Edwina Bartholomew’s biggest financial gamble yet as Sunrise star submits pub reno plans


One year on from stumbling upon a heritage country pub for sale, and Sunrise star, Edwina Bartholomew, and husband, Neil Varcoe, have already encountered the first stumbling block in their journey to transform the rundown property into a luxury, boutique hotel. 

“We lost a builder!” Edwina told realestate.com.au. “Well, our wonderful builder — who we’ve worked with previously — decided it would be too hard to do the project remotely. 

“Luckily, we have found the best possible replacement with Aaron Howarth. He is actually from Carcoar and knows the history of the town very well and brings with him some very talented local trades.”

However, amid the drama of changing builders, there has been an early Christmas present for the plucky pair: the submission of their DA. 

“Our DA has finally been submitted!” she enthused. “As anyone who has ever renovated or built knows, it can be a very lengthy process. Add the fact that it’s a heritage house makes it even more complicated. 

Edwina Bartholomew and her family are taking on the renovation of a lifetime. Picture: Supplied.

The DA submission for their main guest house, Saltash Farm, represents a well-earned milestone for the couple who — after months of number crunching, structural report sifting and budget balancing — have created a firm action plan for their new business. 

“We have optimistically submitted the DA to cover the entire plan,” she explained. “We have already had to redesign the property a number of times because it was going to be too expensive. 

“We looked at some pre-fab options for the cabins too, but in the end we have decided to push ahead with building them from scratch using shed frames as our base.

In an early Christmas present of sorts, the family has submitted the DA for their property. Picture: Supplied.

“There are also huge, but very boring, infrastructure elements that need to be taken into account, like a new septic, and we are also investigating the cost of underground water tanks to make sure we are always sorted. 

“Saying that, we know that once you mess with too much structurally inside an old house, the cost goes up and up and up. With that in mind, we have stuck mainly to the original footprint of the house with a few bathrooms moved around and door openings created in walls.”

When a renovation budget is finite, often the reality struggles to match the renovation fantasy. Especially with a property like Saltash Farm, which is situated in a town like Carcoar, near Bathurst, NSW, which is heritage protected in its entirety.

The original homestead will retain most of its existing footprint to keep costs down. Picture: Supplied.

Though the postcard-perfect historical buildings are undeniably beautiful, the period charm comes with an additional layer of renovation headache for Edwina and Neil. 

“The highlight for us in renovating is always getting inspired and dreaming about what we could do,” she said. “The lowlight is then working out what these dreams are going to cost! It’s for this reason that we’re doing the main guesthouse first, because it really is the most unpredictable in terms of cost.

“Heritage houses can easily blow out — as we know all too well! When we renovated our old house in Sydney, we discovered there were actually no beams supporting the second floor so had to spend an extra $20,000 having new structural supports made. 

The pair hope to begin construction in early 2024. Picture: Supplied.

“We already know we need to replace some ceilings because the cornices and architraves need replacing and to make way for new skylights. We need extra structural supports on the front balcony too and will have to replace all the wood there. We haven’t budgeted to replace the roof, so fingers crossed that is okay!

“We have tried to be very realistic from the get go with what we can actually afford versus what we wish we could do. That means making compromises on replacing some doors and windows and doing the project in three stages to avoid costs creeping up.”

Saltash was built in the 1880s, but a bulk of the decorative additions were added in the 1990s. And, as the pair have peeled back the layers of the former-pub’s previous inhabitants, they’ve made various discoveries — some positive, others less so. 

Construction will take place in three stages to manage costs. Picture: Supplied.

“We have discovered original floorboards that we can sand and save,” said the mum-of-two. “Alongside some of the original windows — we want to restore as many of these as we can — but, on the flip side, we’re going to have to rebuild the stairs and replace all of the cornice and some of the architrave with something more appropriate to the Victorian era.”

While the dynamic duo are pros at the residential reno game – for the last seven years the couple have been running Warramba, an accommodation business in the Capertee Valley near Mudgee, NSW – this is their first venture into the commercial realm. 

“We haven’t had to look at commercial considerations in previous builds,” admitted the Sunrise presenter.

“Accessibility, fire ratings and evacuation, commercial kitchens, each room needing its own heating and cooling requirements…We need to make provisions for hosting functions — enough septic capacity, for example, storage for tables, lighting, vases, plates. We also need to build a commercial laundry and have adequate parking on site. 

“Not having tackled these things before has been a steep learning curve for us!”

Though the real hard yards are still to come, Edwina admitted that even getting to this stage of the build has required a lot of sacrifice and upheaval. 

“Our calendar is mapped out from the beginning of the year and my husband and I are in constant communication,” she said. “Our car looks like an absolute tip because we are always travelling back and forth with two kids in the back! It’s crazy busy, but we are getting by.”

Inside the guest house which will be completely transformed. Picture: Supplied.

Despite the frenetic new normal of their lives, Edwina says that she and her husband are counting their blessings: “We seem to be pretty lucky so far. Where there are problems, solutions seem to pop up.”

It’s a popular belief that wishes made around the festive season carry extra weight. And for Edwina and her brood, the submission of the DA represents a special holiday season hope. 

“It’s hard to believe, but by this time next year, it will be nearly done,” she said.

“It was just before Christmas last year that we stumbled upon the town of Carcoar. Never in our wildest dreams would we have imagined that, 12 months later, we would be putting up Christmas decorations at our very own guest house, about to embark on the biggest year of our lives. 

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“If all things go to plan, it will be completely transformed by this time next year but, of course, nothing ever goes to plan!”

Moving into the new year, audiences will be able to continue to follow Edwina and Neil’s renovation rollercoaster in an ongoing realestate.com.au series, which will document every element of the build as the family attempt to turn their dreams of a high-end, boutique hotel, into a reality. Stay tuned for the next chapter!


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