Gow House Makes a Tree Change
Standing proudly on the corner of Patrick and Watkins Streets in Merewether since 1887, Betty Gow’s home was a Newcastle landmark. Every day, Betty would spend 8 hours in her beloved garden, tending her pride and joy, much to the gratitude of the locals. When it was no longer possible for Betty to stay on in the place which four generations of the Gow family had called home, the question was, “What will happen to this significant piece of Merewether history?”
This is where property developer, Melissa Calder-Mason and her husband Tony come in.
In March, 2018, Melissa and Tony bought what was then, Splinters Guest Retreat in Pokolbin and set to work on renovating and expanding it to become one of the region’s most luxurious holiday accommodation properties, now renamed Greystone Estate. The Gow family house in Merewether went to auction shortly after and was passed in, before being snapped up by Melissa and Tony. Melissa’s plans for the site include building three generously sized attached homes which are about to start construction.
After over twenty-six years of property developing, Melissa has accumulated enough experience, vision and knowledge to embark on what others may consider impossible. Betty Gow’s home was about to be reborn….
”I always liked the block. We didn’t go to the auction but we drove past and saw it had passed in so I rang the agent to see what it was going for. I thought the house would be great for Greystone.”
So your plan was to move the house from Merewether to Pokolbin. That must have presented some new challenges…
“We enlisted the help of Mannix House Removers to prepare the house for the move and to transport it safely. Approvals were needed from Newcastle Council and Singleton Council. That process alone took 6 months. It would have been cheaper to start from scratch but I have no regrets. It’s just so beautiful”.
“If people that drove past the house in Merewether saw it now they’d be happy it has been moved. We’ve brought it back to life”.
How much of the original house have you been able to maintain and restore?
“The house was cut in half straight down the middle along the left of the hallway. All of the wrought iron fretwork along the verandahs was stripped back and restored, the ornate plaster ceilings and most of the windows are all original. Two windows needed replacing due to rot, but the replacements are exact replicas.
The skirting boards were all reproduced to be the exact same height as the originals and the fireplace was cleaned up and repainted. We reused all of the original sandstone piers as garden edging. We couldn’t replant any of the plants from the beautiful garden because they wouldn’t have survived the move to the Hunter Valley. Fortunately, many people came and took cuttings from the plants before the house was taken.”
“All of the roof sheets needed replacing as the existing roof was just about rusted through. The new roof was added on a 45 degree day. Those poor roofers!”
“Another nod to the original house is the old house number, ‘81’, which is now at the front of the cottage. I’m planning on adding a plaque inside acknowledging the history of Gow House”.
Your colour palette is gorgeous. What was your inspiration?
“I used Dulux Shale Grey outside and Milton Moon inside. When I started thinking of the colours I was going to use I thought of Betty and how glamorous and elegant she was with her hair always in a French roll. It was important to me to replicate her style. I tend not to overthink it. I just walk in and know.”
Do you have a favourite space in the house?
“Definitely as you open the front door. It feels warm as soon as you walk in and it has a softness to it. Every time I walk in, I love it”.
Melissa has used vertical joist panelling throughout with traditional wainscoting painted in a crisp white to contrast with the grey panelling. This has been complemented with beautiful blonde Havwood flooring and plush carpets in the bedrooms. Unable to restore the original 3 chandeliers, Melissa has chosen a modern take on the traditional chandelier, adding another touch of ‘Betty Gow glamour’ to the interior.
You’ve decorated and furnished the space beautifully. Do you have a favourite piece?
“The fireplace. It’s just so beautiful. I’m not sure about the history of it but it’s actually very light. I think it might be made from a hard plastic. I was able to carry it around the house! All it needed was a clean and a coat of paint and it looks incredible.”
How hands on were you throughout the renovation?
“I was overseeing everything. My cousin-in-law, Scott Mouthaan from SKM Built is an amazing builder and he was able to restore the house to what it is today. He’s very talented and has a great eye for detail. I’m the cleaner upperer. I was here most of the time to answer any questions and for the inevitable on the spot decision making. Scott also built the barn for me. I’m usually in steel capped boots! The construction process is what I love the most.”
What was the most challenging aspect of the renovation?
“That would have to be the timing because we already had so many enquiries to stay in the house so we had to pick a date and make sure we were ready for our first guests. Fortunately there were no nasty surprises along the way and the weather was kind to us so we were able to take our first guests in the beginning of June this year. The process was actually very smooth and easy.”
Have any of the Gow family been out to see their old home in its new surroundings?
”Not yet. I’ve been waiting for the gardens to grow! The family was so happy their old home was getting a new life. They were rapt. I’ve met two of the grandchildren. When I first saw the house before we moved it, you could see the love that had been put into it. The way it was built was just beautiful. Now their old home will be shared with others, who can stay in a little bit of Merewether history in the vines.”
Do you have any advice for budding property developers?
“People often ask me if I can teach them about property developing. My advice is to just do what you enjoy doing and start small. You learn so much along the way. Back yourself, trust your gut instincts and remember it’s not always easy but can be very rewarding at the finish. I used to be a hairdresser but always wanted to be an architect. My Mum and Dad built a few houses when I was little and I used to go to the project home places and watch them. I learned to draw a plan from an early age so I do all my own plan drawing, colours and finishes.
I leave the landscaping to my husband but I often add my two bobs worth! I’ve been doing this since my husband and I built our first home in Valentine when I was 23. Since then, I’ve developed about five properties in Merewether; the Eckersleys development on Parry Street; M on Watt Street; properties in Adamstown, Valentine and Belmont; and a few more in the pipeline for the coming years. People assume my husband is a builder but he works in the medical industry. He loves what I do and trusts me to do what I need to do. I am very blessed to have him – we’re a great team.”
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