BUILDING on the river in historic Port Fairy is always bound to have fascinating aspects, especially a historical site such as the former grain store of the William Rutledge estate.
With plans drawn by Mathew Morse Architect, the brief was to transform the site from an overgrown jungle and ruin into a cutting edge 21st century home. Initial demolition to remove a garage and several trees (including a 30-metre West Australian myrtle overhanging nearby streets and homes) was a challenge, with some of the timber covertly salvaged for wood turning and furniture for the owners, Mary and John Porter.
As building work commenced, builder Bart Redpath discovered large bluestone foundations and the site promptly became the subject of an archaeological dig. Historical research revealed it was the main location of Cox Wharf and Co. (later part of the William Rutledge estate), a grain store located on the riverbank for convenient unloading from ships and carts. These large foundations had to be demolished and several truckloads were removed, the blocks later split and reused by stonemason Bernie Ryan to add on a front garden wall along the perimeter of the property. The historical wall used for the home was likely built in 1835-1840.
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A “sealers” cottage was also discovered on the property in the south west corner, with either a well or an old long drop toilet full of bottles dated pre 1830 in the middle of where the new garage was to be located. This aspect was solved with piles driven down seven metres to support a mass concrete stabilising pad.
The west wall was leaning significantly and undermined by holes. Built from sandstone and limestone, a tree root system was running through it, discovered to be the only thing keeping the wall intact. After meeting with heritage advisors, council permission was obtained to rebuild the wall, a safer option more suitable for the general public. Retaining the rendered look blends in to the local environment.
The house was also required to be built above the flood zone, with height restrictions allowing for the floor level to be on the flood zone level and the upper story roof to be on the seven meter maximum height allowance. When working on a building that comprises high end finishes on a tricky site, the challenge tends to absorb the builder and all trades working on the project.
Features in the home include plumbing that allows filtered rainwater to supply the fridges and sink taps via a pair 11 of underground tanks. An underfloor hydronic system was installed under the timber for even floor heating throughout the building. Southern Point Plumbing was the main contractor. Electrical work involved intercom with locks to enter, electric windows and automated blinds by McDonald Electrical Contracting. Warrnambool Window systems looked after all the glazing, with the glass in some areas of the home more than 30 mm thick. Due to the large spans and its weight, it was impossible to lift without a crane. Subsequently, some sections of the house had to be left out until glass was fitted.
The doors are predominantly cavity sliders, with push to open and soft close mechanisms. The cabinetry features drawers that push to open but also soft close, the only hardware of its kind that has both capabilities. Howe Kitchens and Joinery did an impressive job of customising the home with their cabinetry. The cladding was custom formed for the job using ultra grade Colourbond and has polystyrene inserts to provide excellent energy ratings. The wall designs are double cavity, which allows for great acoustics as well as thermal efficiency. The stainless steel used is mirror finish stainless, which resists putting and algae, often associated with coastal handrails.
The result is a magnificent 21st century building, sitting on land that has an equally impressive past.