Inside The Restoration Of A Remarkable 1800s Melbourne Mansion!
Despite being more than 100 years old, Heatherbrae was in largely original condition when Julie and Vincent Fodera saw it come up for sale last year.
Built on more than 3000 square metres in Caufield, the private residence is a local landmark, complete with a towering palm tree that’s likely as old as the house itself. Everything from the elegant marble fireplaces to the stained-glass windows, cellars, stables, and secret passageways tells a story about the past, and stepping inside feels like stepping back in time.
It was enough to captivate Julie and Vincent, who have a shared passion for renovating old homes. ‘Never in my wildest dreams when we went there did I think we’d end up buying it,’ Julie says on the latest episode of TDF Talks.
But when another buyer fell through, Julie and Vince ended up walking away with the keys – and have since embarked on an extensive restoration of the property, which will be their family’s forever home. The couple also have plans to share the residence with the community for historical fundraisers, events, or as a ‘living gallery’ space, and they’ve already gained an Instagram following of almost 16,000 who’ve fallen in love with their renovation journey!
Listen to the full episode to hear Julie and Vince reveal the full story behind this spectacular project, and read the highlights below.
How they’re respecting the home’s history
Julie says their approach is all about respecting Heatherbrae’s history and restoring its integrity. ‘I’d like to believe that I’m walking the balance between celebrating what the home is, and providing some of the comforts and functionality that we expect in modern day,’ she adds. Everything will be more liveable, and the only new additions to the site will include a garage and a shed (enabling solar power), but ensuring the resulting design still feels ‘period specific’ is a priority.
The couple have worked painstakingly to find craftspeople to help bring the building back to its former glory — including a skilled plasterer who has worked on landmarks like Government House to create ceiling roses, cornices, and mouldings!
What they’ve done so far
Since April, Vince, Julie and their team of specialist tradespeople have been cautiously ‘dismantling’ damaged ceilings, render, and termite-damaged flooring in the entry and the hallway. ‘We essentially pulled everything out that was falling apart, or not original, and then we’ve started to put things back,’ Vince says. ‘We stripped out all the old wiring, stripped out all the old plumbing, and we’ve now completed the rewiring and the re-plumbing of the home.’
Julie’s been overseeing the interiors, working on creating some custom fittings for the home, and soon they’ll move onto the decorative elements, joinery and tiling.
Their renovating advice
As a former lawyer who now runs a water treatment business, Vince learned most of what he knows about renovating from his dad, who was a builder, and was constantly turning fixer-uppers into their family homes. He says the best way to learn is on the job!
The couple are managing the project themselves, with the help of a talented team of craftspeople, many of whom specialise in lost trades and period architecture.
Vince also has some interesting advice for working with tradespeople, particularly when renovating heritage homes – ‘I’m not asking people to quote’ he says. ‘I’m paying these people as we go, and the reason for that is that if you ask a tradesman to quote, they have to put a buffer in there, because they don’t know what they’re going to find, particularly in these old homes, so if you try to get it quoted you’re going to find that the quotes are all elevated.’ Instead, he says he has saved a considerable amount of money by paying his trades on a day-rate basis, and working closely with them to understand the scope of the job as it progresses.
The importance of preserving heritage homes
It’s been an enormous and exhaustive undertaking, but Julie says say they’ve been inspired by the project, and have loved getting to know the ‘soul’ of the old home. Even more so, thanks to all the support and encouragement they’ve received on social media. Their Instagram account has become a way to ‘fly a flag’ for heritage architecture, and Julie says ‘Melbourne has some of the most beautiful buildings in the world, and there’s still a few left, so we really need to activate and preserve those as much as we can.’
Listen to the full episode with Julie and Vincent below, or find TDF Talks on Spotify and Apple Podcasts!