How do we maintain standards? We set out to do things as well as they can be done. That is totally dependent on finding good people who like doing things really well. It is an attitude that can’t be driven by money or by me. That’s what Bellevarde is—a team of us who just want to build extraordinary houses.
John Fielding and The Bellevarde Team
A couple of times each year we like to introduce you to one or two of the highly skilled and passionate members of our team.
My dad was a builder who brought architect's ideas to reality. I grew up watching and learning how this process took place. In those days, the building process was a tough game, a lot of manual work, not many powered tools and lots of sweat. I'm not sure that he ever wanted me to follow in his footsteps and probably hoped I would find something a little less physically demanding.
I liked the idea of being involved in building so, by the time I finished school, I decided I would give architecture a go. Two degrees later and stuck in the “recession we had to have”, I found myself in the same boat as many others in the profession—out of work.
It was then I decided I would change tack and become a builder, despite risking disappointment. I applied for my builder's licence and started to build small renovations until I had enough experience and finance to work on larger, more detailed work designed by architects. This fitted well with my interest in architecture and I enjoyed the challenges of producing beautifully designed, well-built projects.
15 years later, I threw caution to the wind and moved to Sydney to start over in a new city. I joined Bellevarde, starting off as an assistant leading hand, and it wasn't long before I was managing my own jobs.
It turned out that joining the Bellevarde team was an inspired choice. Not only did they thrive on elegant detailing and the highest levels of quality but they were also very keen followers of architecture. This was everything that I had ever aspired to.
It's now been another 15 years since I started at Bellevarde and I still maintain a passion for detailing, quality, and architecture. Each day, I find myself figuring out better details, improving our build quality, and learning a bit more about architecture.
Along the way, I’ve learnt many things. Never be afraid of a challenge. There is always a better way to do something if you put in the effort. Take the time to communicate well with everyone involved in the building process, be it the client, the architect, your tradespeople or your suppliers. This was one of the hardest lessons but it's proved to be the optimum way to achieve the best outcomes.
I believe being a good builder is a noble career choice and I would be happy to encourage anyone who might be interested.
In recent years, I’ve taken up a director's position with Bellevarde. Together with our other directors and all our staff, I hope to continue the steady progression of our company by reinforcing our principles and inspiring a passion for what we do.
I’ve been with Bellevarde for almost 11 years. In my twenties, I studied at RMIT and earned a double diploma in building and construction, and building surveying.
The building and construction diploma essentially prepared us to be builders—we learned about workshop drawings, costings, structure, materials, and everything that goes into a successful project. The diploma in building surveying taught us to understand the codes and standards such as how to ensure the stairs comply, what type of building needs what type of fire safety, and all the other aspects of the Building Code of Australia. It was a great course that pointed you to become a building surveyor or a builder. I chose to be a builder.
At the end of the course, I did a carpentry apprenticeship and worked for a residential building firm in Melbourne for a few years. I followed that up with bits and pieces of work for bricklayers and carpenters, gaining valuable experience with a whole lot of different people.
I’m originally from Sydney and my wife is from Adelaide. We couldn’t decide which city to live in so we compromised on Melbourne. When our first child was born, we moved to Sydney to get some babysitting help from the grandparents.
My first job in Sydney was working on The Beresford Hotel. Unfortunately, that builder hit financial difficulties during the global financial crisis. A friend suggested I try Bellevarde so I had a look at their website and was very impressed. I contacted John Fielding and he offered me a position.
Bellevarde’s Adam Howe was building a house for Roy Sussman in Coogee and I started work there as a contracts administrator (CA). When that was completed, Adam and I did another job in Coogee. I learned a tremendous amount from Adam on those two sites.
As a CA, you take care of all the contractual particulars. I enjoy doing that job and I’m good at it. For a while, I even became operations manager at Bellevarde. I was based in the Sydney office training the other CAs, but I had ambitions to be a site manager so I did everything I could to encourage John to see me that way.
