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Cambria, 1890

Cambria, 1890

Story and Photograph by Emmjay

Anyone familiar with the plethora of antique ‘auction’ shows on TV will be aware that many people in the west have long held a fascination for things Chinese, Japanese or more broadly ‘oriental’.  And this fascination has found its expression in collections of pottery, ceramic sculpture, carved jade and ivory, scrolls, photography, calligraphy and other paintings.

And so it happened in the long running renovation of the family home – a Victorian Italianate grand terrace (I hesitate to call the pile a “mansion” – it lacks the massive number of rooms expected in the title, although the abode has generous proportions typical of middle class Australia urban homes in the period before the 1890 depression – that FM and I considered how we would decorate the renovated home.

“Cambria” – for she has a name – and always has had – was built in 1890 by one Richard Jones (no relation to the PA habitué, Emmjay).  Richard built the pile in 1890 just before the depression set in – when the poms turned off the credit so necessary to grow a fledgling nation.  Richard was an architect, allegedly responsible for the design of some of the lovely sandstone buildings in Bathurst including the police station and the courthouse.

Richard apparently went broke and sadly passed away in 1895, but he had the forethought to have signed the title over to his wife Elizabeth before his business failed and so the home stayed in the family despite his bankruptcy.  Elizabeth lived here alone until some time in the 1950s and when she died, having no heir, the property passed on to the State of NSW – who turned it into five flats in a boarding house – a half way house for prisoners who had served their time.  Needless to say this was not Cambria’s finest hour and many of the original features – like beautiful crenelated cornices were stripped and discarded.  And a lot of dodgy plumbing, electricals and kitchenette type facilities were built in.

The State decided to sell off the property in the late 1980s and some get rich quick developers of a Mediterranean extraction ripped out some of the offending structures and replaced them with trademark concrete everything including the staircase and the whole backyard – hoping for a quick sale.

FM bought the place in 1994 and set to work on what has been a labour of love – in two massive campaigns – then and now.  She was responsible for removing fibro lean-tos, restoring what could be saved of the façade (allowing for the now art deco door and bay windows on the ground floor), building a new kitchen / family room / laundry / third bathroom and for ripping up the third largest concrete lawn in the known universe.

FM studied horticulture and unaided, planted what is now the best inner city rainforest in Sydney.

Last year FM and Emmjay embarked on the the big bad new renovation – putting a civilised finish on the solid old bones, building in an attic with stairs up to the tower (Richard Jones was also an amateur astronomer who used to set up his telescope up there), arresting the rising damp – which is an enormously disruptive job involving the removal of skirting boards and plaster up to about four feet up the walls, injecting barrier compound and then rendering and replastering,, sealing and repainting) and fully replacing the leaky roof.  As many PA patrons must know, there has been so much paint applied to Cambria that the local vendors gave Emmjay a trade card, a permanent discount and free T-shirts.

So now, as the major jobs (with the exception of renovating bathroom 2 upstairs and the installation of a chunky 4.7kw of solar power – 20 panels) have been completed, small matters like what floor coverings, what soft furnishings and art works might best suit the house and the tastes of we occupants.

FM went off to the local community college and did a course on interior decorating and we have benefitted hugely from her experience and professional support and advice.  Some research suggested that Victorians (the era, not restricted to the state) were fond of things oriental and so we started to study contemporary Chinese, Japanese, Malay, Indonesian and Burmese interior design.

This has co-incided with me beginning to take a more serious interest in ~ and studying things Buddhist – especially as Buddhism is more conventionally understood and taught in the West.  In Inner West cyberia, we have a choice of studying and practising Tibetan, Thai and Japanese (Zen) traditions – or some of each.

We enrolled in a class for Chinese painting and calligraphy and enjoy the weekly sessions of having a go at making marks that are sometimes correct according to tradition and even more startling and rarely, actually pleasant in composition; for me, more by pure accident than intent, although FM exudes capability and artistic sensitivity.

Standing Buddha in lacquered bronze.

Standing Buddha in lacquered bronze.

We have been surprised and often delighted by how well some acquired Asian art fits in with the Victorian spaces and how well the house accepts FM’s long held Persian carpets and the newly acquired 3X4 metre ancient monsters now in the bedroom and the office.

And we have become the bane of local sellers of Asian furniture and art works.  Which brings me to the edge of the next story – Bruce, Odette and the Calligraphy Brush Pot.

to be continued soon….