An attitude of gratitude
Jenny Vonic-Joyce is sure about one thing when it comes to her Middleton home. ‘I don’t like colour,’ she tells me. When she shared her Instagram account with me so I could have a look before my first visit, it was precisely this aesthetic choice that appealed to me.
When I pull up outside the property, the front belies the amazing extension and outdoor entertaining sanctuary at the back. ‘I always wanted that differentiation between the old and the new.’ says Jen.
In 2004 Jen and her husband Greg Hatcher bought the property after Greg’s children from his first marriage moved to Victor Harbor. Jen and Greg decided to buy a weekender somewhere close by and found the Middleton property. ‘It was perfectly functional and practical and mainly came down to cost,’ says Jen. ‘I typed the dollar figure of what we could afford into the search engine and this was the place that came up.’ The couple had met eight years earlier in the Riverland, where they were both the single parents of two young children. After a short time they married and happily became a blended family.
Greg and Jen had visited the coast on holidays with their kids for years so they had fond memories of the Fleurieu before they bought there. They liked the small seaside town of Middleton. ‘We wanted to have a space where the kids would feel a sense of place, but we never expected that it was going to be our forever home,’ says Greg.
However, after nearly a decade back and forth visiting their home away from home on the weekends, the family had grown to really love the region and, though the kids were mostly grown up, the couple decided to move to Middleton full time. ‘We had no jobs or connections. Very foolhardy really,’ says Greg. But challenge and change are not strangers to this intrepid couple, so move they did.
The back roads of Middleton are a mixed bag of holiday homes and permanent homes in weatherboard and brick, along with a few two-storey places, which capture a view of the beach. It is quiet here. ‘Most of our neighbours are holidaymakers,’ Jen tells me. ‘So we kind of have the place to ourselves.’
Back in the Riverland the couple lived on a twenty-five acre organic vineyard, so it was a new experience living in Middleton and having neighbours. ‘When we moved here permanently we wanted to sell this place and buy a property with more land,’ says Jen. ‘However our kids advocated to keep the house as they felt it was the place where the whole family had come together over the years and it held great memories.’ This sentimentality, listening to everyone’s points of view and the close proximity to the beach made their decision to stay pretty easy.
The vaulted ceilings and large sliding glass doors make the outdoors an extension of the room. It feels grand and expansive, but incredibly warm and inviting at the same time.
Initially the timing to renovate wasn’t right, but Jen says she knew that eventually she would build the kitchen of her dreams to replace the original small and outdated one. Two years ago Greg and Jen began to plan their addition with a young, recently graduated architect, who was a friend of the family. They wanted to keep a clear distinction between the new extension and the original home, which has lower ceilings and is decorated in neutral tones, true to Jen’s neutral palette. Only as you walk down the corridor do you begin to see the scale of the room at the rear of the property, which creates a sense of anticipation.
The transition is emphasised by the cabinetry, creating a mini-corridor into the new space, which feels like a warm hug. The vaulted ceilings and large sliding glass doors make the outdoors an extension of the room. It feels grand and expansive, but incredibly warm and inviting at the same time. The neutral blacks and browns are offset with a warm recycled wood floor and wooden accents.
The cabinetry is made from repurposed compressed cardboard. The walls are created from crushed concrete and all are non-toxic. Jenny co-ordinated with her cabinetmaker son-in-law to create her ideal kitchen. The granite countertop was bought from a memorial maker in the Riverland twenty years ago. It was an offcut from a larger installation, and Jen could see the potential so it started its new life as a table, the base of which was made by Greg. But Jen always knew it would end up as an island bench in their dream kitchen. ‘Our vision for the extension was for something rustic, with the beams being a bit more rough hewn, but when the recycled wood arrived it was a bit more slick and finished looking, so the design evolved around that,’ says Jen.
Jen previously worked as an interior designer in the Riverland and had a very strong vision, but she and Greg have great adaptability and took the changes in their stride. ‘I always wanted this connection between the outdoors and indoors because this stunning environment really lends itself to living outside as much as possible,’ says Jen. The large floor-to-ceiling sliding doors can be pushed into a concealed cavity in the wall to open the room right up. It is a beautiful arrangement, with the large deck doubling as seating and the rustic outdoor room made from salvaged odds and sods, creating a nice counterpoint to the slicker extension. Greg’s artistry is showcased in the various sculptures and artworks seen around the property. The underpinning of all these aesthetic decisions however, is the idea of family, and how to best use the space to enhance their lives.
Home is where they relax and share and they are very grateful for what they have. They are still working to create social change, but are slowing down a bit to sit on the deck and muse about their loves; family, community, environment and creativity.
Greg and Jen are deeply committed to community. Both have spent years working with disadvantaged youth through programs like Operation Flinders and Flexible Learning Options (FLO). They followed very different paths to arrive at this career point. Greg had been working as a mechanic and was approached about training young people wanting to learn a trade. Jen had been a policewoman and had identified she wanted to find a way to rehabilitate and restore the youth she was coming into contact with. ‘I had a real values issue with arresting some of the young people and sending some of them to prison, I didn’t feel comfortable with this punitive approach,’ she says. ‘I felt many of them needed an opportunity to repair harm, restore relationships and be supported to re-integrate into their community, school and families.’
Prior to meeting Greg, Jen had been approached to work with the Operation Flinders Foundation. It appealed to her, but at the time it was a bit challenging to leave her young family and her organic vineyard to lead a group of at-risk youth on the wilderness therapy program. However, when Greg and Jen met they supported each other to take the time to get involved. Greg had a similar value system and moral compass around working with young people, and they saw the value of the organisation.
‘From our perspective being out in the field in this capacity is one of the most amazing experiences that we have been part of,’ says Jen. ‘Having both recently studied Positive Psychology, we now realise that when we are in the bush working with the young people, we are in our ‘flow’ state, where we definitely experience a high degree of self actualisation. To see how over the course of the trek, the young people go from feeling hopeless to hopeful, is extremely gratifying. The wilderness experience helps the young people gain a better understanding of who they are and how they can be in the world, it helps them to acknowledge and practise gratitude and to build resilience – all of which will help them to better navigate their lives when they return home.’
Through their work with Operation Flinders, the couple became deeply committed to this approach in youth work and established, and managed, various programs in both the Riverland and now the Fleurieu. Greg and Jen have worked hard and have found ways to carve out careers for themselves that support both their family and their ideals.
Home is where they relax and share, and they are very grateful for what they have. They are still working to create social change, but are slowing down a bit to sit on the deck and muse about their loves; family, community, environment and creativity.