The next big project I worked on was Deepwater with Daniele Feltracco. It was fantastic working with him. The thing about being a CA that wants to be a site manager is, if you’re paying attention, you learn how different site managers put their buildings together. Over my first six years at Bellevarde, I got to work with Adam Howe, Daniele Feltracco, Ben Lea, and others. Working alongside those guys, with all their combined years of experience, taught me what it would take to be a good site manager. They were very strong mentors and I still regularly go to them for advice.
Deepwater was an amazing project. At the end, I remember turning to Daniele and saying words to the effect that we may not ever get to do another job at the scale of this place. I was wrong. My very next job was one of Bellevarde’s largest ever. House Taurus was my first project as a site manager and a massive, life-changing undertaking. It was nearly three years of long days and hard work. I’m proud and relieved that it turned out so well. The client and architect are happy with the result and I’m grateful to John for giving me the opportunity.
Even though building House Taurus was a huge achievement and an incredible project, I still see myself near the beginning of my journey. I’m refining my capabilities and probably need to complete at least four or five more buildings in my own name before I can call myself an accomplished Bellevarde site manager—mainly because building a Bellevarde house is different to building normal houses.
When the Bellevarde management team started, I became a shareholder and, for the last year and a half, have also been a director of the business, which has opened my eyes more to the overall running of the company. I really enjoy being a part of that.
The other builders I’ve worked for tended to be businesspeople first and builders second. John is a builder above all else. Of course, he keeps an eye on budget, but primarily he’s focused on the details of the build. I’d never before had a boss who would come and put a spirit level on everything and run an eye over things and quiz you about what type of materials are being used and whether you should be using them that way. John is incredibly dedicated to the art of building and I think his focus on detail is what makes Bellevarde so well respected. What I like most about working for John and Bellevarde is that it’s about the buildings and that’s how it should be.
When I first met Frank, thirty years ago, Bellevarde was only ten years old. We had always used quantity surveyors but he brought a new dimension to our company.
Frank has a rare ability. He can look at preliminary drawings and develop a cost plan that will account for what has to be built rather than what is on the page.
Frank’s detailed upfront cost advice provides the project direction on cost management from the start.
Over the years, Frank's cost plans have proven to be very accurate time and time again. His input has been a huge benefit to our clients, Architects, and to us.
Born and bred in New Zealand, I did my apprenticeship in carpentry and was running my own business when, in 2008, I decided it was time for a change and started looking in Sydney for a new challenge.
I spoke with a few building companies but John Fielding was the only one who took time out of his day to show me around some sites. John’s passion for building was obvious.
When he offered me a position, I decided to leave New Zealand behind and move to Australia.
I started as a leading hand on a few Bellevarde jobs. One day, a Bellevarde client’s place got broken into and John asked me to go around and take care of the repairs. Looking back, this was probably my first maintenance job for Bellevarde.
Maintenance is just as challenging as building. An issue that might appear straightforward at first glance can often turn into something more involved. With Bellevarde houses, almost everything is custom made. We make sure to repair and maintain things in the same manner they were first built, with great care and attention. It’s not the kind of job where you can clock off at 5. Some clients prefer we be there later or earlier and we’re always happy to accommodate. If clients are at home when we’re working, we make every effort to be as unobtrusive as possible.
Not all the work I do is maintenance. Bellevarde build homes that don’t tend to need much upkeep so I do the occasional smaller renovation or apartment re-model, kitchen renovation or new terrace.
I find working with Bellevarde clients to be the most rewarding part of the job. Once you have solved a maintenance issue to their satisfaction, a trusting relationship develops. The nature of the job means, many times, clients give me access to their home and leave me to it while they are out or away. I take this trust very seriously. Most of the work I do now has come from clients recommending Bellevarde Maintenance to their friends and family.
Bellevarde is the only Australian company I’ve worked for. The culture John has created makes it a pleasure. I couldn’t see myself anywhere else. For one thing, it’s too cold to go back.
