December 7, 2022

Room with a view

All she wanted was the tiniest peek at the sea but Julie Moralee got so much more when she and husband Andrew van Essen purchased their dream holiday home at Aldinga.

When Julie Moralee and her husband Andrew van Essen discussed buying a beach house, Julie had one simple wish: to be able to glimpse the water.

The couple, who live in a city apartment, had been looking at beachside properties for several months when Andrew discovered an Aldinga house that had been on the market for some time.

“He said he wanted me to come and have a look,” Julie says. “At this point I hadn’t seen photos of it and I didn’t let myself get excited.”

Aldinga was Julie’s preferred area for a holiday home, having spent time there as a child, as well as with her son, Madison, when he was younger. Andrew’s family, however, had owned a house on the River Murray at Brenda Park, so he had no affinity with Aldinga and considered it more an extension of suburbia than a holiday destination. But the house on the hill changed all that.

“All along I’d been saying, all I want is a glimpse of the ocean – that was all I needed,” Julie says.

“When we got here and we walked in for the first time, I couldn’t believe that this was the house Andrew was talking about; it was too incredible.”

Andrew and Julie say their beach house has brought a new joy to their lives, and to dogs Maggie and Frankie.
The fire pit area, designed by Andrew, makes the most of the incredible coastal views.

The three-bedroom home is perched on top of the sand dunes overlooking Aldinga beach, providing breathtaking views of sea and sand and all the way down the coast. When the bifold doors along the deck are opened up, the full glory of the vista is revealed to postcard perfection.

Andrew and Julie immediately put in an offer, then went to the Star of Greece for a glass of bubbles.

“We were just beside ourselves – and that was before we knew we had it,” Julie says.

Not long afterwards, Julie and a group of girlfriends had a night with a clairvoyant. Early in the evening the clairvoyant looked at Julie and said, “You’re going to get the house”.

“Suddenly, all of my friends were looking at me asking ‘What house?’,” she says.

“But Andrew and I had agreed not to say anything in case we didn’t get it, so I had to play dumb and say, ‘Oh, maybe we’ll get a new house one day’.

“When we finally got the call saying our offer had been accepted, I was literally screaming, I was jumping. I could not believe it.”

The joy was dampened somewhat by the settlement terms. The previous owners, who were based in Melbourne, asked for a long settlement so they could spend one last summer at this incredible seaside location.

That meant a three-month wait before Julie and Andrew took ownership of the property. To ease the wait, they would often walk along Aldinga beach, look up and say, “That’s our house”.

Six years later, the couple say owning a beach house has provided a relaxing antidote to their city life, as well as an outlet for creativity and getting back to nature.

“This house has brought us a different quality of life,” Andrew says. “It’s a great balance having the inner-city apartment, which is low-maintenance, and having the weekend house, which has given us a focus with various projects that we enjoy.”

The outdoor shower includes parts of the old Moonta Bay jetty that Andrew found in a salvage yard.

And when it comes to projects, they are a motivated and industrious pair. The first thing on the to-do list was to pull down all the fences surrounding the block, which were six-foot cream structures. They have been replaced with brown and timber fencing that blends well in the natural environment and allows for a greater flow.

“Getting the vista was the important part for us,” Julie says. “And because the back of the house looks onto the scrub, we wanted to ensure that it flows that way as well as out to the ocean at the front.”

The couple also set about redoing the entire garden, which was overgrown and unloved as the property had been used as a rental for some years. The garden is now the crowning glory of this home, well designed but in keeping with the coastal location.

“The life force wasn’t in the place,” says Julie who, despite never having had a garden, rolled up her sleeves and got to work. Helped by Andrew’s mum Frieda and other friends who are experienced gardeners, Julie learnt along the way.

“They coached me through it, how to save all the trees and pull out a vine that was choking them all. I did two days of back-breaking work to save the trees,” she says.

“Andrew and I also walked around the entire neighbourhood as part of our plant research, because the winds and salt spray can be brutal here, so we had to choose carefully. The brief was a mixture of colour and texture using natives and, where possible, native to the area.”

Andrew says some plants self-seed, such as seaside rosemary, coastal tea tree and beard-heath, so they allowed them to grow where they wanted, and planted out cushion bush and saltbush for a touch of grey. The garden also includes several varieties of westringia and correa alba, coastal tussock grass for texture and callista gracilis for screening.

“We didn’t want anything too formal or high maintenance,” Andrew adds. “Hence all the outdoor paths and steps being made using rusted corten steel and Fleurieu sand, the gravel beds underneath the decks where nothing grows, and other arid type plantings with low water requirements.”

Andrew, a podiatric surgeon, designed most of the garden himself, with help from locals Jamie and Felicity Panasiuk from Sea to Vines Home and Garden.

The coastal views at sunset are breathtaking.

The new lawn area at the front of the property is a complete stand out, and incorporates the beautiful fire pit zone with its inbuilt wooden seating. It’s the perfect spot for a glass of wine by the fire, as you take in those indescribable views.

“I poured the concrete block that it all sits on and included these fossilised shells embedded into the concrete,” says Andrew, who clearly has an eye for detail.

“Andrew loves the process of making something, of researching it and the trial and error, and the finished product. He has done such an amazing job here on so many projects,” says Julie.

Another eye-catching addition to the garden is the orange hot tub from Dutch designer Weltevree, which Andrew researched and had shipped over from Holland. The couple attended the Wilderness Festival in Oxfordshire several years ago where they discovered these unique wood-fired tubs.

They were going to buy a conventional spa but Andrew says he prefers the “hunter gatherer” aspect of collecting the wood, lighting the fire and waiting until the water is warm enough to slide into.

