Werona Cottage with James Watts
Armadillo’s Managing Director James Watts divides his time between Sydney and the charming village of Burrawang in the Southern Highlands. Immediately enamoured by the slower pace of life, James, his partner Tony and their dog Teddy leapt at the opportunity to move to the country and lovingly restored Werona Cottage, presciently named for the Aboriginal word for “quiet”, into an idyllic retreat. Read on for a tour of their beautiful home.
Styling by Olga Lewis
Photography by Marnie Hawson
Tell us about the property and its history.
The house is a two-bedroom, two-bathroom timber weatherboard cottage built in the 1930s. It is located in Burrawang, a secluded and tranquil village, about 20km from Bowral in the Southern Highlands, that was first settled in 1862. We believe this plot of land used to house the stables in its former life.
How did you come to find the property?
We had been searching for a country retreat in the Southern Highlands area, a two-hour drive from Sydney, without any luck for about a year before we stumbled across the village. We immediately fell in love and, since properties can be slow to come onto the market, we decided to take a novel approach – door knocking. We left flyers in mailboxes, introducing ourselves and explaining how keen we were to plant roots in the area. Soon enough, in June 2019, this cottage came to our attention and we bought it not a week later.
What was the renovation process like?
For the first six months, we just lived in it to get a feel for its bones and decide how it could best suit our lifestyle. The renovations began in January 2020, just as the area was hit by devastating bushfires – which, thankfully, missed the village – and was completed in April 2020, the week before Australia went into lockdown due to the pandemic. We didn’t engage any architects or interior designers – we did it ourselves. However, we did have an amazing local builder, Rofe Build, and later engaged a local landscaper, The Shrubbery, to do the garden.
Right: River Ticking runner in Natural & Indigo.
Why did you decide to make the move to Burrawang?
I am originally from Rutland, Leicestershire in the UK but have lived in Australia for the past 20 years. For the most part, I love Australia’s temperate climate, but there is something nostalgic to me about watching the change in seasons. This is one of the few places in New South Wales where you can experience the four seasons to their fullest – the autumns and springtimes here are truly amazing. It does get chilly, as Burrawang is 750m above sea level, but it makes for a cosy atmosphere year-round.
Right: Sahara entrance mat in Charcoal.
What attracted you and Tony to the village?
We were really drawn to the idyllic sense of community. Burrawang has a permanent population of about 300 people, so it is small, intimate and extremely friendly. It’s almost like living on a television show – we know everyone, and their dogs! People will just drop in to share freshly baked bread or fruit and vegetables from their gardens. The spirit of neighbourliness is very old-fashioned, in the best possible way.
How do you split you time between Sydney and the Southern Highlands?
We spend three to four days of the week here. We drive down every weekend and normally do a day of working remotely, either the Friday or the Monday.
What do you love about country life?
Burrawang reminds me of the English countryside; it really takes me back to the ebb and flow of village life from my childhood. Tony and I both have busy jobs that at times can be quite high-pressured, so this softer pace of life helps us to wind down and stay balanced. Our two-year-old Airedale Terrier, Teddy, loves to roam and taking him on walks through the village also lends itself to some quiet, creative time for me – that’s when the ideas tend to blossom in my head.
Sahara entrance mat in Charcoal.
How would you describe the house?
It is a quiet sanctuary, both comfortable and comforting in its size and setting. We set out to create something that retained the original charm of the cottage whilst maintaining its existing footprint. Accordingly, we steered clear of a big extension and didn’t build outwards apart from the front porch and the deck. To me, there is a beauty in utilising every inch of space so that your home is no larger than it needs to be. You don’t need a big space to create your perfect space.
Right: Bramble runner in Natural.
Tell us a bit about the exterior and the garden.
The cottage is at one with its surroundings; every outlook within the house enjoys an aspect to the outdoors. The façade is quite classic – my favourite feature is the old laundry sink repurposed as a planter – whereas the rest of the garden has a meandering looseness that feels like a journey through nature. The landscaping makes a feature of all the trees, with a lovely canopy of claret ash, cherry, crab apple and maple trees.
Left: Sahara entrance mat in Natural.
Where did you draw inspiration for the interiors?
There is a British nuance to the interior scheme, leaning towards heritage-style textiles, brave colour combinations and vintage artworks. The art throughout the home is actually a mixture of pieces picked up on our travels, more contemporary artists and family heirlooms, including some paintings by my grandfather. We wanted to pay tribute to the property’s history, so we kept all the original windows, light fittings, doors and hardware, floorboards and even the fireplace. At the same time, we added in all the modern comforts, such as heated floors and reverse cycle heating. Our favourite room in the house is definitely the kitchen, with its stable doors and cosy electric AGA oven, that opens up into the dining nook.
Agra rug in Duchess.
Finally, we can’t help but ask – what is your favourite Armadillo rug to have underfoot?
The Agra rug in Duchess – the unexpected burst of colour adds an easy elegance to our living room.