Andrew Coory, Maintenance Manager
Andrew has the important responsibility of preventative and scheduled maintenance. His work ensures that our client’s homes are maintained in the best possible condition, reducing long term repairs. We’re lucky to have someone so passionate, skilled and committed.
Back in 1981, we were working on a complex building in The Snowy Mountains when a contractor asked if I had a job for his nephew.
I offered one day’s work but quickly realised this strong young guy was not your ordinary construction worker.
With his patience and skill, it wasn’t long before Dave was doing some of our handovers.
Now, 37 years later, Dave is in charge of all handovers and if you walk through any of our completed projects you’ll see the huge difference he makes.
Dave’s role is so important, he’s finally taking on an apprentice.
I'm an office administrator at Bellevarde in Canberra, and I've been here longer than just about everyone, with the possible exception of John.
I take care of client invoicing and staff payroll which is a big responsibility but I'm part of a great team. Some people call me Super Ames but I suspect it's because I do a lot of superannuation paperwork.
I first met John nearly 20 years ago when I answered an ad in a local newspaper looking for an office admin. Back then, most of the builds were in The Snowies and Canberra. It's been gratifying to see the business steadily grow to include jobs in Sydney and beyond. I think I have probably stayed so long because the Bellevarde people and our clients are all so nice and easy to get along with.
Canberra is a great place to live and work, especially if you love Aussie rules and running like I do. I recently hung up the footy boots after more than 15 years with the Tuggeranong Hawks to concentrate on distance running. In July 2017 I was first woman across the line in the Australian Outback Marathon. Office admin is a breeze compared to 26 miles through the scrub but they're not so different really. It's all about putting your head down and getting stuck into it.
I'm lucky enough to enjoy the challenges of both and I hope to be working with Bellevarde for many happy trails to come.
Amy Currie, Office Administrator
We're very proud of Amy (Super Ames), all her invaluable work at our head office, and her first place finish in The Australian Outback Marathon—The Bellevarde Team
I always had an interest in building. As a kid, I remember our family became good friends with the guys who built our house. Thinking back, it was probably them who inspired me to become a carpenter when I finished school.
I’d been working in London on and off for several years and when it was time to come home I was recommended to John Fielding by a mate who had worked with him in the mountains. My first job for Bellevarde was in Potts Point under Daniele Feltracco. It was an amazing build and it introduced me to the fine art of doing things the Bellevarde way—no compromises. I hadn’t been there very long when I was suddenly called away to another incredible Bellevarde job at Whale Beach.
It’s like that with Bellevarde, there’s always something exciting going on. From Whale Beach, I went on to another project in Avalon as a leading hand and joint foreman. When the site manager from another project closer to town went overseas I stepped in as caretaker. I have done that several times for John over the years. I think it’s because I’m flexible and easy going enough to get the job done to high standards under any circumstances.
John knew I wanted my own project and after success at Avalon he gave me responsibility for a warehouse conversion in Paddington where we stripped the place bare, added a small extension and also a pool. The next year it was a refurbishment in Tamarama, the year after that an apartment in Bondi. It’s been a great ride and it doesn’t look like slowing down anytime soon.
The challenge in working at a job like this is that every day is different.
You’re fitting a bespoke design to a specific site. I just love the challenge of being able to come up with details that are functional and look so good you don’t even notice them.
Being at the interface between architect and client and getting their desired architectural outcome is demanding and very satisfying.
John’s pretty easy to work for. His dry sense of humour keeps you on your toes and, with his vast experience, he’ll help you find the right solution almost with a throwaway line. He’s always collaborative and that means the younger guys get a great sense of teamwork. It’s something they can strive for, a culture. As you progress, he gives you more responsibility and I really appreciate that.
Like the guys who built my childhood home, I’ve become friends with lots of our clients. People respond to the care and attention we put into the work. It’s been nine incredible years and I hope to be with Bellevarde for many more.
