Swansea home was eight years in the making

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Eight years ago, Joan and Richard Raper moved into an old fisherman’s cottage on the glistening water of Lake Macquarie. In December of 2017 they moved temporarily into their self-contained boatshed with a shower, kitchenette and loft bed as they prepared for their old house to be pulled down in April 2018. For over a year they lived in the boatshed while watching their new home progress. Just two months ago, they moved into their brand new home. Sean Harrison of Harrison Building Designs was the man behind the magic of their new three-bedroom one-bathroom home on the water. “It took a while to get it done,” Joan says. “We thought we’d live in the (original) house, first to save and then to get a feel. Time got away from us. We’d gone through two of those (big) storms, had flooding. (The water was) lapping our floorboards. The house was damp and smelly and just dilapidated, the foundations had fallen into the ground.” After the natural disasters, time spent and money saved, they knew what kind of home they wanted on the property. They had a feel of the landscape. They knocked the old house down and built from the ground up. Their new home is over double the size of their first, but still one storey. It was a combination of visions; the Rapers discussed their ideas with Harrison. Joan wasn’t sure they could have it just a single storey and enough living space, but Harrison worked it out. She wanted a large main bathroom, and no laundry room. They wanted a double garage with workshop space as well. Harrison made it all happen. “What I loved is, from the front it looks like a cottage, from the back it looks very modern, and from the side it looks like a houseboat,” Joan says. She thought it was going to be challenging to make her main bedroom look out on the water but Harrison did it flawlessly. “When you build on the water there are things to consider, from the furniture down to the screws that you use,” Joan says. From the door handles to the light fittings, everything has to be marine grade stainless steel. Even chrome can rust. They used Merbau timber, known for its quality when exposed to the sun and salt air. They built it to make it energy efficient as well. Because the roof is pitched, it looks like a two storey house, but this was Harrison utilising the sun as much as he could through the tall glass windows. “In the winter we’d get the sun so toasty, and then in the summer the house will be cooler,” Joan says. “Down the eastern side of the house we put casement windows that open sideways to capture the Nor’easter that comes across and also to capture the Southerly. “Opening the front door, it’s like a cyclone here sometimes,” she jokes. She has trouble picking a favourite room in the house. “I really love the bathroom. I love the kitchen because it’s all open plan. I love the main bedroom because I’m either laying there looking at the stars through one window or the water through another.” The couple are originally from Sydney. They first moved up to Caves Beach in 2002. They are parents of grown children and grandparents. The house is spacious enough to host the extended family. Not only do they have extra space in the boatshed, they also regularly enjoy a night out on the lake on their houseboat. It’s a quick easy getaway without much planning. They love living in the Swansea-Caves Beach area, and they have no plans to move. “We just loved it, and we were never going to move back to Sydney,” Joan says of the area. “It still has that small town feel but big city benefits, (because Newcastle is 30 minutes away). It’s such a beautiful place; kids can still ride their bikes in the streets. People say hello to each other when you walk past them; you stop and have chat to a complete stranger. People help each other. You don’t get that in Sydney.” The Rapers have clearly adapted to the region, right down to their new home on the water. With the help of Harrison and his team, it’s been smooth sailing.