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A fabulous modern farmhouse in the NSW Southern Highlands

Treasured Christmas rituals continue in this beautiful modern farmhouse in the New South Wales Southern Highlands.
Nicki Dobrzynski

Christmas at Louise Keats’ home will be bittersweet this year. The fabulous farmhouse in the NSW Southern Highlands will be filled with all of her favourite people on Earth: husband, children, parents, sister and her sister’s immediate tribe. Champagne corks will fly at kick-off, marking the start of the celebrations, while stockings will be filled with homemade nougat and tables will be piled with fruit mince pies and gingerbread. There will be glazed ham, cured gravlax and stuffed roast turkey with all the trimmings.

In the sun-drenched lounge room, a garland from West Elm adorns the mantel, while cushions and throws from Eadie Lifestyle evoke a holiday mood. The fireplace tells a story of provenance as the stone was salvaged from the site during excavation. “It gave us an opportunity to recycle,” explains Louise (top left with John, Charlotte and Harry). The floors are Massivo oak boards with a custom stain from Tongue N Groove and the walls are painted in Dulux Antique White USA Quarter. “I wanted it almost white, with just a soft tint,” says Louise. The presents are wrapped elegantly and simply with fabric that was sourced from Spotlight.

But this year also marks the family’s first Christmas since losing Louise’s grandmother, Margaret Fulton, the legendary Australian food writer and national treasure.

“She was custodian of all our Christmas traditions,” says Louise. “She always made sure we had crackers and wore our hats. And she made an amazing Christmas pudding with flaming brandy and homemade custard, studded with sixpence saved from her childhood in Scotland.”

There’s a lot of action in Louise and John’s kitchen. “We can have my mum, my sister, my husband and myself, all in the kitchen, all doing different things and no-one’s getting in anyone’s way,” says Louise. This is down to clever design choices, such as the two sets of ovens and two island benches. The central island, handmade in oak by Reid Brothers, is a highly functional work space. “When you’re cooking at the central island, you can face the people sitting at the other island,” explains Louise. “You can also be facing the lounge room and living room.”

Although her absence will weigh down heavily on the family, Margaret’s spirit will be felt in the Royal Copenhagen dinnerware on the table and the fizz of the champagne (always French). And, while Louise’s mother Suzanne is on pudding duty this year, it’s a safe bet whoever finds the sixpence will be thinking of Margaret as they make their wish. “It’s still really raw,” says Louise, “but Grandma’s old traditions will continue and they will be passed on to her great-grandchildren.”

“I feel like ceilings can really make a room. Unfortunately for our budget, I spent a lot of time on Pinterest and I started to fall in love with these ceilings.” ~ Louise

The second island, with its Super White Dolomite Marble benchtop, has seating on both sides. “We use it as a casual dining table,” she says. The stunning rangehood was custom-made by Rivendale Copper in brass and nickel. Underneath lies a Brodware pot filler – a genius addition for high-traffic areas.

This year’s celebrations will be the family’s second time hosting Christmas in their forever home, which they moved into in spring 2018. “Last year was really special, and now will always be remembered, because my grandma was there,” explains Louise. Fittingly, it was a full-scale affair. “The idea of throwing some prawns on the barbecue in a T-shirt and shorts at Christmas isn’t for us,” she says.

“The kitchen is definitely the heart of my home and it gets a major daily workout.” ~ Louise

Kitchen benchtops in Super White Dolomite Marble from Arciuli Stone.

There surely could be no better place to reinforce a family legacy than here. The home is a gracious new build with an age-old soul, sprawling across one level with north-facing windows and highland views for days. Louise describes her home as a “modern farmhouse” and it’s a magical marriage of sustainable architecture, timeworn materials, antiques, modern pieces and family heirlooms.

The display cabinets in the butler’s pantry are filled with gathered and treasured items. “All the copper was from my grandma – until now I didn’t have the storage space for them,” says Louise. “So now I get to have them on display and enjoy them.” The oak ladder was made by Reid Brothers. It can also be used in the kitchen, which has railings as well. The vintage device makes the most of the storage, which goes all the way up to the 3-metre-high ceilings. “I wanted cupboards that met the bulkheads or ceiling,” says Louise. “I didn’t want dust collectors.”

Louise and husband John bought their 40-hectare property five years ago with just a set of stables on it. Step one was to put a two- bedroom apartment on top of the stables, where they lived for two years. Then came their dream house on the hill.

Louise has filled her home with pieces that exhibit a sense of history, including a bench salvaged from an old church, and vintage poultry prints BED gifted from a close friend (find similar on Etsy). “A lot of pieces in my home are gifts or family pieces that have been handed down from my mum and grandma,” she says.

“I wanted a house I would love in 2019, but also 50 years from now – something that was both traditional and modern,” she says. Louise’s father is an architect and insisted on just two things: no box gutters (“a plumbing nightmare”) and a north-facing aspect to minimise the environmental footprint.

Muddy boots, hats and Driza-Bones are decamped in the mud room.

The expanse of north-facing windows means the play area is highly visible.”The kids can have a true free-range childhood,” she says. “I really encourage them to go outdoors, engage with nature.”

The kids’ bedrooms express the same style DNA as the rest of the home – dark stained oak floors from Tongue N Groove, V-groove walls in Dulux Antique White USA Quarter, the same beam ceiling and so many shades of white, grey and beige.

Not surprisingly, the family is often found convening in the kitchen. At Christmas, the messy business of cooking with kids reminds Louise of cooking with her grandma. “As a little girl, my job was to sit and stir the custard for the pudding,” she says.

Antique chest of drawers from Dirty Janes in the guest bedroom. Floors are Massivo oak boards with a custom stain from Tongue N Groove.

This year, the kitchen will again be packed with family, food and debate. “That’s what Christmas is about for us; taking time out of our hectic lives, rolling up our sleeves and spending countless hours cooking and eating. Together.”

With limestone surrounding the bath and shower (try CDK Stone), easy-clean grey porcelain tiles underfoot and handmade wall subway tiles from Surface Gallery, the Resene Ash paint colour on the bespoke bathroom joinery ties the elements beautifully together.

“For some people, it’s all about the cricket in the backyard or the pool, but for us, Christmas resolves around the kitchen and the dining table.” ~ Louise

Custom bathroom cabinetry painted in Resene Ash. Custom tapware from Brodware also hits the right note. “Tapware is either too modern or too twee. I wanted something in between,” says Louise. The bathmat, hand towel and bath towel in Ecru from Loom Towels are chic additions to the space, while the light fixtures from Robert Kitto are a picture of elegance.

“I like things to be modern but have a hint of tradition – it’s very hard to find fittings that fit the bill.” ~ Louise

The study is painted in Colorbond Monument.

“A lot of my finishes and fittings were custom. It drove my husband and builder crazy, but we got there in the end.”~ Louise

In the dining room, linen from Hale Mercantile Co. and a ‘Jingle Bell’ garland’ from West Elm dress the table (custom-made by Andrew Farquhar).

Doors are usually thrown open and the kids zoom between inside and out on their scooters – so far, the floors have held up. All-weather tumbled marble tiles from Marble Ceramic Corp extend from the front door and through the entry to the dining terrace, ensuring rain, mud and snow never become a problem. With the entire house, including the guest wing, stretching across the northern aspect, the scooters come in quite handy for the children to get around. “Friends with Apple watches say they always get their steps up when they visit,” says Louise.

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