Building a dream home brick by brick

BRICK by brick Joanne Neil-White and her husband Stephen White chiselled away to help give their five-year home its older-feel finish. 

Ms Neil-White said she always loved older house, so she tried to achieve an older look by using secondhand materials. 

“All the bricks are secondhand, mostly from the SEC building around Lake Wendouree and chimneys from when people demolished houses,” Ms Neil-White said. 

“Word got around we were collecting them and we’d get phone calls saying there was a chimney to pick up, so we’d quickly hook the trailer on and go and get it.”

The couple collected 40,000 to 50,000 secondhand bricks and cleaned them by hand. 

Ms Neil-White said she had always known the Invermay area because she grew up in Ballarat North. 

“I used to come and ride my bike around the empty farm paddocks,” she said. 

“I used to look up at the hill and think that one day I would live on that hill.”

When she was visiting her parents about 20 years ago, she saw the land had been subdivided.

“I immediately called my husband and we bought one straight away, before he’d even come to see the land.

“It’s not quite on the hill – but it’s even better because we get to look out onto it every day.” 

On weekends Ms Neil-White and her husband planted trees on the property, but they did not move there for another 10 years.

They built a cottage to live in while they planned for their home on the property. It  has become a guest house. 

“There was nothing when we bought it. It was filled with gorse and prickles,” Mr White said.

“We’ve planted about 700 trees and there is a bit of an orchard.”

Ms Neil-White said one of her favourite things was to go down to the veggie patch, forage around and decide what was for dinner from what she’d just picked. 

“The house is on six acres, but the house doesn’t take up much of that space,” Ms Neil-White said. 

Ms Neil-White and Mr White added a dam to the property and have trout. 

Inspired from their time living in the UK, they also added a cricket pitch which is occasionally used by the community. 

They have built the land around it to an amphitheatre shape to make it a friendly viewing environment. 

“One day someone drove past and saw our cricket area and knocked on our door and asked if they could hold their father-son cricket match break-up on our property,” Ms Neil-White said.

“We said yes and they’ve been coming for a few years.”

When Ms Neil-White and Mr White returned from the UK and lived in the cottage, their sons were 15 and 17. 

“It was always the plan to come back to Ballarat as it was where we both grew up,” Ms Neil-White said.

“We over-compensated for living in a box in the UK.

“The boys liked skating so we put in a skate ramp at the back.”

With the plan to stay in the cottage only for a year, they installed a murphy bed and slept in the living area to give their sons space upstairs. 

“You couldn’t sit up in bed and read, so I over-compensated there as well, so now the bedhead we have is huge.” 

As well as secondhand materials, Ms Neil-White said the other best way to make something look old was to put it against something new. 

The house has an Australian Georgian feeling at the front, with what would appear to be a modern extension at the back, but it was built at the same time. 

“We wanted the kitchen to be in the heart of the house, because we all like cooking or food,” Ms Niel-White said. 

The doors to the butlers pantry and food pantry have a knife and fork on them, from decal stickers they found in France. 

“I love having a scullery. We can entertain and just put all the dishes in there and that’s where the hard work gets done.” 

A library/office shows the couple’s book collections, but is also where they do most of their living in winter.

“We snuggle up under a blanket by the fire and we can watch TV, work or read,” Ms Neil-White said. 

“We often bring a dining table into the library in winter as well.”

Ms Neil-White and Mr White have collected furniture and bits and pieces over the years that they now use, including an old cake trolley which used to be used at the Birchip railway station when travellers had the break from Mildura to Melbourne.

Want to see your house featured in The Courier? Email nicole.cairns@fairfaxmedia.com.au

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