1912 Fernhill 'display home' to feature in ABC series Restoration Australia

Embarking on a historically-sensitive renovation project is a tough task for anyone, but throw a TV crew and health issues into the mix and it gets even more complex.

Such was the case for Pieter and Nettie, whose family home 'Seacroft' in Fernhill, Wollongong, in NSW's Illawarra district, is the latest property to feature on the ABC's Restoration Australia program.

Described as Federation Queen Anne style, the weatherboard home provides an important insight into the development of Fernhill as a suburb.

"The real issue [of interest] to me was its relationship to Fernhill," Restoration Australia host Anthony Burke said.

"As far a we can tell it was the demonstration home on the block for a new subdivision [in Fernhill]."

Nettie and Pieter with show host Anthony Burke on Seacroft's verandah. Picture: Supplied

Nettie and Pieter with show host Anthony Burke on Seacroft's verandah. Picture: Supplied

The house represented the "aspirations" of the time, Mr Burke said, with features like the verandah and the big bay window harking back to what the "good life" was perceived as in 1912.

"There's something interesting about it being the premier house on the block," he said.

"Most of that era of house is gone, replaced with a 1960s suburban bungalow style."

Mr Burke said that the property's position on the Princes Highway presented both a challenge but also an opportunity to showcase the importance of heritage-sensitive restorations.

"Interestingly its a difficult build because it's on the Princess highway so its not going to have the bucolic hills - it really is in the suburban mix," he said.

"Having it there being conspicuous on the main street it sends a signal that these houses are out there and the more there are the better."

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In early 2019, newly retired Pieter and Nettie were looking to relocate from Cordeaux Heights to a flat property where they could remain even if any mobility issues arose at a later point, when they stumbled across the listing for Seacroft .

"We basically rocked up, we liked the property and we saw its potential, but I was a bit scared off by the heritage protection on it," Pieter said.

While they'd worked on small projects on their previous property, Pieter and Nettie were unsure of the difficulties a heritage-listing would present.

"So then we went and contacted the Wollongong Council heritage people and they confirmed that what we had planned was compatible with heritage," he added.

"That gave confidence [to proceed] and we basically started straight away."

Pieter and Nettie moved in earlier this year. Picture: Supplied

Pieter and Nettie moved in earlier this year. Picture: Supplied

Pieter said that he agreed to participate in the filming of the project out of a sense of "civic duty" and to give thanks for all the advice they had received from Wollongong Council's heritage experts.

"We saw it as an opportunity to give a plug back for Wollongong and the region," he said.

After securing local builder Eastbourne Builders - who also helped restore the heritage-listed Old Bulli Railway Guesthouse, occupied by Resin Brewing - Pieter and Nettie commenced the project, which involved restoring the heritage-listed component and adding an extension.

But in April 2019, a cancer diagnosis threw plans into disarray, with Pieter no longer able to manage the project.

Thankfully, son in law Dean was able to step in and supervise works, and with Pieter assisting from afar, the couple were able to move into the property in May this year.

Pieter is still receiving treatment and gave praise to the "fantastic" team of doctors and nurses who had been caring for him.

He said that his highlights of the restored house included the tall ceilings.

"I think the height is really nice, I'm a tall man and I like high internal spaces. We kept high ceilings in the extension and in one part it's a loft," he said.

Other highlights include a sunroom at the back of the house, "where you can sit and soak up the sun", and the cosy lounge room in the original part of the house.

Restoration Australia airs on Sundays at 7.40pm on ABC TV and ABC iview. The Seacroft episode will air on Sunday, October 24.

This story Heritage, health no barrier for couple in new Restoration Australia episode first appeared on Illawarra Mercury.