Sunroom pavilion slated for harbourside Hemmes Vaucluse mansion The Hermitage

Sunroom pavilion slated for harbourside Hemmes Vaucluse mansion The Hermitage
Sunroom pavilion slated for harbourside Hemmes Vaucluse mansion The Hermitage

Hotelier Justin Hemmes wants to have more sunlight in his heritage harbourside Vaucluse home, The Hermitage.

The Hermitage, one of the earliest mansions in Sydney's east, is of the Victorian Rustic Gothic style, built in an era when the curtains were drawn.

The latest proposal by architects Hess Hoen for Hemmes is for a $260,0000 sunroom pavilion designed to be sympathetic to the overall style of the home which for many decades made do with an enclosed verandah space.

The 35 sq m space "enables the sunroom extension to be read as a separate pavilion in the garden," the recent application to Woollahra Council advises. 

Since taking ownership in 1975, the Hemmes’ family have not made any major changes, their impact mainly consisting of the re-decoration of interior spaces.

It was in 2011 when Justin Hemmes, the chief executive officer of the Merivale hospitality group, moved back into his family home, where he had previously lived with his parents, Merivale and the late John Hemmes, and his sister Bettina.

In 2012 there were some $750,000 in renovations with Hemmes telling Vogue he favoured a relaxed, individual approach.

Hemmes’ overall vision was to preserve the building’s integrity but begin to open it up to allow light and an organic flow through the 7000-square-metre space.

“A home is a very personal thing; it should be a reflection of how you like to live and what makes you feel comfortable,” he said.

“It’s not a project that has to excite; 
it’s about finding your own relaxation and pleasure.”

The Hermitage is a very significant property known for its association with some of Sydney's most influential retailing dynasties including the colonial jeweller Alexander Dick, the McCathie haberdashery family, Victor Boyce of Palm Island Fashions, Theo Kelly of Woolworths and most recently, the Hemmes family of Merivale and Mr John fame.

The house, now set on 4978 sq m, was almost destroyed by fire in 1936, iignited by embers from an attempted back burn in the nearby gully area on the Hermitage Reserve.

Almost all of it was rebuilt in 1937, with architect Emil Sodersteen’s careful attention to detailing ensuring that the replacement "only evident on the closest inspection."

The main house was constructed of solid sandstone blocks with a terracotta Marseilles pattern tiled roof. Its 1965 wing is clad in sandstone veneer and has matching green terracotta tiles.

The interior of the main house is dominated by the imposing cedar-paneled entrance hall and main stair with a gallery extending around the hall at the upper level.

"This baronial quality is carried through into what was once the billiard room and is now the main family living room and then into the formal dining room," the heritage report noted.

"One of the most notable characteristics of the house is that although it has undergone so many layers of change it still ‘reads’ as a substantially intact yet distinctively personal family home," it noted.

This article first appeared in the Sunday Telegraph.

Vaucluse Justin Hemmes


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