Homes of the Hunter: New Lambton bush retreat reflects a treasured life

Kathryn Connell lives a beautiful life in an extensively decorated home, burrowed in the bushy suburb of New Lambton.

For the last 35 years she’s enjoyed her well-loved and lived in home in the trees and by the creek. She and her husband, Geoff, bought the land and then built on it. She always remembers how old the house is because it’s the same age as her daughter, Charlotte. She moved in right before Charlotte was born, although she’d already had her son, Nicolas.

“It took about the nine months that I was pregnant to move in,” she says. “I can remember painting up the ladder at eight months pregnant before we had the stairs.”

She calls her husband the love of her life. Sadly, he passed away three years ago. She has heaps of family including three grandkids with a fourth on the way. All of her nieces and nephews have lived with her at at different times; she said it’s a rite of passage.

“It’s an open house to anyone who needs a haven,” she says.

Currently, her 20-year-old great nephew, Adam Montefiore, is living with her while he attends university. He’s a classical musician, so he and his friends keep the house filled with beautiful music.

She’s happy to be there and plans on staying.

“I still say it takes my breath away sometimes, the light [here]. It’s a different light coming through the trees, or after the rain, or a [seeing] flock of 20 lorikeets. While ever I can still walk up the stairs, I’ll stay here,” she says.

With the help of a builder, the Connells built the three-bedroom and three-bathroom home from a self-building kit. They flipped the house so that what is typically the front is the back, giving them better access and a view from the luscious deck and garden that leads down to the creek. The many windows, high ceilings, wood fire stove, hardwood floors and the surrounding flora give the spot a real treehouse vibe.

Connell doesn’t have any pets – she says she there is no need with all the possums and tawny frogmouths.

“Mormons come to the door and tell me it looks like a hunting lodge,” she jokes.

The home hosts a range of interesting, beautiful and bittersweet memories. Connell’s mother, Joy Cummings, was the first female Lord Mayor of Newcastle. Cummings first owned what is now Connell’s treasured Witches’ Sabbath painting by Charles Blackman (the revered Australian artist died in August).

For Geoff’s 40th birthday he received three separate paintings of each his wife, son and daughter, by local artist Gail Johns.

Geoff had many jobs, including teaching, and he travelled and worked in many different places in the Asia Pacific. Before he met Kathryn, he lived in Indonesia for five years, and the wall behind the large refectory dining table in the home is dedicated to Indonesian art, including Batik textiles.

Her lounge features glasswork pieces by master glassblower Julio Santos. The carpets and throws come from Mumbai and Istanbul.

While the house hosts many renowned pieces both locally and internationally, it’s also just about what Connell likes. “The elephant [art] was $1.20 hand-printed wrapping paper in Thailand, and I fell in love with it,” she says.

She loves cooking and the space is great for entertaining. The kitchen is easy to use and doesn’t separate her from the guests.

Connell loves Japan. She painted the splashbacks in her kitchen based on a kimono she liked. She painted them on particle board and covered them with glass.

After her husband passed away, her son, Nicolas, built an enchanting, maze-like walkway that leads down to the creek. Connell clearly has a green thumb and spends time every day outside. “I’ve given up travelling,” she jokes. “I just water the garden now; it costs as much.” 

Nature is always present. She has beautiful dried Australian native flowers in her house, and recently salvaged some Gymea lilies and agave from a house that was being demolished. She’s visited by all kinds of beautiful birds – during our visit we saw a pair of crimson rosellas.

After 35 years in her home, the memories that come with the décor and the furniture are precious, and too many to count. Despite New Lambton’s proximity to town, the secluded house gives Connell and her family a place to unwind and enjoy each other.