Rosemarie & Ben
Fall in love with the colour and charisma of this month’s House Perv and its one-of-a-kind fine art and book collection. It all makes perfect sense when you get to know the owners – local media and literary legends Rosemarie Milsom and Ben Drzyzga.
The carefully planned renovations seamlessly blend old-world federation charm with contemporary comfort, giving this weatherboard gem stacks of sophistication and perv-worthy appeal.
IMAGES: Baydian Smith
Tell us a little about you and your family.
R: I am a journalist and founding director of the Newcastle Writers Festival. We are about to hold our seventh event in April and we celebrate 11 years in our home the same month.
My husband Ben is an editorial production coordinator with Nine (formerly Fairfax Media). We have two children, Jasper, 10, and Aurelia, 8. I have an older son from my first marriage, Isaac, 27, who moved into his own rental place last year.
Now onto your beautiful home - can you tell us anything of its history and its state when you first moved in?
R: We think the home was built by the Winn family – of Newcastle department store fame, which possibly explains why it is a much larger block in comparison to the neighbouring properties. We fell in love with the character of the house – the weatherboard, stain-glass windows, fireplaces, and ornate ceilings.
Before we moved to Newcastle from Sydney in 2008, we repainted the interior and put in new carpet. We thought the kitchen and bathroom could wait, but when mushrooms started sprouting around the vanity in the bathroom we hurried along and installed a new kitchen and bathroom.
Once I became a freelancer in 2015, the need for an office became a priority. To cut a long story short, the addition of an office then triggered a much larger renovation in late 2017 including a covered deck, replacement roofing and an extended studio space in our garage that Isaac was then living in. We re-painted and re-carpeted all of the bedrooms in 2018.
What are you happiest about renovation wise and do you have any reno tips for first timers?
R: Aside from extending to accommodate my office, we removed the entire back wall. We resisted this for so long because we had some beautiful sliding stain-glass windows that were a great feature. We have kept them and are still deciding what to do with them.
Beyond that we had an aging covered deck that needed repairing and was blocking a lot of light as well as the afternoon breeze.
Original plans for the renovation were very ambitious. We had our DA approved but the builder we were dealing with came back with a much higher quote than the one we had been discussing, so we scaled everything back and looked for a new builder.
Everyone always says it'll take more time and money than you expect when you renovate and that’s spot on. The smallest things can have a big flow-on effect. Getting your vision and budget to match is damn challenging.
There are so many decisions to make before and during the build that it can be overwhelming. You need to be patient, flexible and a touch mad especially if you continue to live – and work – in the house while the building is going on!
What or who are your key style inspirations?
R: Ben is obsessed with home make-over TV series and is very good at spatial concepts and design essentials. I know what I like and don’t like and I enjoy pulling a room together aesthetically. Colour and texture is important. And yes, Marie Kondo, the clutter gives me joy. A painting, even a small one, can lift a room and help create a mood. Objects can help make a space interesting and enticing - a nice vase, piece of pottery, a chair.
You have some amazing artwork, please tell us about your favourites.
R: I started collecting art when I was at university. It’s a myth that you have to spend a lot of money. I also enjoy visiting antique stores and I buy bits and pieces when travelling.
I have a lot of my brother Nigel Milsom’s work – from his student days through to a drawing he did late last year of Aurelia with her beloved dog Otto, who died in October.
I feel strongly about supporting local artists and have artwork by Sally Bourke, Michael Bell, the late Peter Speight, Anne-Maree Hunter, Una Rey and others. I don’t have a favourite piece, although a lino cut by Torres Strait Islander artist Glen Mackie is up there.
What do you love most about living in your house?
R: love the inherent character of the house – and that has nothing do to with us. The timber floors, windows, and ceilings. We don’t have any qualms about embracing the old.
I’m torn between our bedroom and my office as my favourite room. When we repainted and carpeted the interior last year, we gave our bedroom a makeover. I wanted a space that was grown-up and inviting. The addition of a ceiling fan has been a godsend this summer and it provided the timber element in the room. When I get the chance, I read on our bed and in winter when the afternoon sunlight filters through it is the perfect spot.
My office is amazing – simply because of the space I now have. It is 10 times bigger than what it was. I have room for my books and an extra-large desk.
Do you have any jobs that still need to be done? Future projects in the yard or indoors?
R: The front timber fence is next on our list and needs replacing but we've been putting that off. We'd also like to have our other Colorbond fences resprayed to match the new one. And after 11 years, a few fixtures in the bathroom and kitchen really need to be replaced. The yard is slowly recovering after being a work site for six months.
What do you enjoy about the location in Mayfield?
R: I grew up in Sydney and have lived all over the eastern, western and northern suburbs. I watched areas that were rundown in my childhood transform over time so I’ve never been snobby about parts of Newcastle. Some people thought we were crazy for buying in Mayfield but to me it had everything going for it – close to public transport, the Mater, TAFE, University of Newcastle, a public swimming pool, gyms, as well as all the services you need with small children. It’s close to the airport and it takes less than 15 minutes to get to the beach. Over time, friends have moved here and we love it even more.
Is it your forever home? If not where to next?
R: I can’t imagine moving any time soon because we’ve become so used to having space and this is where the kids have grown up – I was 37 weeks pregnant with Jasper when we moved in. Once the kids move out though that will probably change and we’d like to be closer to the beach. Given Isaac lived here well into his 20s we’re not anticipating that will happen for at least another decade.
Three words you would use to describe your home?
R: Colourful, light-filled and roomy.