A blog that explores Australian houses. If you love architecture, design, interiors and interesting buildings of all types, The House Hunter is for you.

Newcastle East, The Hill, Cooks Hill

 

This is a mini-post – which means it’s on a smattering of houses, rather than focusing on one – but it’s a necessary one, as Newcastle is lined with outstanding homes to ogle. Referred to by the government as a “heritage city by the sea”, Newcastle’s architecture is evidence of the boom the city experienced in the nineteenth century through coal mining and industrial development.

 

 

While Newcastle is still New South Wales’ second most populous city, it has experienced urban decline for some time now, which was evidenced by the closure of its city-centre David Jones store and a developer pulling out of a proposed redevelopment of the Newcastle CBD. Although I believe that redeveloping the retail precinct in Newcastle’s CBD is imperative (it’s a ghost town at the moment), the developer apparently wanted to dispose of the railway, which seems to be a pretty ridiculous idea – who wants to destroy a railway line? Whenever I’ve lived in a suburb that doesn’t have a railway station, I have cursed this fact and dreamt of living near one.

 

 

Newcastle has a lot of potential, and I think it could become a viable second city for New South Wales – like San Francisco, it’s built on steep hills; it has railway infrastructure; it is packed with incredible heritage buildings; its beaches are stunning; and it already has a number of great places to drink and dine. All it needs now is increased work opportunities, I presume, and these are already being provided to some extent by mining companies and some professional services firms that have set up shop in the region.

 

My favourite

 

Elizabeth Bay House, 7 Onslow Avenue, Elizabeth Bay

 

This house hunt almost didn’t eventuate, because it is pretty much impossible to find a parking spot in Elizabeth Bay. After circling the block for twenty minutes, and running late for something else, I nearly ended up speeding off in frustration. The house’s charming good looks kept me motivated, though, and I eventually found a parking spot, parked my car a metre out from the curb on a three metre wide street, and sprinted for the mansion.

 

 

If you like your Colonial architecture to come with a good backstory, Elizabeth Bay House is right up your alley. While it looks stunning, its interiors were left unfinished due to its builder, Alexander Macleay, running out of cash. It’s been used as an opulent family home, an artists’ squat, a popular reception venue and, from the 1970s onwards, a museum run by the Historic Houses Trust. The HHT offers a great snapshot of the tale in its online introduction to the building: “Can’t afford your dream house? Neither could Colonial Secretary Anthony Macleay.”

 

 

 

The circumstances surrounding this riches-to-rags tale are complex, but essentially involve Macleay falling out of political favour and being forced to resign from his position as Colonial Secretary. The family lived in the unfinished house – said to be Sydney’s grandest for a brief period – for six years, before economic issues forced the family to move.

 

The fact that the house wasn’t been completed is evident, to me, in only one respect – the stairs, and parts of the upper floor, consist of concrete. Aside from this (which can be forgiven in era where polished concrete floors are trendy), the house seems to have been completed to extraordinary standards, with the ceiling exemplifying the house’s level of detailing.

 

 

The house is generously proportioned, with a basement level (which contains the home’s cellars) reminiscent of an underground lair. While slightly spooky due to its exposed stone walls and floor and heavy wooden doors, the basement is one of the mansion’s most likeable elements – it provides utility and additional space to a building that would have had a significant staff.

 

While the house is worth seeing for the view alone, the melancholy historical context of a man who wanted to construct the Colony’s greatest building but ran into fiscal misfortune while doing so is haunting and riveting, particularly when you’re walking up the unfinished stairs and are, accordingly, directly faced with Macleay’s adversity.

 

 

434 King Street, Newcastle West

 

Miss Porter’s House, firstly, has a very cute name. It’s the only residential property in the area, and, apparently, that has always been the case – the suburb went from industrial to “administrative” (National Trust 2000), without any houses aside from Miss Porter’s being built in the district … well, ever.

 

 

The Edwardian home, built in 1909, has a bare brick face. The ceilings are decorated with bespoke patterned timber. I’m accustomed to seeing pressed metal ceilings in homes of this age, which makes the timber a surprise. While the home is in good shape and was updated in the 1970s, there is some paint flicking from the walls in the bedrooms – which, along with the period furniture, clothing and personal artefacts contained in each room, help to place the visitor within the historic context of the building.

