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Never Leaving Home

Emma Macdonald

It’s a familiar scenario in cities around the country.

Young couple falls in love and buys a home together. They choose something small in an outer suburb and as their family grows, they add rooms or move to a larger place closer to the city. Except when you are Belinda Neame and Tim Bean and you want to stay exactly where you are.

The creative couple behind Canberra’s thriving street food event, The Forage, have deliberately chosen a different path when it comes to homeownership.

For Belinda and Tim, the tiny rundown home they first spotted almost 20 years ago in Belinda’s childhood suburb of Fraser has become an oasis. While they have extensively renovated, they have resisted the time-honoured practice of adding more bedrooms and bathrooms. And even though their finances would now allow, they feel no need to leave the quiet cul-de-sac close to bushland that has allowed their children to grow up enjoying fresh air, peace and community.

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But that is not to say this home is not as magazine-worthy as any grand abode on Canberra’s dress circle.

This is due to two factors.

Belinda has a stylist’s eye—her day job involves overseeing the look and feel of HerCanberra’s Magazine—and Tim has a flair for photography which is increasingly seeing him shoot top restaurants and local creatives in and around his career as a firefighter.

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Together the pair, who met in college, have combined their finely-honed aesthetic senses to create a home that oozes style yet warmth—a home that first and foremost is a haven for their two teenaged children, Fletcher and Tilly, and a home that fosters closeness and communication between a tightknit family.

“We want this home to be a place where the four of us can relax and relate to each other, where we don’t have the kids wandering off down one end of the house and never talking to us. We have been really strategic about keeping it small and keeping those communal spaces really conducive to conversation.”

This includes removing a television from their front room, where a large fireplace and charcoal grey sofas laden with cushions provide for a restful homecoming.

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Belinda, unashamedly a Canberra Winter-lover, said she had waited almost the entire time she had lived in the house to install the fireplace. Now it is here it has surpassed her every expectation.

“I just can’t put into words how much I love it and how successful it is in bringing us all together. Sometimes we just sit and talk, and I never need to start a conversation with the kids, they just start talking about their days of their own accord. Other times we play board games, or sometimes we just sit and watch the flames flicker.”

Last year, after much soul-searching, the couple undertook a major renovation, having updated the kitchen and added a family room off the kitchen earlier on.

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While they made their existing bathroom much larger, the couple consciously decided not to add a second bathroom, nor add another bedroom with ensuite.

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“We just thought about where we are in life—Fletcher is 15 now, so we won’t have him at home for much longer. Do we want a house with all these extra rooms and bathrooms when it is just me and Tim? And apart from that, who wants to spend their spare time cleaning?” Belinda laughs.

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The decision to stay small and bespoke has also had follow-on advantages. Belinda and Tim’s dollars went much further, allowing them to invest in finishes that will stand the test of time. Among them a spotted-gum hardwood floor throughout, new double-glazed windows and statement black plantation shutters.

“The floors I adore, the shutters were a risk because we went with something so dramatic but they turned out to be perfect.”

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Belinda says she has always followed her heart when it comes to the look and feel of her home.

“I am not a risk-taker by nature but I have backed myself not to go with the mainstream when it comes to my house. For instance, my head was telling me to go with white shutters because they go with everything but in the end I just had to do the opposite.”

“I trust my own taste and I layer the belongings I love. I say go with your gut. If you love it you’ll make it work.”

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Having said that, Belinda has also pared things back after the renovations.

“I used to like a bit of clutter, but when we emptied the house out to start the work, I realised I could live without a lot of it. That is not to say I am a slave to contemporary minimalism, but I like the cleaner lines and the focus on really bespoke pieces.”

One of the upshots of waiting this long to renovate is that Belinda and Tim have both developed a similar style. Or perhaps an ability to trust in the other’s choices.

“We didn’t really argue about any of it, and Tim project-managed the whole thing. I don’t think that would have been the case 10 years ago—we must have both matured since then!”

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And as you tour the home, you see a beautiful partnership unfold.

Belinda lists among her most treasured possessions a beautiful antique hardwood tallboy that Tim bought her for her 21st birthday. They also have a few vintage pieces, like an armchair in the front lounge room, vintage fire extinguisher and fire bucket (for obvious reasons!) and a few crystal pieces from their grandmothers.

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A Wild Horses photographic print by Kara Rosenlund was a surprise Christmas present from Tim for Belinda last year. “I lusted over it for a couple of years, and it is now a major talking point with everyone that walks in the front door.”

Meanwhile, a Dulton Ivory Drawer Cabinet also sits in the entry hall and sets the tone and mood to the home.

“It was our first expensive piece of furniture after having the kids and I call it our ‘investment piece’! I hope it is a piece that becomes an heirloom in our family one day.”

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A World Map by Telegram Paper Goods was ordered as the focal point for Fletcher’s room when he moved out of his ‘little boy stage’ and every single bed or sofa has an ample supply of Pony Rider cushions—a love of Belinda’s that borders on obsessive.

Black Highbay Lampshades by Industria X in Melbourne sit over the kitchen sink to add an industrial feel while a genuine German beer hall table and benches has been the setting for many a family dinner or informal dinner party.

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Meanwhile, Belinda’s passion to support local Canberra designers and makers is evident wherever you look: one of her favourite artworks, a NORTH I print by Lean Timms; ceramic pieces by Bison and artists such as Sophie Moran and Girl Nomad placed perfectly around the kitchen.

A special love is the custom wreath by Moxom & Whitney which sits above their bed.

“I absolutely love that it is a one-off, original piece just for us.”

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You can imagine in 10 years from now, Belinda and Tim will still be enjoying their fireplace and small-but-perfectly formed home, while the kids come and go with their own lives.

“If I am completely honest, I am happy with that. We love Fraser, we love this city and we have absolutely no plans for anything different”.

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PHOTOGRAPHY Tim Bean

This article originally appeared in Magazine: Disruption for Spring 2017, available for free while stocks last. Find out more about Magazine here

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Emma Macdonald

Emma Macdonald has been writing about Canberra and its people for more than 20 years, winning numerous awards for her journalism - including a Walkley or two - along the way. Canberra born and bred, she’s fiercely loyal to the city, tribally inner-north, and relieved the rest of the country is finally recognising Canberra’s cool and creative credentials. More about the Author

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