I wrote this article a couple of years ago for the now defunct local magazine 'Tasmanian Life'. It still captures a snapshot of life in our house in Hobart:
Most of the former inhabitants are shadows in the dark yet we know that this house was originally built for a princess of industry. Mabel was one of Sir Henry Jones’ nine daughters and this house was a wedding gift on the occasion of her marriage to Tom Fitzgerald. David Walsh of MONA celebrity may be who everyone’s talking about in Hobart these days, yet 100 years ago the name on everybody’s lips was Henry Jones. He too was a local boy made good. Famous for starting work at age 12 in George Peacock’s Jam Factory pasting labels on tins, he went on to own the company and to become the first Tasmanian knighted. He was a local entrepreneur with international interests – he had a finger in what seemed like every pie. His personal motto was ‘I excel in everything I do’. And he did. His name continues as the Henry Jones IXL Jam Factory is now the swanky Henry Jones Art Hotel down on the Hobart waterfront and IXL jams can still be bought at the supermarket.
When my family moved in, eight years ago, we set to work exposing the homes original bones, which luckily had survived the passage of time and the demands of previous inhabitants. Over the century it had transformed itself into various guises within it’s original floor plan, from a house to two flats to a house with a dental surgery and back to being a house again. It adapted to suit its changing circumstances and the times.
When we found it, it’s soul may have been somewhat obscured by heavy drapery, patterned carpets and tired paint schemes. Yet once the jarrah floorboards and vast windows with coloured glass detailing were exposed and the walls were dressed with neutral colours and displayed to the world again, it’s identity proved to be intact. I’m sure that if Mabel dropped in for a jam tart and a cup of tea she wouldn’t have any trouble recognising her old house.
From the outside, it may look all red bricks - heavy and imposing however once through the front door everything changes. There is a generosity of lightness and space that is unexpected and almost modern in feel. Such period enhancements as crystal chandeliers and beautiful leadlight windows only enhance the sensation. It veritably sparkles.
It wears its Arts and Crafts label with myriad elements defined by the doctrine still in situ. A dramatic, dark timbered staircase….tick leadlight windows….tick beamed ceiling…..tick graceful curved arches……tick and a requisite Inglenook fireplace….tick. This was a movement that spurned the mass produced and the machine made in favour of craftsman created simplicity. Mabel Fitzgerald took this creed somewhat to heart, as she actually carved some of the subtle Gothic embellishments with her own hands - the lions head wreaths on cupboard doors and the curious gargoyles on the armrests of the bench seat. Parts of the house may have a manorial almost medieval feel, it’s the fusion of what is now history evoking an even earlier history, yet it’s lightened up with soaring ceilings, open plan rooms and simple, unsuperfluous detail.
These days the original architecture and details are allowed to speak for themselves. They are a perfect backdrop to our things and our day to day life. Because we are now part of a global community, decoration is a mishmash of continents with Designer’s Guild fabrics from the UK, Kelly Wearstler ‘Imperial Trellis’ wallpaper and Brunschwig & Fils fabric from the USA. Juxtaposed with Oriental rugs, books, contemporary Tasmanian paintings, books and furniture reclaimed from family and the somewhat addictive Gowans auction house at Moonah. True to a sense of place, this interior is all about Hobart in the 21st century and our family who lives here. There are no rules. Souvenirs brought home from our travels; a clock from a Paris flea market, a bust from the Vatican Museum in Rome and a miniature of the Mannekin Pis in Brussels, sit side by side with a cornucopia of taxidermied treasures; a zebra skin, groupings of butterflies and a deer head. Books, flowers from the garden, personal ephemeral collections, and the detritus left by children also form the tapestry of detail. It is a mixup of everything that we love and live our lives amongst, which makes our style decidedly sentimental rather than slick. Everything is accompanied by a story.
We have tinkered minimally with our home's basic layout, adding much needed bathrooms and converting what was the dining room into the kitchen. The original kitchen loitered in the far back corner of the house, way away from the goings on. Now it is out amongst it. It may have a chandelier, yet there is an emphasis on functionality in the kitchen. Modern accoutrements such as the fridge and dishwasher are hidden from view in the cabinetry and while it is undoubtedly a kitchen it also multi tasks as a dining room, a place for homework, a playroom and a cosy spot to sit in front of the fire with a glass of wine. Even now it references the Arts and Crafts movement - the bench top may be industrial concrete yet it was cast and finished off by hand. A contradiction between industrial and hand made.
Upstairs in the master bedroom whimsy has been given free reign. Take a second look and it’s not really a hole in the ceiling which opens onto the sky but a rather a cleverly rendered trompe l’oeil painted by Hobart artist Peter Gouldthorpe. It may have been inspired by a ceiling in Josephine’s boudoir at Malmaison outside Paris yet here it is decidedly less glitzy and is instantly recognizable as a Tasmanian sky in the manner of the celebrated Tasmanian colonial landscape painter John Glover. Just like the real sky different shapes have been spotted in the clouds – the map of Scotland, the mask of comedy and various indeterminate figures and faces. Oh and our five year old swears that he can see a kangaroo with a koala on it’s back.
This house, a century ago, was built to be a family home and a family home it remains today. That is probably the defining connection between now and then. Our children no doubt aren’t the first to slide down the banister and living amongst the delicate fabric of history - there’s a lot of glass in this house - they have learned to adapt their play. They know now not to skip rope under the chandelier. There is a great vibe going on here - over the last hundred years it has obviously known lots of love and happiness. There is no marauding miserable ghost rattling its chains in this house.
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