Rising from the ashes

Homeowner Andrew’s dream of having a weekender, just far enough from his home in Newcastle, has come true. It just wasn’t quite how he planned it…

Living and working in Newcastle, Andrew had been thinking about building a “small and eco-friendly” weekend escape for a while. Somewhere not too far away, where he could enjoy some downtime, both alone and with his adult children and their families. However, a couple of bad experiences with a builder and architect put him off the idea and he decided to look for an established rural property instead.

Cue, Allyngrove, a charming property in the Allyn River Valley, that sparked in Andrew a wave of nostalgia. “When I first saw Allyngrove it reminded me of my parent’s house and it gave me that sense of belonging,” recalls Andrew, who had grown up on a farm but had “never been a farmer.” Andrew adds, “My three adult kids like it too, so the deal was sealed.”

Initially settled as a dairy farm around 1860, Allyngrove sits on 38 acres and came with several buildings and 400 olive trees: there was the old dairy, a creamery, and a cottage that served as the original owners’ residence until, in 1904, they could afford to build a bigger, more comfortable home right next to it. The Eidler family had been living at Allyngrove for decades and many locals have fond memories of piano lessons with Mrs Eidler. At one point, the house had also served as the local post office.
Andrew had plans to renovate his weekender, however, one fateful night in 2017 everything changed. The main home went up in flames and was burnt to the ground. The Rural Fire Service managed to contain the fire but couldn’t prevent the house from burning down completely.

Sadly, all that was left were two brick chimneys and the verandah’s wrought ironwork. “It was probably a mouse or possum gnawing at the electrical cords, causing a spark that set the wooden building ablaze,” explains Andrew.

Once the stark reality of the devastation sunk in, Andrew came close to selling Allyngrove but his children intervened and recommended he build his own house after all, while living in the old dairy which he had already renovated. Andrew says he considered a modern design, but that “just felt wrong.” The challenges associated with a more heritage-style build kept him awake at night.

However, when he was driving back to Newcastle one day, he had an epiphany. Andrew remembers, “I’ve got Hugues, I thought, and I’ve worked with him before and I’m sure if he will take the job, it will be fine.”

Hugues de Rocquigny is the owner and director of HDR Building Services, and he has created a stunning home with such a wealth of eco-friendly features, it has recently been accredited as the Hunter’s latest HIA GreenSmart House.

What’s more, not only did he complete the build within budget, but Andrew couldn’t have been more delighted with the result.

“Environmental responsibility was really important for Andrew,” says Hugues, “which is why we carefully ordered building materials, re-used elements from the former dwelling onsite, and selected environmentally preferable materials and paints.”

Read more in the Spring issue of Hunter & Coastal Lifestyle Magazine or subscribe here.

Story by Cornelia Schulze, photography by Jacob Riordan, Open Angles