"Johnny and Ann want to transform a 19th Century stables and pickers cottages, in the wine region of McLaren Vale, into their new home. With a Christmas deadline, the pressure is on to restore the derelict buildings."
John and Ann Baker are retired mathematicians. There might have been one "they crunched the numbers" in the show, but the lost punning opportunities make it clear they need some new writers. Stuart Harrison sounds like he writes his own lines as well, or makes them up on the spot, but he is nothing like Kevin McLeod's erudite mix of aesthetic prose and pop psychology. He sounds like he is trying, but apart from a strained attempt to instill drama by raising the usual specters of time, money, weather and council heritage regulators, he doesn't add much to the story. Mind, he does take credit for the discovering a view and the black-painted beams.
The restoration is a stables and cottage, opposite the Tatachilla Winery, which was established by a prominent local entrepreneur John George Kelly, who was the son of Dr. Alexander Charles Kelly, "renowned pioneer of viticulture in Australia". The original property took up one of the standard square mile sections in the Tatachilla distract of McLaren Vale South Australia. Later subdivision and collapse of a former winery company has left the stables and cottage on a smallish block.
Mathematician John claims the cottage was built in 1855 and the stables dates from 1865 or 70. The 1997 heritage study by McDougall and Vines (no relation), is clear that it was established in 1887, although in one place it says 1867. It provides details of the cottages and stables under ID No: 348:
"The English exporting firm Stephen Smith and Company purchased the winery in 1911 and built the cellar block which was completed by 1913. The number of horses needed to work such a large area of vineyard necessitated the large stable and shed complex which included a stallion house for isolating individual horses."
Elsewhere we discover it was only in 1903 that Kelly constructed a galvanised iron winery on the property. There are scattered remnants of the once extensive complex - with the stables and cottages possibly visible on the right of these photos. although the stables might be missing.
Without being specific about construction date there are references to the large number of horses in the early 20th century and the vet who treated them, the families occupying the cottages in the 1920s and 30s, and the "up to twenty-five men [who] could be accommodated in bunk-house conditions".
The wider context is quite interesting, with the managers house also surviing along with a bunch of 20th century production buildings.
So, from what information is available, and looking at the buildings, (and in particular the light weight timber roof framing that gets Harrison all in a tiz), they look early 20th century, so the 1855 etc. dates are probably just imagination. This view suggests the stables might even be 1920s.
The heritage listing says the "external form, materials and detailing...should be retained and conserved as required. Any adaptation which is undertaken of the buildings to adapt them to new uses should ensure to retain as much original fabric as possible"
The Bakers say they wanted to preserve their historic integrity, and they will try to keep as much as they can. So far so good. When we come to site, in what seems never ending scenic vineyard introduction and establishment shots, the cottages have already been de-roofed, gutted and lean-tos stripped away. The stables are mostly intact, although the stalls are long gone. It looks like someone has already had a go at doing something, but didn't get very far.
So the works commence. The next time Harrison arrives, he has missed most of the restoration part at the cottages worksite. The cottages have new concrete floors, new framing is up. Steel roof is on, and the chimneys look like they have been repointed. From here on it is going to be fit-out and selecting lighting and bathroom fittings. Someone decided the new external walls would be corrugated iron, but we never learn who or why, or if the missing bits were cgi originally or not. The Heritage Study shows what it was like, so it might have been nice to give some acknowledgement both to the recording of heritage values, and the benefit of following research and conservation principles to come up with a meaningful restoration.
The reddish brown trim starts to appear, looks nice, but was this based on some existing fragment, or a personal taste? We are not told.
There is a proud announcement that the stable bricks might be sandblasted, but Stuart the architect, who should know better, keeps mum. The brick floor that they loved so much is ripped up and concrete poured around all the new drains and pipes. This appears to be about damp and cost, but it is not explained very well. A new floating timber floor is put on top, so why did the bricks need ripping up?
A nice National Trust lady takes them to a quarry to show how to use water and soda to clean slate, and the slate floor in the cottage appears restored sometime later, but no idea if it was lifted and relaid to deal with the same damp problems the bricks were sacrificed for.
They all head off to the nearby Shingleback Winery to get inspiration. This one has brick and slate floors, rusty roofing iron exposed inside, and a rustic shed aesthetic, but still made into liveable spaces.
So by the end, what are we left with? The cottages are reclad, painted and fitted out with mod-cons (Harrison hates the string of colour-change LED's that are really one of the few personal touches). At least the trusses are one surviving shabby chic element. The stables has a new roof, although the trusses again stay in view. The rest is art gallery white plasterboard and floating polished timber floors with 'mini orb' ceiling lining . All very up-to-date minimalist, but with some rustic recycled industrial objet d'art light fittings made out of bits form the farm to give it a heritagey feel. The big sliding doors are gone, they copied the trick of pulling out every second louver to let some more light in, and there is a raised recycled brick thing in the middle to reference the sacrificed stable floor. One 'feature wall' has been left rustic. I spied a scarf joint in the trusses that Chris from Episode 4 would have loved.
I see ABC iview has the program listed under 'lifestyle' now - sure it was a 'documentary' a couple of weeks ago. The restoration label is again barely earned on this project.
The cottages are now 'luxury accommodation', which opened in 2017 with a bit of heritage PR: "Gone are the chaff or straw mattresses replaced with luxurious king-size beds, but we do provide the makings for a hearty breakfast together with a local wine and cheese platter on arrival"
The last unanswered question is who is going to fix up the Tatachilla winery across the road.