GRANDEST DESIGN
Belle Magazine Australia|December/January 2022
French antiques and luxurious finishes underpin the magnificence of this stately country home profiled in Melissa Penfold’s new book, Living Well by Design.
JUDY PASCOE

A two-kilometre gravel drive through lush grounds with serried plantings of mature weeping willow and elm trees leads to one of the most spectacular country homes in Australia. Set in undulating farmland in the NSW Southern Highlands, Wollumbi Estate is now owned by corporate litigator Amanda Banton and her family, but it has passed through many hands since former prime minister Harold Holt held the title to the land. Fashion designer and entrepreneur Peter Weiss was châtelain for more than two decades, expanding what had been a “quaint” French provincial-style house and developing the land to include a vineyard and olive grove, as well as running prize Red Angus cattle.

This page A statement light fitting over the dining table serves as a focal point, not only of the room but also of the view from adjoining rooms. A c1750 French forged iron hexagonal pendant light with Gothic detailing hangs above a dark-stained timber table with scroll bracket feet. Upholstered club chair in shaded walnut finish and Swedish Louis XVI dining chair in polished timber. C1860 French repoussé brass-mounted cushion mirror. Rug from Cadrys. French doors throughout were restored. Opposite page The Boston ivy enveloping Wollumbi adds an extra layer of texture to the brick-clad house. Dry-stone walls and mature trees lend a sense of permanence to the property.

By the time Amanda took possession in 2016 the house was in need of an update. The cavernous rooms with their vaulted wooden ceilings, French doors, stone fireplaces and architraves had been a drawcard, along with the home’s secluded location and the substantial accommodation of seven bedrooms, but it was time for a fresh take.

“The aim was to use the bones of the house and renovate with restraint to maintain the authenticity of the early 1900s structure,” says Amanda. We wanted to showcase the wooden panelled ceilings and beams and the white plaster walls. Everything needed an overhaul but it had to be in keeping with the original aesthetic.”

It was a challenging project. All the internal fittings and fixtures were stripped out, the flooring replaced with European limestone downstairs and French oak boards upstairs. Wisteria and ivy that had broken through cracks in the walls had to be tamed, and waterproofing, rewiring and re-insulation undertaken.

This page In the dining area of the upstairs apartment, a c1900 French bronze seven-arm chandelier hangs above a c1720 patinated Spanish walnut slab table with walnut and hide-upholstered chairs. Opposite page, clockwise from top left C1940 Genovese iron and crystal chandelier in the sitting room above a contemporary slate coffee table on a forged iron base from The Country Trader. Mirror to the right is late 18th-century Italian giltwood. Restored stone fireplace. An occasional dining spot has a circular slate table on an interlocking leg base and Italian-style chairs with intricately carved back details.

“Every time we touched anything it required full restoration including bringing it up to comply with the building code,” says Amanda. It took two years “until we were totally satisfied”, and the old shell had welcomed a raft of modern accoutrements – including underfloor heating, audio-visual and wireless speakers, top-of-the line kitchen appliances and luxurious bathrooms.

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