Home in the Highlands
LIFE AT WHITE GABLES: THE INSIDE STORY
The Flying Carpet
Although I’ve penned hundreds of words about the garden at White Gables, I haven’t written much about the house itself and its interiors. That’s because we’ve been working hard to repair damaged walls and floors and deal with a series of surprises that didn’t appear in the building inspection report. The hard work is mostly over and several rooms are finished, but there are still some mysteries to unravel.
For example, why do the lights cut out whenever it rains? Our trusty electrician has investigated thoroughly but can't find the answer. Are there ghosts at work at White Gables? While we await a solution, we’ve installed night-lights in every room - fortunately the power points still work, no matter how long or hard it rains. Torches have been placed in key positions, and in the kitchen there’s a desk lamp on the counter-top so that if the ceiling lights go, I can cook dinner by lamplight!
But back to the real story. My tale of the first major purchase for White Gables. This is how it happened.
When we moved into the property last December, I found myself with a vast formal living room, 7 metres by 6 metres, with a 5.5 metre (18 foot) vaulted ceiling. Unfurnished, it looked even bigger than it had at the inspections.
For those of you who've read my story, 'A Tale of Two Chandeliers', here's the original chandelier!
We also inherited the gorgeous oak bookcase and library ladder.
How was I going to turn something that looked like an auditorium, complete with echo, into a cosy sitting room? Yes, you guessed it! Add a rug, a very big one!
But where would I find one big enough for this room, without paying a fortune for it?
I spent hours browsing online before coming across a traditional design in muted shades of grey, cream and blue which I hoped would form the perfect backdrop for my existing cream sofas. What’s more, the price was very good indeed.
Fast forward to Monday morning, 9am. After a weekend of vacillating, I decided to buy the rug. Call me old-fashioned but I never place an order online when there's a phone number I can ring. At the top of the home page, there was a one-800 number operating ‘24/7’.
The voice that answered my call was bright and cheery:
‘Hi. This is Brad. How may I help you?’
His American accent caught me off-guard. ‘You’re American!’ I said, forgetting my manners.
‘That’s right, ma’am. You’ve just phoned North Carolina.’
‘Oh!’ I gulped. ‘But I’m in Sydney, Australia.’
‘Don’t worry, it’s a free call. We have a lot of Australians buying our rugs.’
I was on the point of thanking him for his time and hanging up. After all, it would be ridiculous to buy a rug from America – the freight alone would cost a fortune.
‘Which rug are you interested in, ma’am?’ Brad continued.
It couldn't hurt to give him the details.
'Yes, we have that rug in stock,' he replied. Then he told me the price - it was exactly the same as the amount which had appeared on the website.
‘I’m assuming we're talking US dollars here,’ I said.
‘No, ma’am, the price is in Australian dollars.'
While I was processing that particular piece of information, he added: 'And delivery is free.’
‘Free delivery to Australia!’ I squeaked, having recently paid forty dollars to have a new fridge delivered from twenty kilometres away.
‘Absolutely, ma’am. And it should arrive within ten days.’
The deal was too good to refuse, but a little voice in my head was saying: perhaps it’s too good to be true. Nevertheless, I supplied my details, paid by credit card and was informed that a tracking number and receipt would be zooming their way to me via email.
As soon as I pressed ‘End’, doubts began to fill my head. Would I ever hear from the company again? Did it really sell rugs, or was it simply an elaborate scam set up to snare gullible home decorators like me?
Later that day I happened to mention the internet purchase to a friend when she phoned for a chat.
‘You bought a rug from America!’ she exclaimed.
‘It’s a reputable company,’ I said, trying to convince myself.
‘I hope you haven’t bought yourself a flying carpet,’ she tittered. ‘The kind that flies away and is never seen again.’
Meanwhile an email had pinged into my inbox, containing the tracking number. When I clicked on the link, an official-looking page appeared on the screen, announcing that my rug had left North Carolina warehouse and was already in a sorting centre in Cincinatti. If this was a scam, they’d gone to a lot of trouble to make it seem authentic.
On Thursday of that same week I checked the tracking info again, expecting the rug to still be in the USA, if indeed it existed at all. But the information on my computer screen indicated differently:
Parcel arrived Sydney Airport 11pm Wednesday.
Parcel cleared Customs 8am Thursday.
Parcel with courier 8.45am Thursday.
Delivery to purchaser by 4pm Thursday.
Impossible! I thought to myself. After all, I’d only ordered the rug on Monday morning.
At 2pm that day, there was a knock on the front door. Outside, a courier was holding what looked like a dead body wrapped in heavy green plastic. After he left, I dragged the ‘body bag’ inside and set to work with a scissors to cut it open. Finally, the rug emerged, rolled up and folded in half, like a sandwich wrap. I tried to unroll it in the hallway but it was too big.
That night my son and I lugged the rug into the living room, where we unfurled it, stood back and surveyed the purchase.