Mick Carroll started at Bellevarde in his 20s and his interest in building got the better of him. About six years later, he had worked his way to becoming a site manager. His friendly nature and knack for problem-solving has helped him develop strong relationships with clients and architects.
So how did Mick start at Bellevarde?
‘I came to Sydney in my 20s intending to have the full backpacker experience. All was going well until I landed a job with Bellevarde in Vaucluse. In one stroke I had this great job and no free time to be a backpacker. The feel of that Vaucluse site was completely different to anything I’d seen before. Everyone cared. Guy Ruthven ran the job and he was a perfectionist. Nothing was let pass. John visited regularly and the finished product spoke for itself - curved copper roofs, mosaiced baths with heating in the concrete, flush inside-to-out door sills in stainless. I was hooked. That was 15 years ago.’
‘Someone asked me recently why I like working at Bellevarde so much and the answer is job satisfaction. I get to work with the best architects on amazing designs and figure out how to get their ideas from paper to the finished product. The collaborative nature of the process allows us to improve on the design and come up with something even better. Then I get to work with an excellent site team to make sure it all comes together to the client’s highest expectations. When a job wraps up I can stand back with the guys on site and be proud of what we’ve done.’
‘A smart man once told me if you aren’t learning something new every day, you’re not paying attention. Bellevarde definitely provides the conditions where you can continue to be challenged.’
‘Looking back on the last 15 years, I’m grateful to all the mentors that guided me and the people that helped along the way to deliver these projects I know we are all so proud of. I’m lucky that John (in typical John fashion) went with his gut and took a punt on someone untried and untested and gave me the chance to see what I could do.’
I first met Michael on a site in Vaucluse and quickly realised he was a man of extraordinary talents, so much so, I immediately transferred him to an office admin role. Since then, he’s progressed through the company to become a site manager. As a site manager, Mick has delivered projects for us in Byron Bay, The Upper Hunter and Sydney.
Twins Mike and Matt Faulks are pretty much unstoppable.
They finish each other’s sentences. They have shared their lives forever.
Each believes HE has the best job in the world—for exactly the same reasons: They love what they do, they get to work in the best locations and in the best houses in the world—every day.
Mike says HIS job is the best because he does different things every day, works with great tradesmen and great clients and gets to see things through to the end.
Matt claims HIS is the best because he does different things every day, works with great tradesmen and great clients and goes to different places every day.
They both laugh a lot.
They believe they have heaps to be grateful for, like—always finding great bosses who truly loved and respected architecture and sought to build everything just as well as it could be built. They learned discipline and hard work and the deep satisfaction that comes from building things beautifully. Plus, the camaraderie of working with people who share those joys.
They crack up at the memory of their first meeting with John Fielding.
Matt tells the story: ‘We had just moved to Sydney after three years travelling overseas, and Mike and I found ourselves renovating terraces in Paddington.
‘Having a huge interest in architecture, we started looking for a builder who chose to work with the country's best architects. We came across John’s name and arranged a meeting.
‘John turned up at our Paddington site to see whether we were any good’.
They still laugh at the memory of John’s seriously battered and rusty old Falcon ute, and his, shall we say, ‘well-broken-in’ work clothing.
‘But we did notice he had a large roll of plans on the front seat. That impressed us—that, and the way he talked about the joy of building beautiful houses.’
John suggested they take a drive up to Whale Beach to see the just-completed Archer house designed by Craig Rosevear.
Mike carries on: ‘A couple of days later we turn up at Whale Beach and John is sitting in this stunning house, next to a great table.
‘He showed us around. Bellevarde’s attention to detail and accuracy blew us away. It set them apart from all the competition. Then he asked whether we could build something like that.
‘We started two weeks later. Next thing you know, that was fifteen years ago—and still, we just love it.’
It is easy to meet either of the Faulks.