“It takes about two hours from when you light the fire to heat the water and it is just fabulous,” he says. “We’ve really enjoyed the tub. We use it in winter pretty much every weekend and it’s just delightful. Interestingly enough, it is where we will sit down and do most of our talking and planning with a glass of bubbles.”

The hot tub is placed just behind the back deck next to the bird bath, another of Andrew’s creations. The bird bath often doubles as a spot for the couple’s beloved dogs Frankie and Maggie to cool off.

Having the dogs has added another layer of enjoyment and activity for Julie and Andrew, who regularly take them for walks on the beach and alongside the scrub.

“I think people underestimate the Aldinga scrub and the Washpool, they are wonderful places for the wildlife,” Andrew says.

“We didn’t have to mow our lawn for the first year here because the kangaroos did that for us. The big reds can be a bit scary, but it’s a delight to wake up and see kangaroos on your front lawn by the beach. We actually have a resident kangaroo who still visits regularly.”

All of the outdoor spaces here are inviting and well planned, including the outdoor shower complete with a towel rack made from the old Moonta Bay jetty. Andrew discovered the old timber at a timber yard and set about using it in a few different applications. As well as the outdoor shower, he has also reinvented a glass table, left by the previous owners, keeping the glass top but making new legs out of the old timber.

“We’ve recycled as much as we could from what they left behind,” Julie says. “I think it’s important to pay homage to them and the times they created here, as well as making our own mark.”

The open plan living area is light and inviting. The neon anchor was a gift from Julie to Andrew, who loves to sail.
Sea views are still on offer from the back deck, seen here through the kitchen window.

Andrew also designed the main dining table inside as well as the outdoor bar-style table on the back deck – high enough to see through the house and still enjoy those killer views.

“That’s the beauty of this house, it has been well designed with the front and back decks,” Andrew says. “If the wind is blowing from the south, which it typically does, you close the doors and sit on the back deck and shelter, but you still get the view through to the front, as well as to the back towards the scrub. On a nice day you sit on the front deck and just breath in those views.”

Even today, having been here hundreds of times. Julie and Andrew say the moment they arrive, they put their bags down and one of them will say, “Can you believe this?”.

“It’s a feeling,” Julie says. “I would actually say this house has brought us closer together. It’s our space in the world. Andrew already had his apartment in the city when we met, but this house and garden we’ve done together.”

That feeling of togetherness was cemented when the couple held their wedding here in 2019. They had originally planned to elope but decided at the last minute to combine a surprise wedding with Julie’s 50th birthday celebration at this spectacular location.

“I organised it all within about two weeks,” Julie says. “Our good friend Penny Griggs was our celebrant, then I found a chef from Penny’s Hill and Sunny’s Pizza who did the catering.

“We took the furniture out of the house and put it on the deck and we got married on the front deck.

“Only a few of my girlfriends knew we were going to do it. Madison, who now lives in London, walked out with me and it was so special to have him here.

“We had 100 people, the weather was perfect and just to be here with all our family and friends was amazing. I have never experienced people screaming and clapping at a wedding as I walked down the deck. It was so beautiful and such a happy celebration.”

The beach house has become a hub for socialising for Julie and Andrew who love sharing it with family and friends, including Andrew’s adult children and first grandson, Earl.

The kitchen is the heart of the home and Andrew and Julie love to entertain and share their beach house with family and friends.

“This house is about people gathering,” says Julie, who has worked in arts marketing for many years and was recently appointed CEO of Restless Dance Theatre.

“We’ve hosted a lot of people from around the world who we’ve met through our work or through friends. The gathering is what we love; people bring their own energy to the house.”

There have been lots of drinks on the deck, parties and dinner parties – Andrew loves to cook and food is a big focus when the couple entertains. They love the Willunga Markets, visiting most weekends, and have also got to know several of the local winemakers in the area.

“It’s been great to be able to step into a new community around here, including cafe and restaurant owners,” says Julie who cites the Salopian Inn, Pearl, The Little Rickshaw and Battle of Bosworth wines among their favourite local haunts.

Andrew says he enjoys winter at the beach house almost as much as summer, getting cosy next to the fire, which is built into the living room shelving he designed.

“Sitting next to the fire with a glass of red and watching the storms roll in is just fantastic,” he says. “And I love those stormy walks down on the beach all rugged up; it’s great fun.”

The couple say they are not precious about the house, recognising it’s a beach house; a place where the aim is to unwind and relax.

“We’ve been to some immaculate holiday homes but you don’t feel relaxed,” Andrew says. “Houses where you’re not sure about putting your glass down in case it leaves a stain. It’s not like that here. We love that you can walk in here with your sandy feet and it’s okay.”

The master suite has views to the sea as well as out to the rolling hills.

When they do enjoy quiet time alone, Julie says the house has a relaxing quality, a way of just slowing things down.

“I feel like I’m leaving the stress of the city behind,” she says. “I am a person who doesn’t need to be in the water, I can just be around the water and it changes everything for me.

“When I leave here, no matter how long we’ve spent, it feels like you’ve had a week’s holiday; you feel replenished.”

The nature of owning a house by the sea means maintenance and upkeep are ongoing, as everything gets “hammered” Andrew says, due to the elements. They plan to repaint inside and out, and polish the floorboards sometime in 2022.

Andrew says he hopes to be able to operate and consult a bit more down south in coming years and spend more time at the beach house.

With the property prices around South Australia soaring in the past couple of years, Andrew and Julie are aware the value of this house would have also skyrocketed due to its location and views.

But Andrew says this investment is not about money.

“The value is not monetary, are we going to sell it? No,” he says.

“The value is what this house has brought to our lives. Every time I come down here, even after all these years, I just stop, look at the view, take a breath and go, ‘Oh my God,’.”

“We are incredibly lucky,” Julie adds. “It really is a dream come true.”


This article first appeared in the January 2022 issue of SALIFE magazine.

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