Dean Sutton & Nick Hodson
Drive to the Gippsland region of Glengarry to visit Dean and Nick, owners of a newly renovated 1893 Homestead with their beautiful centerpiece, the AGA Total Control 3-oven Cooker with Integrated Module in Dark Blue.
One comment from a follower on our AGA Facebook page asking, “When are you interviewing Dean and Nick?” turned into an adventurous drive down to Glengarry to meet the couple in question and their beautiful AGA. Located in the Gippsland region, their AGA seems to be the talk of the town. AGA fans are often found asking Dean and Nick for advice on their Dark Blue Total Control 3-oven cooker with Integrated Gas Module, like mini AGA celebrities. Dean works across Victoria in Health and Safety. He was raised on the farm then travelled to London for 2 years where he met Nick, who manages the St Vincent’s Op Shop in Warragul. “Three quarters of our house is furnished from op shops. We love things with stories and things with a history.”
“As soon as we moved in it felt like home, and we always wanted to keep the story of the house alive so knocking it down was never an option. We’ve spent 4 years renovating and had a lot of fun doing it.”
Their home is truly stunning and unique; an old homestead built in 1893 that has been recently renovated to keep up with modern technologies and create a space that reflects Dean and Nick’s aesthetic and lifestyle. Driving in to the homestead, I wasn’t sure what to expect. Surrounding the farm is paddocks, filled with just about every animal you can think of. Now, they have six horses, chickens, ducks, turkeys, peacocks, pheasants, dogs and cats. But walking through the door I felt right at home and instantly welcomed. The AGA was the first thing I noticed, as most eyes are automatically drawn to it. The kitchen is all white with a minimalistic theme, and the Dark Blue cooker is the centre of attention. The boys have baked fresh homemade scones and put the kettle on, and I need to know more about this home. Dean explains “The family that owned it before us had had it for quite some time. It had been their parents’ house and they had lived in it and always wanted to renovate but were never in the position to do it. So, it had become run down and in desperate need of restoration. When some of the family passed away the farm had to be sold to settle the estate. So, we bought it. We’re really happy because other potential buyers were only interested in knocking the house down and rebuilding. As soon as we moved in it felt like home, and we always wanted to keep the story of the house alive so knocking it down was never an option. We’ve spent 4 years renovating and had a lot of fun doing it.”
“Part of my motivation is presentation; there’s nothing more I love than to set the table.”
Across the creek, there was an old school that Dean’s Great Grandmother went to, however was closed in 1918 and then the school building itself was moved to where the school is now in Glengarry. “We had to do quite a bit of research on the house to find out what was original and what wasn’t, and where the different pieces came from. We saved as much as we could, and we re-used most of the belongings in the house. The cupboards that were pulled down beside the fire place were turned into the kitchen table, and bits of pieces from the kitchen were used in the bathroom.” Dean and Nick spent a long time working out what their plans were as they didn’t want to lose the warmth of the house and the history behind it. They were conscious throughout the process that they needed to save the house, but also make it functional and liveable. “We tried to repurpose a lot of stuff, instead of just throwing things away, it was a big house before and it was beautiful, but it wasn’t beautiful to live in. What’s lovely too is the family who used to have the house have come back and they absolutely love it. It was nice to get their approval of it too because we were always conscious of that; it was part of their story as well.” Says Nick.
“We can’t believe the transformation and what we’ve achieved. I always wanted it to be a showpiece, but I also wanted people to feel at home as well.”
Dean and Nick have extended the home, including the garage, living room and en suite in the bedroom, the roof has been replaced, raised and insulated plus central heating and cooling have been added. It was already a large home, however knocking through walls has produced a more spacious and open living plan, an accessible and flawless space for entertaining. “It’s been a massive project. You don’t really realise how big of a project it is until you’re telling someone about it. You forget how much work you’ve done. I look back at pictures of how the house used to be and there’s a portion of me that wishes it was still like that because it was lovely in some respects but then there’s a portion of me that loves how it looks now. We can’t believe the transformation and what we’ve achieved. I always wanted it to be a showpiece, but I also wanted people to feel at home as well.” Says Dean.
