Sue Pike

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Visit Sue Pike’s Panton Hill property; once her childhood home, now it’s hers. Newly renovated with all the modern technologies and fittings, but still featuring hints of sentiment and family history.

Located in the beautiful bushlands, deep in the Yarra Valley, I took a stunning scenic route to Sue Pikes’ home. A freelance Graphic Designer, working primarily from her Panton Hill home, she’s owned her own business for the past 26 years - with clients spreading from large Shopping Centres Australia-wide, to smaller businesses. I reach the property and drive down the dirt road, spotting cows, horses and ducks along the way. It is wonderful property; the flora is vibrant, and the greenery is contagious. I’m greeted at the door by Sue, and I wonder how such a modern home landed in the middle of this land. Sue informs me this was in fact her parents’ property in which they all grew up in, along with her older brother and sister. “It used to be an egg farm. It’s hard to imagine how there were chook sheds everywhere. We loved the property because it had fantastic pastures – they would put all the chicken manure from the chicken houses back onto the pastures, so it grew fantastic grass. And my sister and I rode horses, we used to show and compete.” Once Sue and her siblings were older, they moved out, but her parents stayed. Her dad passed away in 2008, and her mum in 2012. “My parents stayed here until they passed away, and really loved living here. I can understand why now, living back here. It has a very special spot in my heart.”

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“The kneading puts you in zone and makes you stop and just focus. I think that’s why I like making bread.”

Once I walk into Sue’s home, her AGA Total Control 5-oven cooker is surrounded by some beautiful cakes freshly baked this morning. A Ginger Fluff cake and an Orange Blossom cake – all Sue’s mums’ old recipes, which she bakes in her memory. Plus, a fresh loaf of AGA bread – Sue’s own recipe. “Bread is my favourite dish to cook with the AGA. The Warming Plate is the perfect temperature for proving dough. The dough sits in a bowl on the Warming plate for 40 minutes for the first rise, and 40 minutes for the second rise; it has a lovely warm heat. My dad used to make bread - I think I learnt from him. I’ve perfected my own bread recipe, with a few hits and misses; my mum was my taste tester until I finally got the recipe right. I love the discipline of making bread. If I was trying to make bread at night while working at the same time, the bread would never turn out. It demanded my full attention, it didn’t let me do two things at once. The kneading puts you in zone and makes you stop and just focus. I think that’s why I like making bread.”

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“My lifestyle has changed since moving into this house...I think I’ve got the work/life balance more equal now.”

Sue cuts me a thick slice of her famous bread and toasts it on the Boiling Plate with her AGA toaster, which we enjoy with raspberry jam. Sue started her career at 16 years old, working for various advertising agencies. She worked in the dark room, “I always wanted to be a photographer; we had no computers back then, it was all traditional cutting and pasting. I learnt all those traditional skills.” She stayed with the company for 7 years before deciding to leave that all behind and venture on a completely different path. “I loved cattle, so through friends I went and worked in the UK for 9 months on various properties, getting the cattle ready for shows. It was bit like advertising – dressing the cows up to make them look gorgeous. When I came back to Australia, I worked on different cattle places around Victoria for about 12 months, then found I needed a change; it wasn’t challenging me enough.” Sue jumped straight back into advertising and started her own business from her then East Melbourne home. It’s a one woman show – organizing all the press ads, brochures, catalogues, booking models and photoshoots and printed material for shopping centres. “There wasn’t much sleep, but it was worth it in the end - people ask me if I feel lonely working by myself all day, but the clients really include me as part of their business. Plus, my lifestyle has changed since moving into this house. I used to be a workaholic, working day and night. But now having this place things have changed, I’ve got horses to ride and look after, and I have chores to do outside with the garden that take up most of my time. I think I’ve got the work/life balance more equal now.”

 
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“Everything matches, flows together and is well-thought out. It’s a very environmentally friendly home.”

Now chat turns to the AGA, and this beautiful, modern home. It’s is economical and environmentally friendly – a conscious decision made by Sue when she decided to knock down the old family-home and completely renovate from top to bottom. “The old house was a bit tired. After my mum died, I decided to hang on to this property - I always had a bit of an affinity. I thought about just fixing up the inside this old house, then I thought of the asbestos and everything else. I decided to knock it all down and build a house that was timeless and easy to live in. I had all the modern features added, heating and cooling for example. I gave my architect a list of three things the house must have: 1. I want the kitchen to be exactly where the old kitchen was, 2. I want my office to be where my old bedroom was, so I had the same view, and 3. it had to have a pitched roof to match all the other buildings. I didn’t want anything too modern that didn’t fit in. Other than that, I’m setting you free – and he came back with this.” ‘This’ being a stunning 2-bedroom, one storey, minimalistic and open living home. The house is sitting in the exact same spot as the old house was, and the AGA is in the same spot her mother’s AGA was. The stone mason pillars in the home and around the outside of the house are cold-stream quarry stone from the Yarra Valley – and the home is predominately all stone and glass. “It’s a really see-through house; I always wanted a house that you could see the outside from the inside and feel like you’re living among the trees. I didn’t even have an interior designer – I knew what I wanted and furnished the house myself. Most of the furniture was bought from Coco Republic in Richmond; minimalism is on trend now. The stone on the bench tops is called Dolomite, and we use the same stone to make tiles in the bathroom. The same with the splashback, that antique, acid wash mirror design is the same design used in the bathrooms and the coffee table. Everything matches, flows together and is well-thought out. It’s a very environmentally friendly home.”