To meet Matt is simple—just live on Sydney’s North Shore and have a maintenance issue. Dial 0403 037 811 and he is the man who will turn up and sort it out, no matter what. All with a great smile.
To meet Mike, you probably need to get in line to build a Bellevarde house. When we spoke he was site manager on Russell Staley’s holiday home in Byron Bay. It is Mike’s second house for Russell. (You may remember he was site manager for Russell’s stunning Collaroy Point house that we featured a year or so back.)
As Mike says, ‘to receive a phone call from Russell after finishing their home in Collaroy, asking me to move to Byron Bay to build their holiday home, is the best recognition I could ever ask for.’
Both Mike and Matt are happily married, with young kids, and as you can tell they both give and get great joy out of life.
Perhaps their greatest joy however is nothing to do with building—rather, it comes from cleaning up John Fielding at the annual Bellevarde Thredbo weekend ski competition. (In their dreams—JF).
Over the past thirteen years Adam Howe has built eight of Bellevarde’s major houses, to a total value of $40m.
Six of them have won major architectural and/or building awards.
His clients love and respect him, architects seek him out and he surrounds himself with tradesmen who share his commitment to doing things as well as they can be done. They reckon he’s a good guy.
So how did Adam start with Bellevarde?
‘I answered an ad in the paper and found myself working with Steve O’Ryan, Bellevarde’s country manager.
‘It turned out that it was Steve and John Fielding who together established Bellevarde’s passion for building things as well as they can be done. So I learned heaps, and loved the work and the work ethic.
‘Then John just kept giving me more and more responsibility on some of the best architect-designed houses in Australia—good, challenging, thoughtful houses. What was there to not like about that?
‘I guess it all started for me at TAFE. There was a sign at the front of the class which read:
“Pride of workmanship means do it once, do it well, build a better Australia.”
‘It seems a bit old-world, but it really made sense to me—still does.
‘I went through my training in the days when you had to learn about every single aspect of building—from cabinet-making, to electrical, to air conditioning. I remember the guy who was teaching us to become good managers. He insisted that before our evening classes we had to go home, have a shower, put on clean clothes and then join him.
‘He convinced us that our prime task was to get great work done by other people. So on top of having all the skills and knowledge, we had to present ourselves as well-organized managers.
‘It’s why I get to work around six am when it’s quiet and I can set things up for the day.
‘It’s not about money—I’ve got mates who earn heaps just building fences—but where’s the fun? My life is about always seeking to do things right. Because that is where the personal satisfaction comes from.
‘The best part for me has been working with great owners and architects. They have given me the opportunity to work on stunning houses. On the way, we have assembled a terrific team of tradesmen. As the man said, the task is to get them to do their best work—with a smile. That’s what makes it rewarding for everyone on the team—and at the end of the day that’s the stuff that makes you smile as you are driving home.’
‘I have never heard anyone say a bad word about Adam. He is just a good guy, never flustered, always has time for you.’
It is also not widely known that Adam takes out the ‘sexy thing’ prize year after year at the Bellevarde Christmas party.
It seems good guys do OK.
In the decade to 1990 Bellevarde was a Canberra-based builder specializing in high quality architectural building, mostly throughout the Snowy Mountains. In 1988–89 we built Crackenback Village. This led to a project with Richard Johnson at Burrawang West.
We knew some architects but not enough, and set out to find the best way to show our work to them. We were introduced to David Pidgeon, an internationally multi-award-winning graphic designer who understands both architecture and communication, and colleague of revered architectural photographer John Gollings. David immediately recognised Bellevarde’s integrity and designed an elegant booklet outlining our work.
‘Building with Bellevarde’, now in its fifth edition, talks to architects in a language and style they appreciate. It tells of clients’ and architects’ experiences of building with us, in their own words. It makes clear that we love outstanding architecture and are up for challenges.
David attends to all Bellevarde’s graphic communications, from the website to the new Maintenance Van signage. More recent is our bi-annual Bellevarde News—a booklet that surprisingly expands into a giant poster-sized image of a recently-completed house.
