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‘Our friends thought we were mad’: The couple who rescued and restored two old Queenslanders

By George Hadgelias

Sue and Justin O’Hagan have renovated and lived in heritage houses in Melbourne, California, Brisbane and, most recently, Eumundi, in the tropical hinterland of Queensland’s Sunshine Coast.

“Each time we say, ‘OK, that’ll probably do us,’ but then, we love a new project,” Sue says with a laugh.

The couple moved 90 minutes north of Brisbane in 2011, leaving their large, renovated Queenslander behind, after falling for a smaller, partially renovated Queenslander while on holiday near Noosa.

“We’d been toying with the idea of buying a bit of land and moving an old Queenslander onto it, which is quite a Queensland thing to do; it’s not so common in other states,” Justin says.

“Then, we were flicking through a local real estate magazine and found this original dairy farm cottage.”

Dating to 1916, Rangeview sits on its original site, looking towards Mount Cooroy. Surrounded by established trees and a swimming pool, the lush, gently sloping land struck the O’Hagans as a peaceful place to take stock, grow some veggies and continue their “semi-retired” and hobby-rich lifestyle.

They rented a caravan while they gave the old place a new roof and a fresh lick of paint. Then, Sue (“The super stylist,” Justin says), who makes lampshades for local interior designers, set to work decorating the space.

The three-bedroom house allows easy movement between indoor and outdoor living zones, with a beautiful al fresco entertaining space surrounded by tropical gardens.

A mezzanine office has allowed Justin, an IT professional, to consult from home.

But it wasn’t long before the couple were hankering after a new venture, and an idea came to them – why not move another heritage cottage onto their land, renovate it and offer it as guest accommodation?

After a year of searching for the perfect project, they found a “very, very run down” Queenslander two hours away in the town of Esk.

“They move the houses in the middle of the night because they have to get approval from police and traffic,” Justin says. “It hadn’t rained for three months but, of course, it started pouring as they came over the ridge.”

Due to the rain, the cottage sat in two halves beside the road for weeks.

“Our poor neighbours,” Sue says, grimacing. “Everyone was having quite a laugh, and someone said, ‘Oh, we didn’t know it was hard rubbish collection!’”

Eventually, the rain eased enough for the cottage to be winched into position, some way from the main house for privacy, and the restoration process began in earnest.

Luckily, Sue and Justin weren’t in much of a hurry.

“Justin was the owner-builder,” Sue says (“And chief labourer,” he adds). “We worked at it slowly over about three years, I’m sure our friends all thought we were mad – it did look pretty terrible to begin with – but we loved the whole process.”

The couple rescued and recycled as much as they could from the cottage, and then sourced old windows, fretwork and doors to match, scouring Gumtree, Facebook Marketplace, demolition yards and auctions.

They added a side verandah and installed French doors and a wood-burning fire, its parts and mantle sourced from four different locations.

“We had a vision even before it arrived of what it was going to look like and we stuck to it,” Justin says. “We are very pleased with the end result.

“The two buildings look as though they have been sharing the site for 100 years.”

Once the interior was ready to be decorated, Sue again took charge.

“We like an eclectic look with a mix of things, and we have collected bits and bobs of furniture over the years,” she says. “But it’s about comfort, a relaxed look and some feeling of history.

“Nothing is on a grand scale; there’s no acre of marble or anything like that.”

Still, just like the main house, the cottage displays a rich array of colour and texture as designer textiles, fabrics and vintage throws add layers of warmth and interest.

Rather than a “safe, white bathroom”, the couple chose bold Catherine Martin wallpapers and, for the kitchen, peacock-blue cabinetry and emerald-green tiles are equally eye-catching.

Throughout every room, Sue’s lampshades sit alongside the furnishings in all colours and patterns. They work wonderfully against the rich hue of the wood floors and white, timber-panel walls.

After two years, the many five-star reviews on the property’s Airbnb page testify to Rangeview Cottage’s roaring success as guest accommodation.

In fact, Sue’s styling has received so many compliments that the property is being offered as is, for anyone who would like to buy the entire package.

So, where do the O’Hagans plan to go next?

“Well, you’ll never believe it,” Sue says with a laugh. “But we have our eye on another old Queenslander.”

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