with the original floorboards from the farmhouse, and an antique set of doors that look like they were already part of the house.

The cabana located poolside has a plantation feel, with subtle touches of green and plantation shutters.

The farmhouse kitchen features Shaker-style cabinetry installed by local joiner Oceanside Kitchens and open timber shelving as a display that leads the eye up to the raked ceiling. In front is a large 3mx2m island topped with Caesarstone, and there is also a butler’s pantry.

The texture coming through from the natural cedar on the barn is the perfect material for this project
Photo courtesy BAM Constructions
‘We really wanted to blur the inside-outside line’
Photo courtesy BAM Constructions

The bedrooms also have Shaker-style panelling and oak timber shelving, together with brass door hardware from Tradco.

The ensuites have wall panelling, natural stone tiles from Tile Bazaar and stone baths, with black tapware to add a modern yet classic touch, along with Emac & Lawton antique brass lighting.

The bathroom in the barn features concrete tiles in a hexagon pattern also supplied from Tile Bazaar and a recycled timber console with a natural stone basin and black taps, while the cabana has light grey stone floor tiles, soft green wall tiles and panelling.

Simone says every day brought new challenges, such as having to recast the plumbing layout for two of the bathrooms, but a key one was sourcing materials that supported the integrity of the project.

‘We had to make sure that the character was instilled in everything that we did in the space,’ she says.

The floor plan had to flow and it was important to achieve the right textures throughout the project.

The team became very resilient in the process and problems actually became solutions, working with the quirkiness that makes a project like this so enjoyable.

‘It has been a completely different journey for everyone involved, because it wasn’t just me as a designer or Ben as the builder, for every trade on site, there was a real discovery – everyone has really enjoyed it,’ says Simone.

‘If we all work together collaboratively that’s when the magic happens’

The build took nine months, finishing on Melbourne Cup Day 2017 (6 November). All up the project cost $1.1 million, $300,000 over budget, although knowing the age of the property the Mathews had a contingency to cope with surprises.

Simone’s advice to other builders contemplating a similar project is to ensure everyone involved is on the same page and focused on the end goal, and to have fun.

‘If we all work together collaboratively that’s when the magic happens. Then what the client wants at the end the day will be delivered,’ she says.

This project has indeed been a magical experience for the Mathews who seem to have come under the South Coast spell, staying on for more farmhouse fun instead of returning to Cronulla.

It’s been a very different kind of project to BAM’s usual line in Sydney, and they are in danger of becoming farmhouse specialists with other renovation projects on the go.

Longtime HIA members, Simone and Ben are always telling colleagues to use the organisation’s resources more, and reap the benefits they have, whether that be signing apprentices, obtaining legal advice or taking courses.

Simone says HIA is like a parent you can turn to when you need help. ‘We’re always saying to people, other builders, you have to use the resources of HIA. There’s so much you can use, take advantage of it,’ she says.

Not an HIA member yet? By joining Australia’s largest national association for the residential building industry, you’ll get access to a range of member benefits, as well as industry products and business services designed to help you manage, operate and grow.

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