Like a caterpillar’s metamorphosis into a butterfly, Claremont has undergone the most extraordinary transformation during its renovation by Emma Dowling and Craig Johnson.
Craig and Emma bought Claremont in 2007 and two years and incalculable hours later, the origins of this gracious lady shine in a perfect marriage of heritage and modernism. The origins of Claremont are a bit clouded with the estimated build date 1896 by Bill Willcox. It has been home to Fred and Lucy Gould, who donated 350 works to the Toowoomba Regional Art Gallery, and has links to the Ray White family, founder of the eponymously named real estate company. Incarnations over time as a dental surgery, returned servicemen’s lodge and flats left a mish mash of clashing architectural additions. Despite the aluminium window frames and a rabbit warren dressed in lino, burgundy, mustard and cream, what Claremont could not hide was her lovely bones – bay windows, high ceilings and graciously large rooms.
The renovation began with stripping back all the additions to get to the original house and its inherent functionality. This done, a new kitchen and family room were added where a back porch was once positioned. The ceiling’s sloping roof, which defines that this is not a modern home, is a nod to this home’s heritage. Everything in Claremont works without imposing on the era of the house – the fireplaces can be lit, airconditioning is ducted through the floor to preserve the pressed metal ceilings, the sound system is unobtrusively integrated throughout and even the fridge disappears so that modern stainless steel does not overwhelm the kitchen. Despite the rather grand front façade, this is a family house comprising four ensuited bedrooms with a formal living and dining area defined by gorgeous Designers Guild wallpaper, classic chandeliers and custom made furniture. Throughout, there are warm honey coloured timber floors, VJ walls and vintage minimalism with modern comforts. Emma’s sister, Rebecca, and husband Andrew and their young family now reside in the airy and light home.
“This is definitely a family home, a beautiful place to live and privilege to look after,” she says. A simply beautiful landscaped garden also combines the formality of the past with the more casual needs of today. The front garden is symmetrical (under which two 90,000 litre rain water tanks hide), and the private back area is an idyllic play area with a magnificent celtus tree to climb and a chicken run for fresh eggs. There is even a self-contained office or granny flat. The intention was always, that once restored to her former glory, Claremont would be shared with the Toowoomba community. Both garden and house have been opened for the Carnival of Flowers and Zonta respectively. The house has been cleverly planned so that the front bedroom and living areas can operate as a bed and breakfast to further extend the experience for out-of-town visitors. Unfortunately for the current residents, though fortunately for the next family, this gorgeous home is set to be sold.
Words by Janet Kieseker | Images by Andrew Coates