A Retro Holiday Home Renovation in a Rural Queensland Town

Through years of hard work and a true team effort, an extended family has transformed a previously “uninhabitable” weekender in Queensland’s laceys creek.

A penny for your thoughts: how many times would you say you’ve dropped a coin, only for it to disappear from right under you? Hazarding a guess, it would be more than once. Emma and Alex Fox were able to date their house from a penny left there almost 100 years ago — and the house had been physically pulled apart, picked up and moved from its original location. A holiday home renovation in Queensland’s rural town of Laceys Creek.

“When Alex was replacing the deck to the house, he found a penny on the bearer and was blown away by the fact that it had been put there by the original builders,” Emma says. “He just couldn’t believe that after being split in half, this house had been put back together on moving and the coin was still there.”

Home Laceys Creek

That penny was from 1930 and was used as a timestamp by the original builders, which was common practice back in the day. In fact, builder Alex once had a bit of a calling card of his own. “When we were first together he used to write love poems on the inside of homes to me,” Emma says. “He’d take photos and send them to me and say, ‘Someday, someone will find this.’”

After further research, the Foxes deduced that the home was built in 1930, split and moved 50 years later to its current location in Laceys Creek, in the Moreton Bay region, about a half-hour’s drive north-west of Brisbane. The Foxes haven’t been able to determine the home’s original location as there are no council records of the move, but when it came time for them to purchase the property just two years ago, it wasn’t without its problems.

Family Home Renovation

“Our bank listed it as uninhabitable when they did the valuation of it,” Emma explains, and after meeting the then owner, the Foxes learned that the home hadn’t been lived in for quite some time and were blown away by the state of it.

But Emma, who works as a stylist and interior designer, and builder Alex proved the perfect pair for the job. They established a building company 15 years ago and this was not the first home they had renovated together. And while Emma calls herself “the crazy idea person” and Alex “the logistics one”, they did have some help as they purchased the old Queenslander together with Emma’s younger sister, Breanna Effeney, and her husband, Damien, to be used as a weekender they could share as a family with Emma and Alex’s two kids, Bodie, 14, and Layla, nine, and Breanna and Damien’s children, Charlotte, 11, Rosemary, seven, and five-year-old Florence.

Scenic Country View

The two families have since worked tirelessly on renovations and restorations — they felt it was important to keep as many of the original features as possible — and have quite literally poured their blood, sweat and tears into the holiday home renovation. “We have just spent hours upon hours saving the original VJ lining boards and other features,” Emma says. “It is the most annoying task and your fingers bleed, as you have got to gap everything and scrape out all the old paint.” The family also created a larger bathroom and a dining space on the wraparound deck, as well as built a plunge pool, not to mention the extensive works to the property’s 40 acres (16 hectares), which was previously completely covered in cobbler’s peg weeds.

Laceys Creek Home

“They’ve got these little black needles on them and if you walk past them, they go into your clothes and your skin and are so painful,” Emma explains. “When we bought the place, you could not see anything — it was covered. We thought it was just grass and it was only when we settled that we realised what it was.”

Fortunately, sister Brianna is “obsessed” with mowing, but that too has not been without its complications. “She has found out that she’s allergic to grass,” Emma says. “She came up one day and her face was swollen and it looked like her eyes were closing and her throat was itching.” But it hasn’t stopped her. “She loves it so much, she just pops an antihistamine before going out there,” Emma says. Emma has also helped transform the grounds, having planted more than 40 trees as well as an abundance of florals including David Austen roses and California poppies. “I am constantly planting and I grow all my plants from seed,” Emma says. “I’m sort of creating a botanical garden experience with a lot of specimen trees, deciduous trees, plums, cherries … I just love being able to see a tree in its true form instead of it being stifled by something else.”

Laceys Creek

The hard work has certainly paid off as the family now enjoys acres of grassland, two dams, access to nearby Laceys Creek, rope swings for the kids to play on and paddocks for their three miniature rescue ponies to roam in, along with their Samoyed, Hunter. “He just loves the ponies,” Emma says. “He’s probably just a bit shorter than them. And he thinks he’s one of them. He’ll follow them down right into the paddock and then I’ll look down and he’d be lying by the dam with them.”

And the family plans to bring Alex’s cattle, which he breeds for meat, to the property, from his family farm about 45 minutes away in Mount Mee. “The plan is to bring the cattle here at some stage and he can focus just on this property,” Emma says. “At the moment, Alex travels between both when he needs to.

My sister’s husband was a jackaroo when he was younger and he also used to work for John Deere, so he’s got a huge agricultural background. He’s looking into the land and how to put more nutrients back into the soil because it hadn’t been touched for 15 to 20 years. So there’s a lot that you have to do to make it viable again, especially if we want to bring cattle here and make sure there’s nothing that could harm them.”

Holiday Home Renovation

While the extended family members have some pretty ambitious plans for the property’s future, right now they’re content on using the holiday home twice a month, where they all travel down from their respective homes, the Foxes in Middleton and the Effeneys in Ashgrove, with their five kids in tow to enjoy quality family time, with some hard work thrown into the mix. “It’s a spot for the family to come together,” Emma says. “Yeah, it’s been a lot of hard work and we’re still always working, but it’s a team effort and every now and then we go, ‘Okay, tools down,’ and we do a cheese platter and we’ll sit out and take it all in and enjoy it. It’s really important to do that. It can’t just be heads down all the time and no smelling of the roses.” ac

Photography by John Downs

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