“They say that the food tastes better because of the even, radiant heat and cast-iron ovens,
and I truly believe it.”
Which leads us to chat about their AGA, the talk of the town that everyone adores. Dean and Nick expressed numerous times that the AGA has that “love factor”. Nicks grandma had an AGA back in England, and they accidentally stumbled across an AGA Cooking Demonstration at String and Salt in Warragul that prompted the couple to consider the cast iron cooker. “It was amazing to see the AGA in person and taste the delicious food it had created. It made me remember to when I was growing up and my grandma would cook us dinner with her AGA. It was so nostalgic and brought back beautiful memories. We then went to Wignell’s showroom and there was another cooking demonstration and we just fell in love with it.” The boys looked at other options that looked similar to the AGA, but it was the reassurance of a quality brand that sealed the deal. “They say that the food tastes better because of the even, radiant heat and cast-iron, but I truly believe it. A roast chicken in an AGA just doesn’t compare with anything else. It’s easy to clean, you can put anything in the ovens and it makes no mess.”
“The AGA will outlive us and will still be here in this house for years. We kind of fell into it by accident but then our heart was set on it.”
They thought the AGA would fit effortlessly into the whole theme of their house; a country feel but also modern and contemporary. And instead of just having a conventional oven, they should get a new age, technologically advanced one. They knew this would be their forever home, and not just a project they would flip over and sell. “We wanted something that was going to be ours for a long time, so the AGA really complimented that vision. We wanted something that was going to be a centrepiece of the kitchen and not get swallowed up because it is a big kitchen. We looked at other brands, but we just kept coming back to the AGA. It was always just the AGA for us, it was the only option. The life expectancy of the AGA compared to the overall cost of anything else also convinced us. It will outlive us and will still be here in this house for years. We kind of fell into it by accident but then our heart was set on it.”
“I’m going to get an AGA and I think I can get my head around this. And I did.”
When I first walked into Dean and Nicks home, I thought the AGA was Black. But once I stood on a different angle and had a closer look, you realise it’s a beautiful shade of Dark Blue. And what’s so fantastic about the colour is it’s always changing depending on the lighting inside and outside the house. “We love the dark blue colour. In 50 years’ time it will still look great and I think the Dark Blue allows you to accessorise the kitchen really easily and effortlessly and it matches our colour scheme. We like the fact that not many people have the Dark Blue colour in that model of AGA. We didn’t want something that everyone else had. We wanted something that was individual to our individual house.”
There was an old wood-stove that once sat where the AGA is now, which had no temperature control and was impossible to cook on. “We tried baking an apple pie, but you had to open the door every 5 minutes to regulate the heat. The temperature was either extremely hot or cold. Four years of not being able to cook properly and not being able to entertain, as soon as the AGA got installed it was just phenomenal. We can now cook ridiculous things, and not even eat it half the time. The chooks get it all, we just want to use the AGA and cook on it and experiment.”
“We wanted something that was individual to our individual house.”
During the week, the boys can be found using just the Integrated Gas Hob Module part of the AGA, as it offers instant heat and is fantastic for quick cooking after a long day of work. Weekends, however, are spent cooking and learning each oven and hotplate. They have the best of both worlds. “We still have a lot to learn with the AGA, in terms of which ovens to put what dishes in, but over the years we’ll master it. It is very different cooking. We don’t have to have the AGA turned on 24/7 like the old days. The best aspect of the Total Control is the ovens only take a 1/2 hour to heat up, so we just turn it on and off whenever we need it. We are on bottled gas out here, so the gas hot water and gas cooking make it extremely economical. And now that we have the AGA kettle and heat it up on the boiling hotplate, I can’t have a cup of tea anywhere else because I feel the water doesn’t get hot enough in an electric kettle. It’s really spoilt it for me.”
“There’s a lot of hits and a lot of misses but that’s all part of the fun and it teaches you how to cook and you learn so much along the way.”