‘What do you think of it?’ I asked him.
‘It’s perfect!’ he replied.
Here's the rug after we unwrapped it. The folds came out easily.
I took this picture on the day after settlement. It was December 2
and as you can see, my priority was decorating the Christmas tree rather than furnishing the room!
And there's that chandelier again!
The sitting room with the furniture in place.
When my credit card bill arrived later that month, the first thing I did was to check the amount I’d paid for the rug. It was exactly as specified. No extras, taxes or customs duty.
Lesson learnt: There are still people left in the world you can trust.
Cody gives the rug his seal of approval.
Postscript: Not long after I purchased my rug, the Australian Government decided to introduce GST for overseas internet purchases under $1000. I’d bought the rug just in time.
And some good news – our trusty electrician solved the blackout problem – it turned out that rats (we like to call them native mice) had gnawed through the insulation around an electrical wire running under the house to the garage. The faulty wire has now been replaced and there are no more blackouts.
NEXT TIME: The Inside Story Part 2: Pillow Talk
24 July 2018
Home in the Highlands
LIFE AT ‘WHITE GABLES’
After a long, dry summer, I was eagerly anticipating the arrival of autumn, but as March merged into April, the record heat wave continued unabated. Finally, at the end of April, temperatures began to drop and we even had some rain. Great, I thought to myself, autumn is here at last.
But where were the autumn colours? And why were my fruit trees still green and leafy when only a kilometre away in the main street, the deciduous trees lining the footpaths were boasting glorious autumnal hues? Had autumn decided to bypass White Gables altogether?
I happened to mention my conundrum to a gardening friend who lives nearby, and her explanation was so obvious I couldn’t believe I hadn't thought of it myself. White Gables is sheltered by a ridge on the coastal side of town – that means the temperature is a degree or two warmer and consequently autumn arrives a few weeks late.
When the much-anticipated season finally reached White Gables, it didn’t just sneak in like a tardy guest ashamed of arriving late. Instead, autumn made a grand entrance, transforming the garden into a mass of colour almost overnight. Suddenly the trees glowed yellow and orange. Rose bushes burst into flower after months of inactivity. Sasanqua camellias, inconspicuous during the summer, now produced a myriad of blooms. Even the poor rhododendrons, which had barely survived months of heat and drought, started to make flowers. Fortunately, they came to their senses and realised it was autumn not spring, and they had better stop flowering and conserve their energy, or they might not make it through the winter.
Pink carpet roses are repeat-flowering - just trim off dead roses but beware of the thorns!
Molly guarding the back door in the shade of the cherry tree.
Autumn is bulb planting time. I bought 100 daffodil bulbs from a lovely elderly gentleman at the local markets,
who was almost giving them away. After planting the bulbs under the pear trees
I began to regret I hadn't bought bluebell and hyacinth bulbs as well. Perhaps next year . . .
In the lavender garden the fragrant flower-heads turned a deep blue-purple, attracting a swarm of fat little bees which buzzed from flower to flower with such joyful enthusiasm that they barely noticed WGH* setting up his tripod and photographing them close-up.
Weeping cherry and lavender bushes at the kitchen door.
Above and below: Lavender and rose bouquets from the autumn garden at White Gables.
The quintessential autumn rose in close-up. Pic: WGH
In less than two weeks it will offically be winter. Although I'll miss the 'mellow fruitfulness' of autumn, the prospect of bare branches silhouetted against a cloudless sky, and early bulbs sprouting from the rich basalt soil makes me suspect that wintertime will produce its own particular magic.
Keats called autumn the 'season of mists and mellow fruitfulness' - he was right!
*WGH = World’s Greatest Husband – it says so on his coffee mug.
17 May 2018
Read more about White Gables in my Home in the Highlands Blog below. Just scroll down for:
Finding the Dream House
The Secret Garden
A Tale of Two Chandeliers
Home in the Highlands
LIFE AT ‘WHITE GABLES’
A Tale of Two Chandeliers
All my life I’ve had a fondness for chandeliers – as a child I even had a miniature one in my dolls’ house! So, last spring, when I spotted the ad for White Gables online and read the description of the living room with a “vaulted ceiling showcasing an impressive glass chandelier to its best advantage”, my heart soared.
Then I browsed the images on the screen and couldn’t believe my eyes. The chandelier certainly made an impression, but not a positive one. If truth be told, it resembled a piñata exploding over a light fitting.
But apart from the chandelier, the house looked great – the quintessential Highlands home complete with wide verandahs and tall gables. I knew I just had to see the place for myself.
Fast forward to the inspection day . . .
By the time I had climbed the front steps to the wraparound verandah, I was already in love. At the door I gave the real estate agent my particulars and was ushered into the foyer. From there I entered the spacious living room where the aforesaid chandelier was hanging from the 18-foot (5.5 metres) ceiling.
