For the past 10 years a couple from Sydney have been working tirelessly during many of their weekends to create their dream home and business on a 100-acre property called Valle Laguna, just outside of Wollombi.
Kylie Gemmell and Trent Glass are now making the transition from city slickers to rural residents, slowly realising their long-term dream.
“I wanted it to be a farm house, you can walk in here with your boots on and no one is going to cry. I wanted to be able to live in it and spend my time in it. I have a joke: there will be absolutely no dried flowers and terracotta ducks,” Gemmell says of her new home.
It’s not your average farm house. Everything feels airy and modern when you walk through their home, with the exception of a restored folly stove that came from her grandparents.
“We’ve broken the mold. These places are not what people think of when they think of going to the country,” Gemmell says of her home and the villas.
Simple and deliberate, her four-bedroom house overlooks a hidden valley. Tall windows span across the entire north-facing side of the house, bringing in great natural light and warmth during winter. The kitchen, dining room and lounge are combined in an open plan, and no matter where you are, you can enjoy the view and watch the wildlife. Even in their bathroom, the shower faces out onto the pastures, so that, no matter where Gemmell is in the house, she’s able to see her horses.
At first their plan was to buy a place and renovate it, but they couldn’t find a property that they liked enough. The two had been looking at lots of places south of Sydney, but then one day they decided to head north. They came down the driveway to what is now their home and looked first at the view and then each other and said ‘that’s it.”
“The heart is here and the money is in Sydney. And the money pays for what the heart wants,” Gemmell says of the ongoing effort she and Trent have put into their decade-long dream.
“We wanted to buy a property; we recognised if we were going to retire here, we needed another revenue stream,” Gemmell says.
Along with their home the two have built two, two-bedroom villas in a similar, smaller style to their home, where guests now regularly stay.
With Glass’s engineering background, he and Gemmell planned and built the house and villas with a passive solar design. The buildings are well-designed for the area; Laguna and the surrounding region often reaches mid 40s in summer and below zero in winter. Among other things, a passive solar design means that the structures collect, store and distribute solar energy during the winter and reject it in summer.
They focused on every detail to make the place both beautiful and efficient. Gemmell says, because of the house and villas’ orientation, the sun rises and heats the concrete throughout the day during the winter days.
The floors are made of polished concrete which forms a thermal mass, regulating internal temperatures throughout the year. She said the concrete was poured directly onto the earth, and the ground is used as a temperature gauge. The kitchen bench is made of polished concrete leftover from the pour.
“In summer the sun comes right up over the house. We have extra wide eaves on the outside; these are great for water collection, and the walls of the house are constantly in shadow,” she says.
They collect water off all their rooftops on the property and have never run out, a testament to Glass’s careful calculations.
They built all three structures at the same time. Glass took 18 months off from his day job in order to work on it full-time. All made of steel, concrete and glass, the buildings’ lack of timber makes the homes practically immune to bushfires.
“We involved the council right through the whole planning process and they were fantastic. They’re doing their job. We didn’t have any trouble,” Gemmell says.
They have chickens, cows, Gemmell’s beloved horses and a vegetable garden. They have more landscaping and gardening they want to complete. Their property also has walking trails they both regularly enjoy.
It’s barely been two months since Gemmell started making the transition to living in Laguna full-time after years of weekends.
“I have been blown away by the sense of community and the artistic people. The art shows, the theatre productions, the markets, people making jams, that’s what really amazed me,” Gemmell says of the area. “People just driving through wouldn’t get a sense of what’s here.”