Celebrity Homes

Inside Neale Whitaker’s idyllic country cottage he now calls home

Television personality and style aficionado Neale Whitaker and his partner David Novak-Piper have created a home filled with art, stories and bonhomie on the NSW south coast.

For 10 years, television personality Neale Whitaker and his partner David Novak-Piper enjoyed holidaying on the NSW south coast, drawn to the wondrous landscape of escarpments and rolling hills where bush meets beach.

With every visit to their beloved favourite patch – a lush valley near the village of Berry, two hours’ drive south of Sydney – they felt a deeper connection to the place and a stronger pull on the heart strings.

At first, they had merely fantasised about swapping their city digs for a country home. But as time went on, it became a constant conversation until one day a few years ago when they reasoned that a tree change felt like the most natural next chapter of their lives.

“We told a couple of local estate agents that if a suitable house ever came up we’d be interested – but we were very specific about the location,” says Neale. “We had it narrowed down to just one road. Not surprisingly, there was very little available, but eventually the stars and planets aligned. The right property came up at the right price, in the right location, and we jumped at it.”

They made the purchase in mid-2018.

The four-bedroom brick cottage, built in the 1930s, is a classic farmhouse with a wraparound verandah and wide eaves. Sitting on a one-hectare parcel of land amid verdant paddocks dotted with dairy cows, it’s the picture of bucolic bliss.

In one direction, it looks out to the densely-covered Woodhill Mountain and in another towards a dramatic escarpment that glows at sunset. It is also a mere 10 minutes’ drive from famed Seven Mile Beach.

The cottage had seen its fair share of add-ons over the years, so by the time Neale and David moved in it was “a bit of a patchwork quilt. But that simply added to its charm,” says Neale.

While the structure was sound and the floor plan generally liveable, all the interiors needed to be updated. Neale and David decided to pursue a staged renovation as budget and time allowed. Their first priority was to overhaul the kitchen: “It was a large room with cabinetry extending around the perimeter. It didn’t invite people in, and it wasn’t connected to the rest of the house,” says Neale.

Working with the footprint of the old kitchen and dining space combined, they redesigned the layout with a focus on making it a social zone. Key to this was the installation of a big island bench in the centre – with a sink and an induction cooktop – to allow the chef of the house (David) to interact with guests while cooking.

The new layout also includes a nib wall that supports a freestanding cooker, drawers and display shelving while concealing a butler’s pantry. As well, the removal of an internal wall helped to create an L-shaped open-plan living/dining area that now connects directly with the kitchen.

In the rest of the house the focus has been on cosmetic changes and the couple’s knack for redecorating is evident throughout. So far, they have tackled the living spaces, two guestrooms, a study and the master bedroom where they added VJ panelling and painted the walls Dulux Pale Sage, “a gentle, restful colour that brings the outside in”, says Neale.

Every room is impeccably curated, featuring artful arrangements, exquisite collections and freshly-picked blooms from the garden. The vibe is refined yet relaxed, and there are elements of playfulness and surprise thrown in. This is a home filled with personal expression, where the inhabitants take delight in finessing and getting the touches just right.

“All the art and furniture that we had in our very contemporary city apartment has travelled down here with us, and it works perfectly,” says Neale. There is a mix of old and new, with David’s family heirloom furniture and vintage finds sitting alongside slick designer pieces. The effect is layered and interesting.

“There was no desire to create a typical country-style interior,” says Neale. “We love to mix a variety of styles and that’s what we’ve always done. Neither David nor I like sticking to any decorating rules.”

Art has a huge presence in the home. It’s everywhere – and it means everything to Neale and David. “We believe our home should reflect our personalities and our life together,” says Neale. “Every artwork on our walls has significance to us individually or as a couple. Many have been bought on our travels overseas, others have been sourced from around Australia. Some even travelled to Australia with me from the UK when I moved here more than 20 years ago. Our art collection is growing all the time!”

Neale and David have made sympathetic changes to the home’s exterior, too, including tiling the verandah and adding a new railing.

“We wanted these new elements to look like they had always been here,” says Neale. “The railing is of course totally traditional in style and based on others locally. And the tiles are contemporary but they tie in with a traditional aesthetic.”

Hugging the home in every direction are layers of greenery, the handiwork of David who calls it his “Covid garden” because most of it was planted during 2020. He has focused on bee-attracting, flowering classics – hydrangeas, gardenias, lavender, roses, frangipani – along with white-flowering crepe myrtles and a variety of maples.

The foliage comes right up to the house with white-flowering wisteria draping from the eaves of the verandah.

Neale and David share this piece of paradise with their family of four dogs and an old horse called Bill, who they inherited with the property. The animals, like their humans, are thoroughly content. Life here is full of everyday and unexpected joys.

“All the clichés are absolutely true,” says Neale. “There’s something special about falling asleep to the sound of cicadas and frogs, and waking up to the chortling of birds. We love the rhythm and passage of the seasons, and seeing the ever-changing light and colours of the escarpment. And the amazing people we’ve met here – there is a real sense of community.”

Photography by: Rachael Tagg.

 

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