A Historic Home Renovation Journey by Miranda Hodge

Miranda Hodge has travelled the world taking everything in she sees. Her historic home in the Adelaide Hills is an artistic expression of her life experiences.

“I always say that houses are like big canvases,” South Australian-born Miranda Hodge says. She’s worked on seven “big canvases” in her life, in locations as diverse as Vanuatu, England, Darwin and the Adelaide Hills. In fact, Miranda is used to being in multiple places at once. “My childhood was spent living between two extremes,” she says. “My father lived in Hong Kong in the big city, while my mother lived in the beautiful Adelaide Hills in a white weatherboard cottage with half an acre of gardens. Every now and then, my brother and I were on a plane.” Things haven’t changed too much decades later, except recently her travels have been between her home in Vanuatu with her 17-year-old daughter, Katie, and their house in the Adelaide Hills.

Miranda’s mother, a midwife, and her criminal barrister father divorced when she was just a baby, and it was these formative experiences that shaped her life. “My mother was innately creative. She actually won a scholarship to a fashion design school but ended up not being able to take it, so she did nursing instead,” Miranda says. “Then with Dad, I was able to experience lots of different cultures from a very young age. We’d travel to Thailand or the Philippines and different islands and places throughout Asia. I started being exposed to different ways of living and different aesthetics.”

Once she finished school, Miranda moved to London where she worked at a restaurant called Kensington Place, which was frequented by royals such as Princess Diana as well as ’90s celebrities including Elle Macpherson and Goldie Hawn. “Working in hospitality also allowed me to learn about the human experience,” she recalls. Upon returning home for her 21st birthday, she met her then partner David, and together they travelled the world and started buying and renovating houses. “The very first home was in Adelaide when I was in my mid-20s and the buyer ended up purchasing the entire thing — contents
and all,” Miranda says. “They wanted the whole vibe.”

Although Miranda says she “never really had a profession”, she ended up studying interior architecture and architecture for three years. Then Katie came along. “I absolutely loved it, but I had a baby, so I channelled all my creative energy into raising my child,” she says.

Miranda Hodge Historic Homestead

Fast-forward to 2013, and the blended family — Miranda, David, his two older sons and Katie — decided to build a holiday home in Vanuatu. “We wanted to create a family resort,” Miranda explains. “Each child had their own pavilion, then we had ours, connected to Katie’s. The idea was that we could all come together as a family, everyone had their own space, but we could join in the entertaining area. It worked beautifully.” Miranda stayed on for six months to oversee the construction, but within a month of returning to Australia, Vanuatu was struck with a category-five cyclone, which decimated the entire country. However, the family holiday home survived unscathed.

“I spent that year fundraising, flying back and forth delivering emergency aid and after a year of doing that, I decided we should live there,” Miranda says. “Katie, David and I moved there and built the second part of the property, The Boathouse, from timber salvaged from the cyclone. I got very involved in reactivating the local arts and wanted the majority of items we had there made in the country. We had a local potter living on-site and invited other artists to work and live at The Boathouse.”

However, a few years in, Miranda and David separated and the pull to come home to family was too strong for Miranda to ignore. “I just woke up one morning and my heart said go home,” she recalls. “So I jumped online and this property popped up.”

Named The Laurels, for a huge laurel hedge that runs 60 metres up the entire driveway, the 9.5-acre (3.8-hectare) property was quite an undertaking for Miranda. “I’ve never lived on that much property, never had livestock, never had a dam,” she says. “But Katie [who was 12 at the time] and I decided that it would be a fun adventure together.”

So in 2018, the mother-and-daughter duo packed up and moved to Mylor in the Adelaide Hills, where Miranda still had family residing nearby. But it wasn’t all smooth sailing. “Of course, I hadn’t done a building inspection and discovered that there were a lot of leaks and so forth,” she says. “I realised I had to renovate right away. I always planned to, but just wasn’t sure when or how I would do it.”

The historic home, which was built in 1880 and was home to former South Australian governor and prominent physicist Sir Mark Oliphant (1901-2000), was extended in 1920, with further renovations completed in the ’80s. “I didn’t touch the footprint,” Miranda explains. “All I did was fix the problems, so brand-new wiring, plumbing, a new roof and waterproofing. Then from there, I focused on the aesthetics. I wanted to interact with the property first to inform my design from a functional perspective. For example, there were old sheds and outbuildings, so I removed a lot of those and retained the ones that I thought had charm or function.”

Other changes include the kitchen layout and flooring, which is where Miranda began introducing nostalgic elements. “The floorboards appeared to be a write-off and I started getting quotes for veneers to lay on top,” Miranda explains. “But then I ended up hand-painting them, as my mother used to do in our family home growing up. I tried to let the original floors inform the designs, so each floor has a different finish, all in black and white.”

Miranda Hodge

A lot of the lighting has come from her mother’s cottage in nearby Stirling. “There are several different converted oil lamps with hand-blown shades,” Miranda says. “The collection started when she was a new mum with my brother. Her in-laws had given her money to buy a dryer, but she bought lights instead. I love using light as art. There’s an internal sitting room, called the snug, which we painted black and embedded lamps in the bookcase.” Other personal touches include both Miranda and Katie’s artworks hung on the walls, as well as sculptures made by Miranda’s cousin, a local potter, which are dotted liberally around the garden.

As for the garden, the aim was to simplify and make it easier to manage. Irrigation was introduced using an automatic watering system connected to the dam. As the house is located on top of a hill on a slope, flooding was an issue, so Miranda removed the water-hungry plants. There is also a 100-year-old orchard on the property, which was hidden behind shrubbery. “It was like an arid paddock and there were all these horrible wires stuck in the trees. So we just cleaned it all up, took away the wire and planted grass everywhere. All of a sudden, you realised you were sitting in the middle of a beautiful historic orchard, bearing fruit including apples, pears, mulberries and figs.”

The family also keep sheep, one male, called George, and four ewes, named the Heathers, two rescue alpacas, Harry and Styles, chickens, lop-eared rabbits, Gerty the baby goat and two more sheep, who adopted Gerty as their own.

While both mum and daughter love the home they’ve created in the Hills, at the same time, Miranda was working on establishing a business in Vanuatu, The Boathouse, offering boutique resort accommodation and experiences such as yoga, fresh-cooked meals using local produce and with a focus on sustainability, and artist workshops. So she and Katie recently made the tough decision to sell and move back to Vanuatu permanently. And, just like the very first “big canvas she worked on, Miranda sold The Laurels along with all of its contents. Or as she puts it, “the complete vision”.

For more information on The Boathouse, visit theboathousevanuatu.com
Photography by Don Brice, Styling by Bronte Camilleri

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