Jason Mowen waited until he was 45 to buy his first house. But this interior designer’s choice of a weatherboard cottage in the country four-and-half-hours north of Sydney was a surprise to many. “My friends thought I was crazy, but the more people told me not to do it, the more determined I became,” Jason says today, sitting in his elegant book-lined living room in Murrurundi, a NSW town famous for the thoroughbred studs dotted throughout the area.
The horse connection is an important one in this story. Based in Sydney’s inner-city Darlinghurst for a decade, Jason is the first to admit that on the surface his decision to opt for rural life was a surprising one, until you learn he grew up on a property in the rolling green hills around Maleny in Queensland.
“My mother and grandfather used to breed racehorses and I remember her speaking of Murrurundi when I was a kid. Then I went to university in Armidale in the early 90s and I always remembered this quaint little town with the long name that I used to drive through on my way to Sydney,” he explains.
“I drove through again in late 2015 and just fell in love with the place. It felt unspoiled: it wasn’t gentrified nor ruined with bad development. It was also really affordable and I loved that no-one back in Sydney had heard of it.”
On top of Jason’s lists of requirements was a place where his mother Jicky would also be happy to spend time. This meant any prospective new home needed to be in an area where this accomplished horsewoman’s beloved horses could be nearby — four of them are now on agistment in a nearby paddock — and so the search for a house began. Luckily, Jason was prepared to be patient because it was nearly a year before the right one came along.
Walking around the garden on a late afternoon, it’s easy to understand why, even though he had not originally planned to live in the property full time, Jason soon began to find it harder and harder to leave this quiet sanctuary with its abandoned tennis court and majestic pine trees soaring into the sky.
“In late 2019, I decided to give up the apartment I’d been renting for 10 years in Darlinghurst and move to the home I loved, and owned, in Murrurundi, as I felt I could do much of my work remotely,” he explains.
Built in 1905, the house is called Dovecot — a name Jason was originally puzzled by until he learnt more about its past. “There is no actual dovecot [a structure for housing doves or pigeons] so I couldn’t understand why it had been named that until I discovered it was built by a man named George Dove — so, house of the Dove — which I absolutely love. I bought the house from his granddaughter, Judy, who was born and lived all her life here. It has a really good energy. Judy was a lovely person, greatly esteemed in Murrurundi, and there was obviously a lot of love in this house over the years.”
Jason is gradually learning more and more about the history of Dovecot — just as he is with his holiday home in Italy. “Dovecot was my first house and then, just a few years later, I decided to buy a holiday place in Europe,” says Jason. After discovering how successfully he can work remotely from Murrurundi, he is hoping to spend three months a year at his second le casa — one half of a rustic palazzo dating back to 1580 — in Matino in Puglia.
“I see my life in the future, once things get back to normal, as living between Matino and Murrurundi. I’ve always been a bit of a gypsy and usually spend five to seven years in a place before moving on but I do love Murrurundi. It allows you to be quieter, which is great for inspiring both creativity and contentment. And being surrounded by such great beauty — the beauty of this wonderful old home and garden and the surrounding natural beauty of the mountains and landscape — I’ve lived all over the world and it just doesn’t get better than that.”
This story originally appeared on Michael Reid Murrurundi in March 2021.
‘The garden is rambling and romantic, with lots of established trees and incredible bird life’, says Jason. Photo – Nicola Sevitt.
The IKEA shelves were powder-coated white and are filled with the interior designer’s extensive collection of books. Photo – Nicola Sevitt.
Built in 1905 from cypress pine timber, Dovecot also has several huge pine trees that cast a lovely, dappled shade in parts of the garden. Photo – Nicola Sevitt.
‘I see the whole thing as a labour of love and a bit of a laboratory in which to restore without doing the classic rip-it-all-out renovation’, says Jason. Photo – Nicola Sevitt.
An eclectic yet harmonious collection. Photo – Nicola Sevitt.
Looking across the living room to the enclosed section of the verandah. The artworks hanging above the doorway are, left to right: painting by American Artist Seann Brackin; work on paper by Spanish artist Ramon Canet; painting by Brazillian-born artist Eduardo Santos. The works on the bottom left is by photographer Simon Strong and painter Robert Doble. Photo – Nicola Sevitt.
A section of the verandah on one side of the house has been enclosed to create a wonderful breezy spot to sit in summer. The rustic table and chairs are Equipale, a style of pigskin and timber furniture made in Mexico, and were brought by Jason’s mother in the late 1980s. Photo – Nicola Sevitt.
The garden has become a focus for Jason since moving to the country. Photo – Nicola Sevitt.
A work on paper by friend Robert Doble in the hallway. Photo – Nicola Sevitt.
The bedrooms lead off the central hallway. Photo – Nicola Sevitt.
The house is surrounded by open verandahs on three sides. Photo – Nicola Sevitt.
One of Jason’s major considerations for his new home was that his mother’s horses could be nearby. Photo – Nicola Sevitt.
One of Jason’s favourite walks on the outskirts of town. Photo – Nicola Sevitt.