It is evident throughout the interview that Dean and Nick both love to cook, and are so passionate about food, and love learning and creating, and trying unique recipes and dishes. Their favourite dishes to cook? “Lemon butter, it’s a spread you can put on cakes, bread etc or just eat it from the jar. It’s just lemon juice, butter and sugar and it’s incredible.” Says Nick. And Dean? “I like cooking roasts in the AGA because its easy. One of the things I cook a lot is scones. I love lemonade scones. And shortbread; I’ve got an AGA tin and it has a shortbread recipe on the back of it, it’s always a hit. And the zucchini slice from the AGA website (link here) is amazing too. We made some lovely golden syrup dumplings on the AGA last year, and we love doing soup on the hotplates. But as good as it all sounds, we have had many failures.”
Many of their cooking failures seem to start and end with Nick. “I wanted to find a recipe that used all the ovens, so I tried to make a lime roulade cake. However, it did taste very eggy, but it looked great because it was covered in whipped cream and toasted almonds. But it’s the best way to learn how to use all the ovens to their advantage. I also made sticky toffee pudding once and the toffee was in a pot on the boiling plate, and it must have got too hot and the pot was too small and bubbled all over the top of the AGA, all over the hotplates and down the oven doors. It was all sticky and hot and starting to harden. I was scrubbing toffee off the AGA for days. A lot of hits and a lot of misses but that’s all part of the fun and it teaches you how to cook and you learn so much along the way.”
“The AGA is great because it doesn’t matter what you’ve got in the cupboard, you can always whip something up, no matter who drops in. It’s the love that the AGA has. I’ve just embraced that love of food.”
The AGA encourages its owners to be a lot more adventurous in the kitchen and try to cook different recipes you would never think of, because the ovens are on and you want to make the most of it. “The AGA has allowed us to entertain. Anytime we have a family function, everyone wants to have the party here because we have the space for it, the facilities for it, and the oven to cater for so many people. And we love doing it and cooking for everyone and it’s a great excuse to get together. It’s so easy, it doesn’t create a lot of mess. So even though we may be catering for 20 odd people, you’re not stuck at the sink all night washing up. It has given us a lot more freedom and adventure. We even had Christmas here last year with all the family which was about 30 people. We made Yorkshire Puddings and had a massive, long table throughout the whole living room. It was wonderful. “The AGA is great because it doesn’t matter what you’ve got in the cupboard, you can always whip something up, no matter who drops in. It’s the love that the AGA has. I’ve just embraced that love of food.”
“When it was finally installed we were so ecstatic. It just felt like such an achievement”
When I ask someone what their favourite memory is with their AGA, it usually has to do with their children growing up with the AGA or family gatherings or cooking with their family etc. Dean and Nick’s answer however caught me by surprise. Nick’s favourite memory? “My disastrous cooking!” And Dean’s favourite memory was paired with a hilarious story. “Taking it out of the box. We had waited so long; we went to Melbourne to pick it up and bring it home. It was out in the shed for a while and we were so in love with it that we didn’t trust the builders to bring it in. We were like children at Christmas. So, Nick and I brought it into the house by ourselves. Imagine the two of us wheeling it on a doley along the ground from the shed, up the old footpath and to the kitchen. It was a disaster. At one point the AGA started sinking in the mud and got stuck. We finally got it in the kitchen and it was like unveiling a painting when we took the packaging off. When it was finally installed we were so ecstatic. It just felt like such an achievement. That day will forever be one of my favourite memories.”
“We had our heart set on the AGA and it really wasn’t an option to go for anything else…We have never regretted it.”
As much as the AGA is quite a big investment, it comes with no regrets. The AGA does what it’s supposed to do, time and time again. “I’ve got a big family, so we’ve had some great roast dinners and its then when everyone can be in the house and enjoy themselves and still have lots of room that you realise how well the AGA does work in our home. It’s amazing when everyone’s here. If we didn’t get an AGA, I would always look at the oven we had in this kitchen and wish we had of bought an AGA. We had our heart set on the AGA and it really wasn’t an option to go for anything else. We thought if we don’t do it now, we never will. And we will always regret it. We have never regretted it.”
Images and words by Paula Vinci.