Behold this bluestone beauty

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A labour of love: Ben and Helen Fennessy spent a year measuring up what lay ahead before deciding to take on the restoration of a rundown Rosebrook property that is now their home.

[dropcap style=”font-size: 60px; color: #A5CECD;”]T[/dropcap]aking on the restoration of a bluestone cottage in a rugged coastal landscape may sound romantic, but it is not a task to be taken lightly.

Artist Ben Fennessy and his wife Helen, who writes, spent a year deciding whether or not to buy a ramshackle, rundown dump on five acres that overlooked the Belfast Lough at Rosebrook, near Port Fairy, and turning it into a home.

The historic bluestone cottage and assorted add ons and out-buildings had been on the market for five years – five years! – when the Fennessy’s happened upon it during one of their visits to Port Fairy from their former home in the Otways.

The house sat unloved for years before the Fennessy’s took over.
The original kitchen …
The same space as it looks today.

[dropcap style=”font-size: 60px; color: #A5CECD;”] I [/dropcap]t took a special vision to see the beauty beneath the ugliness of the place, which had suffered from a combination of poor building extensions, a lack of maintenance and a series of tenants that showed little respect for the property, if not outright neglect.

(The state of the house was summed up when the Fennessy’s later removed boards covering the fireplaces and found piles of dirty nappies).

“It was very, very rundown and fairly hideous when we first saw it six years ago,” Ben said.

“We walked away for a year, but we kept coming back to it in our minds, thinking that it had really great potential, but that it would take a lot of work.”

The extent of the task ahead was laid bared in an Archicentre report that, Helen said, “ran to several pages”.

“The roof was being held up by tomato stakes,” she said, laughing at the memory.

Out with the Besser block extension: Helen Fennessy hard at work during the renovations…
And in with a light-filled, bluestone extension designed by Tim McLeod and that overlooks the Belfast Lough.

[dropcap style=”font-size: 60px; color: #A5CECD;”] U [/dropcap]nderneath all of the half-baked renovations, however, sat a sweet, four-room bluestone cottage that, despite all of its terrible makeovers, was as solid as the day it was built some time in 1856 as the engineer’s house for the local mill at Rosebrook.

“The original bluestone was actually in good nick, so we brought it back to that original footprint,” Ben said.

Over a two-year period, the Fennessy’s tore down a parasitic, 1970s extension at the rear of the cottage, restored the original cottage and added a magnificent big-windowed, light-filled space – designed by Warrnambool architect Tim McLeod – that overlooks the lough.

The result is a character-filled blend of the very old and the ultra modern – but the story doesn’t end there.

Clare meet Rosie, Rosie meet Clare: an old railway building and carriage have been converted into a self-contained living space.

[dropcap style=”font-size: 60px; color: #A5CECD;”] B [/dropcap]en’s eye for the quirky has seen two more fascinating additions that, together, form a separate, self-contained living space for their daughter and ceramic artist, Clare Fennessy.

Clare’s lounge room, small kitchen and bathroom is housed in a pre-fab railway building originally from the Warrnambool Railway Station that, when Ben found it, was being used as a hayshed out in a paddock.

“Rosie”, as the railway shed is now known, snuggles neatly against an antique railway carriage that dates back to 1911 and was once used to transport refrigerated goods. It is now Clare’s bedroom, complete with a roof insulated by horse hair.

“I’d seen it sitting in a paddock at Illowa and so I approached the owners and asked if they wanted to sell it,” Ben explained.

“It was being used as a fertiliser shed at the time.”

With the property finished, and two alpacas installed in the surrounding paddocks to keep the grass down, the Fennessys need only enjoy the inspiring space: perfect for such creative souls.

After many years of hard work, the renovation and restoration is complete.

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