To see more of David's work, visit Pidgeon Ward
One of the things everyone says is that Scottie Waller is a good, happy guy. He makes people smile.
Scottie hails from Merimbula. In 1998, after a couple of years as a carpenter on commercial projects, he met Steve O’Ryan and started working for Bellevarde in the Snowies.
He must have done well because when the job ran out, John Fielding asked him to move to Sydney to work on the Archer house at Whale Beach. Scottie leaped at it.
He was a quick learner and became an excellent tradesman. Right now he is being tested on a property in Tamarama where, he says, ‘the design calls for walls and windows that are either not parallel, or not square, or not plumb. It’s pretty complex and certainly not easy, but it is a great new challenge—especially on days when the winds are so strong that you can’t run a string line.’ But he loves it.
Why? ‘11 years ago John encouraged me to set up my own company, so I am a sub-contractor, but from day one I have only worked for Bellevarde. And that’s the way I like it.’
Why? ‘Because they only do first-class houses, so I get to work on great jobs, with good guys, who love what they do—and we all seem to have a pretty good time. And I get to move around a lot—sometimes I am a Leading Hand, sometimes a worker, whatever needs doing.’ And always, he does it with a smile.
The other thing everyone comments on is Scottie’s amazing dress sense. Some claim he is Bellevarde’s fashion guru and may well take up any offers to move from carpentry to male modelling.
Then again … you be the judge.
Scottie was naturally a good carpenter, and from the start he showed a real talent for building Class 1 formwork. We encouraged Scottie to focus on it. It is precision work and often very complex. He produces formwork that is millimetre-perfect, parallel, square, and plumb. Formwork so good, Scottie is in high demand for the toughest Bellevarde jobs. These days he can turn his hand to just about anything, and has become a Leading Hand.
Steve O’Ryan goes back a long way in the history of Bellevarde. He started as an apprentice in 1978 with John Fielding, who was then a Canberra bricklayer. In 1980 John started Bellevarde Constructions. Five years later Steve re-joined him and he’s been with Bellevarde ever since—that’s over twenty-six years. He started as a leading hand and since 1993 he’s been Bellevarde’s Construction Manager, Country Division.
'John and I got along from day one because we share the same passion for building things as well as we possibly can. John has taught me a lot and I enjoy working with him, but I couldn’t spend my life working in the city. For a start, where would I keep my horses?
'John says that to have me working in the city would make as much sense as boarding a Kelpie in Kings Cross. I do not enjoy being away from home but I’ve come to recognize that my job satisfaction comes from building great, architecturally challenging homes. Luckily we’ve found the best collection of clients who want to build precisely that, and live in the country. So that is where I work.
'If you look through the Bellevarde Book: I worked on two Richard Johnson houses—Burrawang West, then the Spencer house (the first John built in Sydney); a bunch in the Snowies over the years; Riverside cabins; Alex Popov’s Omaru apartments; Crackenback Village; Thredbo Chapel; Sastrugi Lodge; The Chalets @ 1750 in Perisher. Then in Canberra there was John’s own house, the Yarralumla house, two houses on the Mugga Way; and recently in the Hunter Valley, Katie Paige’s Oakleigh Homestead, by Virginia Kerridge. I reckon I’ve worked on more than 30 great houses.
'We've always managed to attract the best tradesmen and top apprentices—people who want to learn to do things right. So there's a bunch of us out in the bush just building beautiful homes. That's why I like going to work.'
'One of Steve’s greatest skills is in explaining how to perform a building task. I’ve never met anyone better. No matter how complex the task, he makes it clear, simple, and easy to follow. It is a great gift he brings to us all.
'I think this photo shows Steve for exactly what he is—a great country builder. For the life of me I can’t remember the last time someone mistook him for a merchant banker. What do you think?'
Contact Steve on 0409 625 314 or email@example.com