 
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“I saved a lot and reused it all. I just wanted to hang onto the memories.”

After our we finish our chat, and our delicious toast with jam, Sue takes me on a tour of the whole property. We visit her beautiful horses Grey Boy and Blacky - which she rides almost every day and are her pride and joy. I see the shed, the home of her parents old Cream AGA, all the parts sprawled out across the shed which Sue has decided to keep in memory of her childhood. She’s not sure what to do with the shell, she might display it somewhere in her home or frame it. Next is the guest house, the little cottage next door, originally the egg sorting room. It’s beautifully spacious and warm; the perfect opportunity to recycle childhood furniture with history and sentiment. Sue wanted to keep all the memories from her childhood, so she reused most of the old furniture, light fittings and even the floor boards. “We pulled up the old Baltic Pine floorboards that were in the old house and put them in here, the guest house, as well as the light fittings. I saved a lot and reused it all. I just wanted to hang onto the memories.”

 
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“Growing up, the AGA was the heart of the home – my mum thought it was great having an AGA.”

Sue’s decision to buy an AGA was a very easy one; she grew up with her mum always cooking on an AGA, so it was only fitting to get a newer, more flexible model for herself. Sue’s AGA is even in the same spot her mother’s AGA was. When her parents bought the property, the cream 2-oven AGA was already installed in the kitchen. “Growing up, the AGA was the heart of the home – my mum thought it was great having an AGA. My parents previous home had a Rayburn; we had always grown up with briquettes, wood, lighting the fire and having this warm-hearted kitchen. When we bought this property, my mum thought it was Christmas having the AGA. The people we bought the house off were lovely. They had a hand-written sign out the front saying this property was for sale, and just a phone number. We rung them to enquire about the property, and they invited us over to see the place. They were such a lovely couple. They had baked us scones in the AGA and we had scones with jam and cream and tea. When we bought the property, my dad and the owner just did a handshake agreement - there were no contracts back then.” Sue’s mothers AGA was originally run on coal, then converted to oil; it had to be on all the time. My mum was a great cook and loved cooking, so it was great for her that the AGA was on all the time. Years later we decommissioned the AGA and my dad bought my mum a smaller gas cooker. But the AGA remained in the kitchen. It was always pride of place. I have a funny story - behind one of the doors of the old AGA, where the furnace was to heat the oven, the front had writing on it that said, “keep tightly closed”. My parents being from a “cash” generation, my dad thought it would be a great place to keep cash. So, he used to have a tin in there, wrapped in a fire blanket and we would jokingly call it the “AGA Bank.” And he thought it would deter the thief’s from getting the money because it had printed on the outside “keep tightly closed.” - it really was a multipurpose oven.”

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“This AGA is just so beautiful to use, it almost talks to me.”

Sue bought her Total Control 5-oven AGA from the Prahran showroom. She was very close to her parents, so when she decided to rebuild the house, getting the AGA was like a dedication to her mum, as she loved cooking on the AGA; Sue wanted to keep those memories alive and maintain the tradition. The kitchen was designed around the AGA, and Sue knew the Total Control was the only option – after growing up in a boiling hot kitchen due to the old AGA always firing away, she needed the flexibility and control of having it on or off. “This AGA is just so beautiful to use, it almost talks to me. I went to the AGA shop in Prahran and decided the only colour I was getting was the cream, to match my parents AGA. It’s such a lovely way to cook, it sort of makes sense. If you have a roast lamb or chicken, you put it in the Roasting Oven and it cooks beautifully. You don’t have to think too hard about it. Baking a cake? Stick it in the baking oven. I’ve never had a microwave and I don’t have a toaster; all the things say you don’t need when you get an AGA, you really don’t need. You change your lifestyle to adapt to the AGA - if you want a coffee in the morning, you turn the hotplate on when you wake up, go have a shower, and by the time you’re ready for a coffee, the oven is ready to go.”

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“The AGA’s are just a bit special – they say they’re the heart of the home and they really are.”

In winter, Sue tells me she loves using the Slow-Cooking oven to do soups and slow roasts, because when she’s working during the day, it’s easy to prepare it all, put it in the oven and leave it there. Three hours later, you have a delicious meal waiting for you. “The food won’t spoil or get overcooked. It can just cook away peacefully. I was only little when my mum used to cook on her AGA, so I didn’t have any practical experience. But there must have been something that absorbed in my brain because I’ve had no trouble picking up how to use it. The AGA’s are just a bit special – they say they’re the heart of the home and they really are. They are so nice in winter; it’s on whenever I need it and that’s the beauty of it. You don’t need to have it ticking away all day.”

The option of having the cooker on or off is what Sue needed; she only cooks when she wants too and when she has time, the rest of the weeks lunches and dinners are usually left overs. “I usually cook a meal that will last a few days and have left overs for lunch and dinner throughout the week. It fits my lifestyle and allows me to be outside more with the horses instead of standing around the oven all day. Plus, I’m always learning with the AGA. I have recently learnt that cakes should be baked on the floor of the Baking Oven- it’s changed everything, and they cook beautifully. They’re nice and cooked on the bottom but still rise perfectly. My lifestyle has changed since moving up here, I’ve found I have more time for cooking. I’m experimenting more with different foods, ingredients and cuisines - I’m going to try and get through the whole AGA cookbook.”

Images and words by Paula Vinci.