INSIDE VICTORIAN COUPLE’S DESIGNER RETIREMENT RETREAT
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INSIDE VICTORIAN COUPLE’S DESIGNER RETIREMENT RETREAT

From faulty family villa to modern beach house.

By J.S Marcus
Thu, Feb 25, 2021 3:04amGrey Clock 4 min

Australian retirees William and Catherine Parsons have settled down in a frontline beach house on the country’s south coast, about a 90-minute drive from Melbourne.

They took the long way home.

Retirees Catherine and William Parsons demolished their previous family home before completing their new beach house in 2019.

Leon Schoots for The Wall Street Journal

Back in 1995, Mr. Parsons, now a 71-year-old retired airline pilot, and his wife, 57, a retired nurse, spent $258,000 on a 1/7th-acre lot on a windy bluff on the, leading to the Port of Melbourne.

Their original plan was to raise their two daughters in a new 371sqm villa, completed in 1998, but faulty construction, they said, culminated in the home’s demolition in 2016. That fiasco paved the way for a $2.1 million do-over with new architects and new builders.

For several years the family endured makeshift living arrangements, including homeschooling their children, now adults, during extended overland trips on four continents, or “road schooling,” as Ms Parsons likes to call it.

Finally, in the autumn of 2019, the couple moved into a new 353sqm, four-bedroom home.

A dark-hue kitchen offers a respite from sunny days on Australia’s southern coast.

Leon Schoots for The Wall Street Journal

The three-story house has a concrete-and-eucalyptus facade sealed against potentially heavy winds and corrosive salt spray. The second floor has a sheltered terrace and pool area accessible from the split-level open living and dining area that highlights ocean views.

The couple make the most of the site, says Mr Parsons, with the help of poured-concrete walls and double-glaze windows. “We’re extremely exposed,” he says, “but the new house is rock solid. With the doors and windows closed, we can just hear the ocean. When they’re open, it’s like a train going past.”

Known for ideal surfing and hang-gliding conditions, the couple’s stretch of peninsula is a dunescape. They went for a wild look with $71,000 in landscaping, opting for low-maintenance indigenous species and a naturally planted roof garden.

The couple worked with Auhaus Architecture, a Melbourne studio specialising in upscale single-family homes. Kate Fitzpatrick, an Auhaus principal, estimates it costs an extra $160,000 to $200,000 to build on their site rather than on a sheltered inland lot. Benjamin Stibbard, her fellow Auhaus principal, says that the peninsula’s predominant southern winds, blowing most days off the ocean, can cause “rain that is horizontal,” adding that the house is “as waterproof as a bathtub.”

The peninsula can also have hot sunny spells in January and February, with temperatures well over 100 degrees. The couple spent $412,000 on concrete, and their double-thick walls help keep the house cool in summer and warm in winter.

The main section of the house includes a top-floor master suite and lower-level granny flat, while an adjoining single-storey wing, separated from the rest of the house by the $79,000 pool area and reached by a first-floor corridor, has bedrooms for their visiting daughters, as well as a music room and a yoga deck.

The shower in the master bath has a skylight.

Leon Schoots for The Wall Street Journal

To navigate the main portion of the house, the couple spent $52,000 on an elevator—an upgrade, jokes Ms Parsons, of the previous home’s dumbwaiter. But their major splurge, they say, was a spiral staircase.

“I have always had a thing for staircases,” says Ms Parsons of the $87,000 set of stairs, which has a looming sculptural presence when viewed from the pool and terrace.

The interior of the home tends to rely on dark elements, including eucalyptus panelling, but the staircase itself is painted gleaming white—at her architects’ suggestion, says Ms Parsons.

She might have opted for the original battered-silver of the unpainted steel, she says, but the white, she decided, “looks elegant.” On the whole, it “takes away the brutality” of the bare concrete walls that show traces of the wood forms used to shape them on site.

The kitchen has a hushed quality due to blue-green Japanese tiles, which give the back wall a dark iridescence. Left over from the master bathroom, one of four in the home, the single-glaze tiles were a last-minute substitute for a continuation of the veined white marble used for a countertop.

“The sun can be glaring in summer,” says Ms Parsons, “but there is something so lovely and soothing about looking at the kitchen—it’s like looking into a rock pool.”

One of two bedrooms reserved for the couple’s adult daughters.

Leon Schoots for The Wall Street Journal

The kitchen cost nearly $111,000, with $46,000 spent on a suite of American appliances from Wolf and Sub-Zero.

The staircase led to a second splurge: the placement of an antique piano that Mr Parsons inherited from his grandparents. Too big for the winding stairs, it was moved into the children’s wing with a crane while the house was still under construction.

“It was our first piece of furniture,” says Mr Parsons of the 19th-century upright, made in Dresden, Germany. Mr Parsons plays mainly classical music, while his daughters when visiting from college, may join in on the flute, guitar or ukulele. The plentiful concrete boosts the acoustics.

Settled into their new home at last, the couple have an easier time visiting nearby fellow retirees: Mr Parsons’ parents. “My father is 102 and my mother is 100,” he says, “and they’re still going strong.”

The exposed lot provides rousing ocean views but also exposes the home to harsh conditions.

Leon Schoots for The Wall Street Journal



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Property values have experienced strong growth around the country, but there are two highly desirable areas where oversupply is putting downward pressure on sales

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While property values are rising strongly in most markets across Australia, it’s a vastly different story in Victoria and Tasmania, new data from CoreLogic shows. Over the 12 months to May 31, the median house price lifted just 1.8 percent in Melbourne and fell 0.6 percent in regional Victoria. The median dipped 0.1 percent in Hobart and ticked 0.4 percent higher in regional Tasmania. This is in stark contrast to Perth, where values are up 22 percent, and regional Western Australia, up 14.8 percent; as well as Brisbane, up 16.3 percent, and regional Queensland, up 11.8 percent.

CoreLogic Head of Research, Eliza Owen says an oversupply of homes for sale has weakened prices in Victoria and Tasmania, creating buyers’ markets.

On the supply side, there has been more of a build-up in new listings than usual across Victoria, even where home value performance has been relatively soft,” Ms Owen said. Victoria has also had more dwellings completed than any other state and territory in the past 10 years, keeping a lid on price growth. The additional choice in stock means vendors have to bring down their price expectations, and that brings values down.”

Melbourne dwelling values are now four percent below their record high and Hobart dwelling values are 11.5 percent below their record high. Both records were set more than two years ago in March 2022. The oversupply has also affected how long it takes to sell a property. The median days on market is currently 36 in Melbourne and 45 in Hobart compared to a combined capitals median of 27. It takes 55 days to sell in regional Victoria and 64 days in regional Tasmania compared to a combined regional median of 42 days.

Changes in population patterns have also contributed to higher numbers of homes for sale in recent years. Since COVID began in early 2020, thousands of families have left Melbourne because working from home meant they could buy a bigger property in more affordable areas. While many relocated to regional Victoria, a significant proportion left the state altogether, with South-East Queensland a favoured destination. Meantime, Tasmania’s surge in interstate migration during FY21 was short-lived. Data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics shows the island state has recorded a net loss of residents to other states and territories every quarter since June 2022.

Record overseas migration has more than offset interstate migration losses, thereby keeping Victoria’s and Tasmania’s populations growing. However, the impact of migrants on housing is largely seen in the rental market, so this segment of population gain has done little to support values. Growth in weekly rents has been far stronger than growth in home values over the past year, with rents up 9 percent in Melbourne and 4.8 percent in regional Victoria, and up 1 percent in Hobart and 2.7 percent in regional Tasmania.

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