The Ultimate Heritage Restoration Project, On Remote Bruny Island

To get to Bruny Island, you take a 20-minute car ferry across the D’Entrecasteaux Channel from a small town called Kettering, 30-minutes south of Hobart. Once you’ve docked on the small island off the south coast of Tasmania, it takes another 30 minutes driving through rural back roads to reach the small farm property of John and Susan Wardle. In this remote location, on the northern tip of the island, you’ll find one of Australia’s most celebrated and awarded houses in recent memory.

Captain Kelly’s Cottage was first built in the 1840s for maritime explorer Captain James Kelly and his daughter. Over 175 years later, John Wardle and his expert team spent years carefully researching the history of this home, and have completed a truly magnificent restoration that has earned them accolades including Dezeen’s House Interior of the Year, and the 2018 RIBA Award for International Excellence from the Royal Institute of British Architects. Today, we take a tour.

Sally Tabart

Captain Kelly’s Cottage by John Wardle Architects was originally built for maritime explorer Captain James Kelly and his daughter in the 1840s. Photo – Trevor Mein.

Spliced between the original sections of the house is a refined, contemporary living room. Photo – Trevor Mein.

The walls, floor, and ceiling of the new living space was crafted entirely out of Tasmanian oak, and furniture items like a writing desk and coffee table were made out of leftover materials. Photo – Trevor Mein.

Dramatic panoramic views across the coastline of the north end of Bruny Island. Photo – Trevor Mein.

The original kitchen section of the home. Photo – Trevor Mein.

John Wardle and his team went to painstaking efforts to create a sympathetic restoration that reflected the historic cottage. The team installed an oven in the exact positioning where there was evidence of one originally. Photo – Trevor Mein.

Custom shelving and ceramics from John’s extensive collection. Photo – Trevor Mein.

Adjacent to Captain Kelly’s Cottage is the award-winning Shearers Quarters, another dwelling built by John from 2008-2011.  Photo – Trevor Mein.

Looking toward the north-facing courtyard. The original verandah has been a major point of inspiration for the new intervention. Photo – Trevor Mein.

John sourced these tiles from Japan, the same that were originally commissioned by Frank Lloyd Wright for his Imperial Hotel in Tokyo.  Photo – Trevor Mein.

Windows of yellowing newspaper found underneath stripped back layers of paint have been left revealed in the original bedroom portion of the house. Photo – Trevor Mein.

The cottage seamlessly blends old with new. Photo – Trevor Mein.

Sally Tabart
17th of May 2019

A feat of both contemporary design and heritage restoration, Captain Kelly’s Cottage by John Wardle Architects is a 320-square-metre structure at the base of a small farm, perched atop the cliff’s edge overlooking the rugged Tasmanian coastline. A weatherboard cottage originally constructed in the 1840s (speculated to have been built by various ship hands during the whaling off-season), maritime explorer Captain James Kelly originally gifted this house to his daughter. Since then, the small cottage has seen many ‘unsympathetic alterations’ before the Wardle family purchased the land and property in 2002.

Over many years of meticulous research that included poring over detailed logbooks, original diaries and tracking through libraries, John slowly peeled back the history of the cottage to piece together the narrative of its original owners, and in 2016 embarked upon its latest alteration. The result is an exquisite example of design that simultaneously recalls a rich history of over 175 years, whilst also looking forward to a contemporary future.

The original cottage comprised two structures: bedrooms and kitchens, surrounded by a wide verandah. Retaining the integrity of these original parts, John and his expert team spliced in a new living area with its floors, walls and ceiling crafted entirely out of Tasmanian Oak, and custom furniture pieces such as a writing desk and coffee table were created out of the leftover materials. Portuguese fabric covers the cushions on the window seats looking out to a heartbreaking panaromic views, curtain textiles and ceramics from John’s extensive collection are from Japan, reflecting a modern day interpretation of possible discoveries from Captain James Kelly’s journeys across the seas.

Stepping over the threshold from the dramatic yet refined new living space into the old section of the cottage, housing the bedrooms, feels like stepping back in time. Painstakingly stripped-back layers of paint reveal the original wall colours, matched to precision by Dulux. In some parts original markings are revealed, and in others small windows of yellowed newspaper clippings are left visible, pulling visitors back into the cottage’s past.

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