‘What do you think of it?’ the agent asked conspiratorially when she caught me staring at the colourful light-fitting.
As I tried to come up with an answer that wouldn’t offend her, she continued:
‘If this was my house, it would be the first thing I’d replace.’
She was right, of course. On December 1, settlement day, we rang the local electrician but he couldn’t come till after New Year. For the next four weeks, whenever I walked past the chandelier I lowered my gaze. At Christmas I convinced myself it looked festive. But when I took pictures I lowered the camera so that it wasn’t in the shot.
I was at pains to explain to guests that the chandelier had come with the house. If anyone expressed the slightest interest in it, I would ask whether they’d like to have it. As a gift. But nobody wanted it. ‘It wouldn’t suit my house,’ they said diplomatically. Or: ‘It’s too big for my place.’
In the same way that I’d scoured the internet looking for the right house, I now sought the perfect chandelier. In the process I didn’t come across anything that remotely looked like ours. However, we did find ourselves an antique chandelier which was both simple and elegant, with just the right proportions for the room. When the electrician turned up to install it, I offered him the old one for nothing, but he politely declined. I wasn’t really surprised.
What I like about the new chandelier is its subtlety. It doesn’t grab your attention – it just fits comfortably in the room like a good friend.
What happened to the old chandelier? Well, it’s inside a crate in the garage, awaiting a trip to the recycling centre, where I’m hoping someone will take pity on it and give it a good home.
24 April 2018
Illustration: Deborah O'Brien
For years I’ve dreamt about living in the Southern Highlands of NSW, but I never actually believed the dream would come true. It was just a fantasy, fed by rest-stops in Bowral and Berrima on trips back and forth to our country cottage in the Tablelands. Then I discovered High Life magazine with its glossy real estate ads depicting grand mansions and enchanting country cottages. As I leafed through the pages, I would allow myself the guilty pleasure of imagining what it might be like to live in this magical world of English hedgerows, ridiculously green fields and quaint little villages. But it’s a long way between imagining and reality.
Last winter we were driving back to Sydney from the Tablelands when WGH* made a comment about looking for a place closer to home. Somewhere about an hour and a half from Sydney. A place our friends and family could easily visit in a day.
That night I started up my laptop and began exploring the Highlands online. Very soon, I was searching the real estate listings every day - Bowral, Mittagong, Moss Vale, Exeter, Bundanoon, Burrawang and Robertson.
It was weeks before we started looking in person, and it quickly became a regular Saturday excursion down the Hume Highway. Over the winter we inspected many properties, accumulating a pile of glossy brochures to prove it. For me, there were two essentials: a wraparound verandah and a rambling cottage garden, or the potential to create one. For WGH, the ‘must-have’ feature was a barn where he could do his woodworking, or the space to build one.
But we never seemed to find all of those elements in the one property and at the right price. As time passed, I began to wonder whether we would ever find our perfect match.
They say that true love happens when you least expect it. In our case, it presented itself one weekday morning when I was on the point of giving up the search. Out of habit I opened Domain and browsed through the listings. All of a sudden, there it was on the screen – the Dream House, complete with a wraparound verandah and almost an acre of grounds. It was perfect, except for the word ‘Auction’ below the photo.
My experience of auctions has been traumatic, to say the least. Two auctions, two disasters. The first involved our house being passed in a hundred thousand dollars below the reserve. The second, which took place more than a decade later, was equally bad in that only one bidder turned up. After that, I made a vow never to be involved in an auction again, either as a vendor or a purchaser.
Despite my vow, I convinced myself it wouldn’t hurt to turn up at the next ‘open for inspection’. Out of curiosity. Not as a serious prospect. Just as a comparable. That Saturday we arrived at the allotted time and parked outside. I knew the minute I walked through the gates and up the white gravel drive.
After we’d looked around for a while, the real estate agent appeared with her clipboard and asked me what I thought of the property.
‘I love it!’ I replied like a besotted teenager.
‘So we’ll see you at the auction then,’ she said with a smile.
‘I don’t do auctions,’ was my reply. ‘Too stressful. Not for you perhaps, but for the buyers and sellers.’
‘Oh, auctions can be stressful for us too,’ she said. ‘If they happen to go pear-shaped.’
‘Well, I’m sorry, but I won’t be there,’ I said with a sad sense of finality.
And I was true to my word.
On the Monday morning after the auction, I couldn't help checking to see what price the house had sold for. Instead of the words ‘SOLD’, I saw:
'FOR SALE BY PRIVATE TREATY'
OMG, the auction had gone pear-shaped. The house had been passed in and here it was back up for sale!
In the interests of not appearing too eager, we waited a few days. Then we made an offer which was duly accepted. Eight weeks later we moved into White Gables and the dream became a reality.
*WGH = World’s Greatest Husband – it says so on his coffee mug.
Deborah O'Brien, February 24, 2018