Rovello v Barford, showdown of 1930s Wilson, Neave and Berry-designed Bellevue Hill trophy homes

In the dress circle of Bellevue Hill, Sydney’s most prestigious non-waterfront suburb, two magnificent heritage homes are on the market. Known as Rovello and Barford, both residences are designed by Wilson, Neave and Berry, the leading architectural firm of the 1920s and 1930s era.

With double digit millions price tags, these grand residences have fascinating histories linked to prominent Australian families. Their hertitage status doesn't preclude further contemporary living renovations.

Our property contrarians, Jonathan Chancellor and Margie Blok, discuss their pick of the pair.

HE SAID:jc-silhouette-5

Rovello is my choice. The superbly proportioned circa 1937 two-storey residence is described by the Australian Heritage Commission as "probably Wilson, Neave and Berry’s finest extant piece of architecture” – and I agree.

A few years younger than Barford, Rovello is classified by the National Trust as an item of heritage significance.

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Set on the highest point of Bellevue Hill and facing north over Sydney Harbour, Rovello was built for Dr Vincent Flynn and wife, Jean Flynn, a great-niece of George Adams, the founder of Tattersall’s Sweepstake. A trust fund established some years after the 1881 introduction of Tattersall’s sweepstake generated vast wealth for the Adams family.

Flynn chose a site on Ginahgulla Road, considered one of the suburb’s finest streets, as the location for her new home. And then she commissioned Wilson, Neave and Berry to design the house in the colonial Georgian revival style favoured by Hardy Wilson who was the company’s leading architect. Apparently, Flynn requested the architects to design the house to somewhat resemble Barford. The old timers tell me it was Neave who was mostly responsible for it.

Next door, built in the same year, is a house designed by Professor Leslie Wilkinson for the Hordern family. It was therefore among the new crop of homes on the hill taken up by the pioneers at Leura, Rona, Trahlee and Carlyeon. On the other side is a house designed by Espie Dodds for the Alberts.

Rovello remained in the hands of Flynn’s family until it was bought by the property developer John Lyons who sold it in the mid-1980s to the merchant banker James Yonge for $3.45 million in 1986. Yonge sold it for $8.24 million in 1991 through eastern suburbs estate agent Jane Ashton to the current owners, Michael Darling and his wife Manuela Darling-Gansser.

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Centred around a courtyard modelled on the colonnaded Roman atriums, the house stands on more than 2,800 square metres of grounds with a tennis court, swimming pool, sweeping lawns and sun-drenched terraces. From the property are panoramic northerly views to Manly and The Heads, as well as westerly views to the Harbour Bridge. I am told the main sitting room has comfortably accommodated 70 people at cocktail parties and with the use of the adjoining library that number rises to over 100.

Echoing its Mediterranean name, the traditional Italian-style villa has two wings enclosing a large pergola and an enclosed loggia.  Featuring wide windows framed with elegant external shutters, Rovello has an impressive two-storey entrance hall and 675 square metres of living space including stately living, dining and entertaining areas opening onto the north-facing terrace. Howard Tanner oversaw its last renovation.

Featuring a gracious provincial-style marble kitchen, the five bedroom, five bathroom residence also has a self-contained apartments, a state of the art pilates studio and a steam room. The  exercise area and steam room was added in the last five years designed by architect Nick Tobias.

Not surprisingly, the cooking and food storage areas are a feature of the house as Manuela is a food author.

I love the unusual feature on a ground floor flower room - which was apparently a fashionable inclusion of the time.

Also reflecting Mediterranean style are the gardens, which were re-designed in 2006 by leading landscape architect, Myles Baldwin. Featuring old stone walls, a parterre garden and a vegetable garden, the grounds have wide terraces leading to sweeping lawns and the tennis court. I am told the garden now follows the traditional pattern for major Italian houses with a sequence of terraces - the main living terrace outside the house, the parterre below it, the water garden (in this case a swimming pool) and then the park.

With price expectations around $20 million, Rovello is for sale by expressions of interest closing March 28 through Ray White Double Bay agents, Elliott Placks and Ashley Bierman.

mb-silhouette-4SHE SAID:

It’s Barford for me - but I think the $60 million price hopes are extremely ambitious. The agents say the interest has already been $50 million plus in the first week of local marketing.

On the Register of the National Estate, Barford is the grand dame of Bellevue Hill.

Owned by businessman Ian Joye, the Barford estate occupies a 5,527 square metres holding with a front entrance on Victoria Road, and rear access from Rupertswood Avenue.

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Named after a village beside the River Leam in Warwickshire, England, Barford was built in 1931 for Sir Warwick Fairfax, shortly after his marriage to his first wife Marcie Elizabeth ('Betty') Wilson. It was the childhood home of their children, James Fairfax and Caroline Simpson.

The elegantly proportioned two-storey house is strongly influenced by the Georgian Revival style of the 1920s. Its design shows the influence of William Hardy Wilson, a partner of Wilson, Neave and Berry who retired from the architectural firm in 1927.

The house is built on an L-shaped plan with a sandstone columned courtyard and fountain. the Entrance, which is central to the almost symmetrical main elevation, is elaborately highlighted with Tuscan columns and front door with sidelights and a large fanlight. A side entrance has a porte cochere.

Sir Warwick Fairfax resided at Barford until the late 1960s when he sold the property to former Melbourne car salesman, Emmanuel Margolin. In 1980 Margolin sold it for just under $2 million to property traders, Maurice Bernhardt (a former Double Bay estate agent) and Max Franks.

During the early 1980s Bernhardt and Franks sold Barford to Barry and Wendy Loiterton who operated their tourist-marketing business, Leisuremark, from the property. The Loitertons sold it in late 1986 for $9,875,000 to Ian Joye. The deal made headline news in January 1987 for it was near enough Sydney’s first $10 million sale.

Entered through a a timber-panelled foyer, the elegantly proportioned two storey Georgian style mansion has seven bedrooms, seven bathrooms, elegant living and dining rooms (both formal and casual), a library, cinema, billiard room, white-marble kitchen and a caterer's kitchen featuring a walk-in cool room.

With panoramic district views to the harbour, the estate’s expansive grounds have a tennis court, 20-metre heated swimming pool, separate three-bedroom cottage and two one-bedroom apartments.

Long a preferred rental property for celebrities seeking a luxury mansion with exceptional privacy, Barford was rented to actor Will Smith in 2001. He reportedly paid $4,000 a week during the time he was here to support his wife Jada Pinkett-Smith, who was in Sydney to work on the movie The Matrix Reloaded.

Pop star Bono was among the more recent renters – in 2010 he reputedly paid the advertised price of $40,000 a week for the Bellevue Hill property.

Barford is for sale through Ryan Watsford of Ballard Property, and Christopher Joye, a son of Ian Joye, is understood to be controlling the sale on behalf of his father.

Ryan Watsford even describes the property as like Buckingham Palace, which is a bit of a stretch.


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