Wesley Hindmarch & his WorkLife balance
Wesley is an architect; both of houses and the good life. After relocating to Kangaroo Valley with his wife and young son from his inner north Melbourne firm, he’s hung up his shingle as ‘Local Architect South Coast’ in Berry. Wesley describes himself as a little bit shabby chic. He can often be seen powering between Council meetings, site visits and WorkLife Berry in his Local Architect branded white Toyota Ute (one day there’ll be a dog hanging in the back too). Here he lets us in on why he prefers to let his work speak for itself, the importance of putting your hand up in a local community and the best way to enjoy the silence at the close of a day.
How and when did you choose life? What’s your tree change story?
It comes down to being intentional about how you want to live your life and the values and philosophies by which you want to live by. That changes with time. I married my wife Gabrielle in 2013. She has always worked in international development, was living in Bhutan at the time and was used to a very transient life. When we got married, she moved back to Melbourne where I was the director of a Melbourne architecture practice, then along came Fin (who is now 4.5 years old). Whilst we both have always loved Melbourne, it wasn’t our home and we had to make some decisions to find a way that works for us and our family. Gai needed to be near a major airport, I’m Tasmanian and her family is in Sydney so we thought what’s the in-between? Berry had a train line that could get her to the airport and also good access to the grandparents. A weekend there with friends and a wedding in Kangaroo Valley and it quickly became the answer. We moved to Berry just over two years ago.
What was your greatest fear about making the leap?
Ours was probably the same as everyone else — the fear of leaving the known for the unknown. We had no base here. We had no friends here. We were really starting fresh, so that’s the first one- a lack of a tribe. Secondly for me it was work. I founded a practice back in Tassie which had expanded to Melbourne. Eight years in we were doing pretty well. For the sake of the other directors I had to step down, which was hard. I was so used to calling the shots so I just thought, bugger it I’ll start a new practice and call it ‘Local Architect South Coast’ and to be honest, it’s gone great. I prefer to let the projects do the talking, but I couldn’t have expected more than what’s happened.
What’s been the biggest hurdle you’ve had to overcome?
We never do anything easy and we aren’t risk adverse, so after one weekend of looking we went and bought a really steep bush block in Kangaroo Valley. We thought we’d build a new house and I’d design it in my spare time within the year. We rented somewhere, moved again and then had to move again whilst the house was approved and then built. But now, 3 years after selling our Fitzroy place we once more have our home and have no wishes to move again. Perhaps slowing down and having patience has been the biggest hurdle.
How does it work for the rest of the family? What’s been the impact on them?
Fin’s in preschool now and he’s a happy, active country kid surrounded by bush, birds and wombats. We’re pretty thrilled with how it’s working for him. For Gabrielle, her industry really requires for her to be in the country where her work is — as in, in Laos, Cambodia or somewhere else in Asia. Even though she can work from home, it’s a bit of a step back for her for the moment and she needs to travel a lot. She’s happy to have a base, but we do feel like we’ve clipped her wings a bit. Yet life changes and other opportunities arise, and with AirBnB we know in the future we can spend longer periods overseas once more. For her, she’s been very lucky that she can work remotely. She comes into WorkLife too. We share a life- and a membership to WorkLife. Someone stays at home and someone comes in. That way there are no distractions.
What’s the biggest cliché of country life that’s turned out to be true?
I had suspected Berry might be a little bit conservative, particularly compared to the diversity of inner Melbourne. I wasn’t quite prepared for how disconnected it can feel between things like its relationship to the arts and the built environment. I put up my hand to be involved in the Nowra Revitalisation Strategy Committee with is primarily a group of local businesses working with the council, to look at how to revitalise the Nowra CBD. I was brought in based on some work I’d done in Tassie around MONA in which I worked as the urban advisor for the GASP contemporary art trail. I’ve seen in Hobart what a willingness to embrace the arts can do for an area. There are many opportunities that could be better capitalised on down here, particularly when it comes to for example the Bundanon Trust and the South Coast. The similarities between Bundanon and MONA are clear and there is potential to do some good things, but it takes time.
Is there anything that’s been a surprise to you?
The amount of work and opportunities in my industry down here. That’s been a good surprise to me. Local Architect is about working with local building materials, builders, tradespeople, craftsmen and furniture makers with a passion for their local built environment. I do feel that the best contribution you can make to a community and from an environmental sustainability perspective is to use local materials, skills and knowledge. The South Coast feels to be the land of plenty in this respect with so many people to work with who share this ethos.
The hundred thousand dollar question. When it comes to money, how do you make it work?