 

 

I was a little disappointed when I arrived at the house. Don’t let that dissuade you from continuing to read, it does get better. I was just surprised that the National Trust had chosen Miss Porter’s House to be a museum when Newcastle has some sprawling mansions in its ranks, as well as scores of impressively pretty terraces marching up and down the undulating roads in the city’s inner east.

 

 

The best part about the house, from my angle, is its location – it’s out of place, which is what makes it interesting. The tiny backyard, replete with plants and boasting a shed, pushes it up against a fence that borders the backyards of large commercial buildings, while the face of the house looks out onto King St, surely one of Newcastle’s largest arteries.

 

The house’s story and level of preservation also make it remarkable. It is a freestanding ‘terrace’ – it seems like an oxymoron, but I don’t feel any other description would befit the house. Florence’s last surviving daughter, Hazel, lived in the home until she passed away in 1997, and left it to the National Trust in order to save the site from potential redevelopment.

 

 

While different in architectural style and scope, it’s somewhat similar to Como House – it became a ‘woman’s’ home after Florence’s husband died at only 41 years of age.

 

Carinya, 37 Telegraph Road, Pymble

 

 

Of the many homes I have visited, many of which have been absolutely stunning, this is by far the grandest. Carinya epitomises Upper North Shore Federation gloriousness – it is enormous, retains all of its heritage-protected features, and is very exclusive. Amazingly, you would not necessarily realise the estate was there – its 102 metre frontage gives the impression that you’re walking past a well-heeled school, or several different houses (which, to some extent, you are, as Carinya offers two houses over three titles).

 

 

 

There are so many notable aspects of this house that I almost feel like I have to list them in dot point form. The fully-established English garden – boasting crabapple trees, magnolia trees, its own orchard (which produces mandarins, oranges and lemonade fruit. The latter is a sweet version of lemon that tastes like lemonade  – I didn’t realise before visiting the house that such a fruit exists, and now that I do, I am desperate for my own lemonade tree), and an impressive enclosed vegetable patch that offers protection from possums – is enchanting.

 

Vegetable patch

 

The interiors offer an impressive, granite-lined entry foyer; soaring ceilings; smartly painted rooms that highlight the ornate ceiling details and picture rails; bay windows; large, modernised bathrooms; functioning, gorgeous fireplaces; detailed archways; stunning chandeliers; and timber floorboards. My favourite room of the house is the formal living room, which has the most impressive ceiling I have ever viewed – its fine embellishment is accented by royal cream, red and blue, and its championship motif is continued throughout the room’s cedar cabinetry.

 

Formal living area

 

The billiards room is another sight to behold – the room is an authentic heritage cigar room, offering an original billiards table (which is marbled to the timber floor), as well as the original scoring board and an ornately detailed backgammon table. The new kitchen is located within the house’s east-facing sunroom, and offers every possible luxury – two ovens, a six burner stove top, a hand-crafted tile splashback with a butterfly motif, lime-coloured Corian benchtops (which complement the subtle cream cupboards) and a Tasmanian Oak benchtop on the kitchen island. In addition, the house has a fully equipped, professional-standard office, which has timber partitions for different workstations and a glass panelled enclosed office for private meetings. I have never seen such an elaborate office in a house before – in fact, it is more elaborate than some of the offices I’ve worked in as a law student.

 

Billiards room

 

There are two stairways leading down to the lower level, which offers some of the house’s best treasures, including a cellar with an external entry for deliveries, an expansive ballroom with a wet bar (which is also a fully equipped kitchen), a gym and an exquisite powder room.

 

Ballroom

 

The house’s grounds have been designed for serious entertaining – there is a championship-sized tennis court and an incredible cabana and pool area. The cabana, which possesses the same style of Federation tiling as the house’s veranda, includes a sauna, bathroom, wet bar and barbecue, and includes an exquisite headlight window that was originally in the ceiling of the main house’s entry foyer. The large saltwater tiled pool is surrounded by sandstone paving, completing the entertaining area’s high-end look.

 

 

There is also an additional, fully equipped house that mirrors the tiling, sandstone pillars and intricate air vents of the main house. The second home can be used as a live-in nanny’s quarters, to house in-laws or for a very lucky teenager or university student.

 

 

The essence of the house’s perfection is that it marries finely detailed Federation features with extensive contemporary inclusions, so that the house retains its historic value while offering an entirely modern standard of living. And what a standard it is – it is increasingly rare to see properties of this calibre and size on the market in Sydney.