Tucked behind a high fence on Ray Street in Invermay, a grand old home has been both returned to its former glory and pushed forward as a site of sustainable thinking.
Built in 1875, “Ellerslie House” was only the third residence to appear in the area and was built by Daniel Room – who also constructed the historic “Mayfield House”, which was next door at the time.
It is believed Ellerslie was built for Room’s granddaughter, Rachel.
Jennifer Lavers and Andrew Fidler purchased the property “in terrible condition” around five years ago and have been working with Mr Fidler’s uncle on the building, and the half-acre it stands on, ever since.
“The home had been largely abandoned and boarded up for 70 years,” Ms Lavers said.
“The 0.5 acre garden is now home to >200 native trees, including numerous endangered species.”
Some of the painstaking work has involved cleaning up the original floor boards – largely protected by the elements and foot traffic for their recent history – and all five of the hearths.
No small detail has been spared either: original door handles and push plates have been restored, along with the hand-crafted brass pulls used to open the large west-facing windows.
One of the first things Ms Lavers did was to carefully pry them all off, before sitting in front of the TV each night with lemon and vinegar to scrub the layers of lead paint off the metal.
“We put them all back. Each one is just a little bit different because they’re all hand made – it’s amazing,” she said.
Shingles from the damaged slate roof were re-purposed to sheet the exterior of the old servant’s quarters and tile the bathroom.
A tree removed from a neighbouring property has also been used to create a number of surfaces around the home.
“We tried to reuse, recycle, and reclaim things wherever we could, and also keep the original features,” Ms Lavers said.
Ms Lavers was originally concerned the seemingly mismatched door handles and push-plates may have been replaced separately over the years, though an informal visit from a friend with heritage experience suggested otherwise.
“It signifies what the room was used for,” she said. “Black and timber: it means this was the men’s room.
“The women’s room has much more frilly, fancy, ornate stuff.”
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The Ray Street facing portion of the yard now includes a sprawling edible garden – featuring everything from hops to fruit trees, vegetables and herbs – with the Room Avenue side of the house filled with up to 200 native plants.
Ms Lavers, a biologist at UTAS’ Institute for Marine and Antarctic Studies, has even been carrying out some studies of her own in the lush yard.
“Every month I have this particular contraption I set up … and it collects data on flying insect diversity and abundance,” she said.
“It’s basically testing whether or not you can re-vegetate small areas of land in the middle of the city with native species and basically bring back life.”
“So we’ve got four years worth of data now and in another couple of years I’ll start analysing that data.”
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