Gai and I chose to share the parenting and so we have both juggled part time work and reduced incomes since Fin was born. I think that to make it work, its best if at least one of us is able to be employed locally. For us that is me, she works from home for an international organisation and I have my own practice which is doing well here. But it has been a risk. When we moved here we had been working and travelling in Asia for the previous year following the sale of our house in Fitzroy North which we had renovated and sold when the housing market was doing well. We basically swapped an ageing inner city converted shop with no backyard and a manageable mortgage for 2 acres of bush and a pretty bespoke sustainable house surrounded by blue gums and wombats with a similar mortgage. It’s a beautiful site but the valley itself is expensive and building costs were higher than we had anticipated. Everything is charged at a higher premium, and can be aimed at the tourist dollar. The move though has meant we can choose to be more self-sufficient and live more simply. We’re on rainwater, it’s a timber house that’s well insulated, we’ve got our own treatment system and solar panels. The chooks will come, the veggie garden too and everything we can buy locally in the valley, then we do.
What’s your passion project/side gig? Is there anything that you’re hustling on?
My personal passion is social advocacy. I’m quite passionate about what architects can do when they get involved with community-based things. I’m involved with the Kangaroo Valley preschool to help them with their project to redesign the space and hopefully get it funded. I’m working for the Nowra Revitalisation Committee Pro bono. I’m also advising the Berry Chamber of Commerce, so this afternoon I’m off to look at the location of new toilet blocks with them. I just end up putting my hand up for all kinds of things — which is kind of what you end up doing down here as part of a community.
Picture your book shelf at home. What’s the one book on it that everyone should borrow?
The Sufi Traditions of Persian Architecture. The way the Persians did the Islamic architecture will blow people’s minds. Particularly when you look at the complexities of the geometries that were being done so long ago. It’s out of print. It took me a long time to find it. But it’s one of my pet loves of a book. Anytime I need to revive my faith in humanity I pull it down.
What piece of furniture in your house makes you the happiest?
There are two pieces. They’re my grandfather and grandmother’s seats. When my grandmother passed away I grabbed them. They’re kangaroo rockers, a classic Australian piece of furniture. They were very popular during the 60’s. They’re upholstered in a light brown fabric, they’ve got timber arms and which are worn down from where their hands rested on them. My grandmother and grandfather used to sit in them next to each other and they carry great memories.
If people come to the South Coast, what’s the one thing they should eat?
My favourite for ease is Bussola Pizza in Berry. There might be other places, but it’s good pizza, easy with kids and our go to is a Sopressa with smoked olive, anchovy, chilli and fior di latte mozzarella.
What’s your go-to listen for your trips up to Sydney?
I just listen to ABC radio. If I’m a bit charged up I might listen to CW Stoneking, but ABC radio does the job for me. It lets me grab bits and pieces about what I need to know about what’s going on in the world.
What’s your best productivity hack to get the most out of each work day?
Not to have too many meetings or distractions. As an architect you can feel that you are bouncing between things. One moment you’re dealing with a major issue on site and counselling a mother who is feeling overwhelmed by the joiner on site, then off to a council meeting presenting to a full council chamber or having to be quite ruthless with a builder on site who’s getting narky. It’s hard sometimes to be organised when you have to wear too many hats so minimising distractions is key. I generally use an online calendar which is linked into my phone which tells me where I need to be at each time. It’s great because it dings. It keeps me out of trouble.
What’s the best thing about your membership to WorkLife?
We both work from home, so it’s important for Gai and I is that we don’t drive each other insane working under the same roof. Having an out where one of us can come into WorkLife, either at Berry or Kiama, where we can choose to chat to people or not, depending on what our headspace or workload is like seems to really work for us. I’ve also enjoyed the networking that comes as part of WorkLife. It’s interesting. The more time I spend here, the more friends we make, the richer things get. It’s a hub for being a self-employed, working person and gaining news and counter opinion on what’s going on. It’s quite important for us to have that outlet.
Imagine tomorrow is a perfect snapshot of your Best Life. What are you doing?
I don’t know why this is so hard to answer. I think it’s because everyday is the perfect day to me, because I’ve had the freedom to make the choices that I want to make. So I don’t see that any day is necessarily better than another. I don’t have any fantasies that I’m going to start cruising down a highway on a fictional Harley Davidson. It’s the small simple pleasures. On any perfect day I would wake up in my house, surrounded by my family, come into WorkLife, get some work done and at the end of the day get to dedicate some time outside, building the garden with Gai or having Fin help me build a stone wall. The great pleasure is being outside at our house, with the view down west through the valley. If there’s some moisture coming up from the clouds you can stand there in the silenced transfixed for quite a while, or be tinkering about and just be so happy.
You can follow Wesley on Instagram @localarchitect or to find out more about his projects visit www.localarchitect.com.au