A Heritage Home Renovation Back to the Origins

After almost three decades of renovations, Darren and Tess Turner have returned their 111-year-old home to what it once was.

Heritage Home Renovation

For Darren Turner, there are no shortcuts in life. “You lay one brick on top of the other until you get a wall,” he says. And although he may be speaking metaphorically, this pretty much became his reality when he and his wife, Tess, bought their current family home in South Australia’s Naracoorte, a rural town 336 kilometres south-east of Adelaide.

Built in 1911, the house, dubbed Rothiemay, belonged to the Humphries family right up until the Turners purchased it in 1992. The Humphries were well-known in the area, and sisters Elsie and Margaret were the last of the family to inhabit Rothiemay. Their father, George, was a successful grazier and he had commissioned an Adelaide architecture firm to build the home. The sisters never married and according to an article published in the local newspaper on the day of the sale, Rothiemay was known as “The Misses Humphries” home for many years.

When the Turners purchased the property, their life together had well and truly begun. Tess was a busy mum with their two daughters, Lucy, 12, and Sophie, 9, and was also seven months pregnant with son Matt. Darren, meanwhile, was in the throes of a successful career with what was then a small local woollen bedding company, called MiniJumbuk, the manufacturer of Australia’s first commercial wool-filled duvets. Through the years, his hard work has paid off and today he serves as managing director of a company that’s become a leading woollen bedding company in Australia, still sourcing the majority of its wool from local farmers and sheep shearers. But, throughout, the family home remained a priority and as Rothiemay required extensive renovations even before the Turners moved in, Darren would spend nights after work making sure the home was liveable for his young family.

“Tess was pregnant and she didn’t want to move in until we had a new kitchen, as there wasn’t much of one,” Darren says. “So we put one in, polished the floorboards and stripped the wallpaper. I used to ride my bicycle here after work because I had lost my licence at the time. We moved into a house that had a new kitchen, polished floorboards and nothing else, really.”

Even so, the Turners recognised that the five-bedroom house, which sits on an acre (almost half a hecatre), had solid foundations as well as traditional features that include 14-foot-high pressed-metal ceilings, original Baltic wood flooring and a bullnosed verandah. “The previous owners were a wealthy family and we actually got a copy of the original contract to build the house when we bought it,” Darren explains. “Everything was specified to the highest quality. Because the house was built so well, it hasn’t got one crack in it. It also hasn’t moved. But it became too much for the elderly sisters to manage, so they put it on the market. Although the foundations were great, it wasn’t maintained and needed a lot of work. It had no real wiring and not a lot of plumbing, the pipes were old and rusty, the wallpaper was about 70 years old. Tess stripped it all while she was pregnant.

“Over the years, we’ve reroofed it, replumbed it, everything, really. It’s a house that every time you decide to renovate something, you have to throw $10,000 at it, not $2000, you couldn’t just do a cheap job. In the first 10 years, we did the garden and were lucky to get a heritage gardener who visualised how it would work. We put big dozers in and gutted the lot, people thought we’d wreck the house, but it was all old trees that had grown over. Then in the second decade, we reroofed and painted. It only had one bathroom, which was off the kitchen, so we eventually created a second bathroom. We also knocked some walls down and opened up the kitchen/family/dining area and knocked down an old barn and built
a freestone shed.”

So the Turners “played the long game” but say it was always worth the effort due to Rothiemay’s good bones. The family now believes that the heritage home renovations have brought the house back to what it probably once was. And it’s since become the meeting place where Darren and Tess and their now adult children and four grandkids often congregate “at least for everyone’s birthdays, Mother’s Day and Father’s Day”. “Tess has been a great partner in life and has always managed to keep the family bonds strong,” Darren says.

South Australia Home Renovation

As for the home’s strong bones, it’s the area’s natural topography that’s partly responsible. Naracoorte forms part of the Limestone Coast region and is home to South Australia’s only World Heritage-listed site, the Naracoorte Caves National Park. “When we were excavating, we’d come across big blocks of limestone against the soft soil, so this house sits on a very solid stone foundation,” Darren says. The region used to be part of the ocean floor, which is how the limestone has formed over millions of years.

The Turners are now planning to utilise that same stone in the construction of their holiday home in the Adelaide coastal suburb of Brighton. “All of the stone in this house has been hand-chiselled, the work is just beautiful,” Darren says. “We’re building the Brighton house that’s being knocked down next week, and I want to get some local stone into that as well.”

But that doesn’t mean they’ve turned their backs on Rothiemay. “We’ve worked really hard for a long time,” Darren says. “We want to get everything done now so we don’t lose interest in this home while we build the holiday house. We’ve got this place 90 per cent where we want it to be and then it’s a matter of maintaining it.” And so the process of laying one brick — or stone — on top of another begins again, but this time the Turners have 30 years of solid experience behind them. ac

Photography Don Brice, styling Bronte Camilleri

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