Sustainable living starts at home. That was Amy Elleway’s motivation as she built her 9-star…
Think your home has a good story? Meet the grand home in a classic Canberra suburb that once hid a huge—and very green—secret that the owners only discovered after purchasing the property.
There are two ways of telling this story about Pam and Simon’s home in Narrabundah. One story about what it was like before they purchased it—and one about what they did after the purchase.
So, let’s do this in chronological order because I’m not as cool as Christopher Nolan and don’t want to confuse everyone with a non-linear timeline.
It all started when a little square fibro shack was built in the mid-1940s and for the next 50 years was home to a famous Swiss artist, members of the French embassy, a nudist who did daily walk to the letterbox while waving to the neighbours and also a local drug gang. I bet that makes your home’s history sound tame.
Of course, none of those were the reasons why Pam and Simon fell in love with the place when decided to buy it in the late 90s. In fact, it was two other reasons: the location and its potential.
Simon is a builder, and he wanted a solid structure in a classic Canberra suburb on which he could build a dream home. And not just any home—but something grand and full of challenges to keep him busy for decades.
When the couple purchased the home, they had real troubles with the tenants who didn’t want to leave despite all negotiations. Pam and Simon were not sure why they were so resistant towards leaving, but it became rather apparent once they had no course of action to take but to evict the group.
Firstly, Pam and Simon found random people kept coming up the front door, ringing the doorbell and asking, “Excuse me, is my wife at home?”. Hint: it was a code. Then, the surveyor pointed out that according to the original plans there was a pool in the backyard, yet there was no pool to be seen.
Turns out that the pool was covered over and modified into a DIY hydroponic setup. So yes, the home was a weed farm, and it had a great business going among a loyal customer base. Now the resistance made sense.
Putting that Narcos-style story behind them, Simon built a small shed to live in right next to the home so that he could pull apart the old home and then use the foundations to build outwards. It took a year before they could move into the home, which sounds like a long time but really is nothing if you consider that Simon was doing the vast majority of it himself.
Simon is a fanatic when it comes to antiques and vintage or recycled items and he is also the kind of guy who sees every challenge as a solvable problem. The front door is a 40s original piece fitted into a custom frame. That floor-standing world radio is an original and now fully functioning, though it’s hard to pick up Churchill in London these days.
The Greek chandeliers are as original retro as they get and function due to Simons handy electrical restoration work. Even the light switch panels are custom-made by hand.
As you can imagine, Simon is best friends with all the best recycling places around Canberra and knows what is original, what is valuable and what is fixable. Actually, he thinks everything falls in one of these categories.
That Gone with the Wind-esque curving entry staircase is quite something, and I’m not saying that because my name is Ashley either. Simon made the entire thing from scratch and added an iron balustrade which he specifically aged to ensure it looked the part.
The wooden beam to the left around which the stairs wrap is actually an original vintage Telstra telephone pole cut to size, washed, sanded and stained. Naturally, Simon got that from a recycled goods shop too—he didn’t just help himself to one on the side of the road.
The couple love spending most of their time in the kitchen or sitting in front of one of their two fireplaces on cooler nights. They get more peace now too seeing there are less people looking for their wives around the neighbourhood.
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Read all of Ashley’s Home Stories series here.
Photography: Jessica Conway