Shaw house, Jamberoo
Rob Brown & Antje Mahler, of
Casey Brown Architecture
Mary Shaw —
Around twelve years ago we found a weekend farm less than two hours drive from the city. The house was quite old, with great views, some cottages, a barn and other outbuildings. I walked onto the property and knew 'this is it'.
We tidied up the main house and cottages, and over the next few years progressively made small improvements. Then a few years ago we acknowledged that the children would soon be leaving home—and that this was our opportunity to rethink the whole place.
I realized I truly wanted a new main house. One that would let in lots of light, take in all the views, meet our needs, simplify our lives, and focus on the things we love. Also, we could reconfigure and modernize the three cottages so that our children would each have their own small house whenever they visited.
Over several months I immersed myself in the project, steadily working my way through every aspect of what we really wanted the property to become. Because we had lived there for twelve years we had come to understand the ideal relationships between the various buildings; the best sight lines; the optimum location, length and width of the verandahs; and which woods work best, ageing beautifully over the years, inside and out. We knew the varying impacts of the direction and strengths of the winds, and the rains that swept up the valley.
It was a long process but, as our understanding grew, it was deeply satisfying. The best way I can describe it is that it kept becoming more and more simple until it all came together as a vision. One that felt just right.
When we got Rob Brown and Antje Mahler from Casey Brown Architecture in and walked them through the place and our vision, they understood—then added some wonderful new dimensions. They drew up plans, and suggested Bellevarde as the builders. We agreed immediately, as we knew their work from modifications made at a ski lodge we belonged to in Perisher, which had been a very good experience.
John Fielding and Steve O’Ryan, Bellevarde’s country manager, spent time looking over the property and the plans. In constructive discussions with them, Rob and Antje we finalized the plans and agreed a detailed budget and a build time of 18 months.
From the start we all worked as a team. I was on site every weekend and Monday.
Rob, Antje, Steve and I met formally once a month to review every element of the project in the short and longer term, all the budgets, timelines—everything.
Steve was on site virtually all the time. He is hands-on, highly capable, well organized, very observant and reassuring—always happy to offer well-thought-out solutions to any problem, and to explain and discuss what’s going on, and listen to my concerns. A perfect example: although Rob and Antje had thoroughly checked all the local rainfall records before designing the drainage around the house, building-in a substantial margin for error,our own years living there indicated that local records were inaccurate for our property.
Luckily one weekday it suddenly and dramatically poured torrentially for 45 minutes. Steve immediately called Rob and Antje and asked them to double the capacity of the drains. I didn’t actually say ‘I told you so’, but I must admit to having a grin.
We all worked so well together, nothing was ever a problem. Best of all, over time I got to know all the workmen and was able to become immersed in every stage of the building process. It was a joy.
The house was finished two weeks early and it has captured our vision perfectly.
It is a farmhouse, all timber and local stone. It is strong, clean-lined, practical, understated and superbly executed. Everything lines up, everything works, because everything has been done right by committed tradesmen. There is effortless attention to detail everywhere.
A favourite was Steve’s idea: that the edges of the wooden door frames leading through to the kitchen should be discreetly edged with a barely-visible strip of brass, to guard against accidental damage. Perfect.
Rethinking and building our house has been a deeply satisfying experience on every level. I just love what we have accomplished.
Rob Brown & Antje Mahler, of
Casey Brown Architecture —
The site and location are superb.
Our original commission was to replace the existing farmhouse and create a home filled with light—one that took maximum advantage of the views, and took account of the strong winds and heavy rains that can come up the valley.
As the project evolved we also tidied up three cottages, and integrated all the buildings.
It was an exhilarating experience.
Having built eight houses with Bellevarde, we believe they are the finest trades people we know, so we were delighted Mary chose them.
We all agreed it had to be both a holiday house and working farmhouse, with a large communal kitchen and dining area, and quiet private areas with spacious bedrooms/bathrooms and a library/office. It should be simple, understated and strong; made of local materials, needing minimal maintenance, with large verandahs, fireplaces indoor and out, and the ability to seal it up during the week.
Both John and Steve are country boys—and they just loved it. We worked together constantly pushing ideas around on every aspect. It was Mary’s idea to use sliding wooden ‘barn’ doors throughout, inside and out. We hung them on brass wheels and tracks we designed in conjunction with Steve, who had them custom-made.
The outside timbers are intended to fade to grey over time, while the interior woods are treated with oils to maintain their warmth and low sheen for years.
The house has a level of finish that is simply astounding—and highly thoughtful. Everywhere there are examples:
Because the double-sided fireplace generates wood ash, you can’t just leave the fire going on either side and head to bed, because chances are that in the middle of the night, wind would coat the whole area with grey wood ash—including tables, chairs, floors—everything. With Steve’s help we designed solid steel windproof sliding doors to be concealed in the fireplace surrounds. Close them on your way to bed and neither wind nor rain can get in. Problem solved.
And then there is the stone plug that Rob designed to keep the rain out of the chimney of the outdoor pizza oven. Steve hand-made the plug and the pulley system that puts it in and out risk-free. Wonderful, clever stuff that you would never know exists.
Such matters may seem minor, but they speak to a love of building houses that delight with their extraordinary finish and attention to the smallest detail.
Never flashy or showy—just examples of committed, skilful tradesmen at their best.
The entire building process was a joy to us all.