Old Council Chambers get the Steve Haslam and Bianca Wicks makeover

The Old Council Chambers officially opened its doors to paying guests in November last year after more than a year of careful renovation to reveal the original charm of the building.

Kingscliffe couple Steve Haslam and Bianca Wicks were regular visitors to a nature conservation property they own near Bald Rock. They always felt there was a renovation project in their distant future but Bianca admits she’s always looking to see what properties are coming online. When the old chamber building became available the timeline moved up a little.

“We fell in love with the structure,” she said.

The premises came with quite a history, including being a TAFE college and a recording studio once its days as the council hub had finished. The latest to put it on the market was nextdoor neighbour Abbey Nathan, whom sadly has since passed away.

They took on the building with a sound structure but lots of leaks and later internal additions. The grass was high and the property was in desperate need of some general maintenance.

“But we saw the potential,” Bianca said.

“We just had to strip it all back.”

Steve’s the construction expert, calling in trades as required. Bianca said she does all the painting but they both had a hand in the interior design, which is exquisite.

Now operating as a two-unit accommodation house, every aspect of the property is tastefully furnished with vintage pieces befitting its heritage, sourced from antiques shops, clearance sales and local outlets like the Potting Shed and White Cottage.

The couple also dipped into their own store of character pieces. 

“We’re always on the lookout,” Bianca said.

She said they aimed for an authentic, luxury vibe which they’ve certainly achieved. Even the ultra-modern conveniences were selected to sit seamlessly beside their vintage counterparts.

One quirky addition, and certainly a conversation piece, are the lampshades Bianca had made up of reproductions of old town maps from 1930. The maps depict the landholders of the time, featuring lots of familiar Tenterfield family names.

The accommodation house has been busy since its opening, despite little marketing aside from word-of-mouth and Instagram.

“It’s been fantastic,” Bianca said.

“We've received so much support locally, and we’ve received the most wonderful feedback.

“We love this space, but it’s reassuring that people want to travel to stay here, even from as far as Sydney.”

Most of the clientele come from Brisbane or the Coast. With weekend vacancies rare many visitors change their travel plans for a midweek stay, extending the occupancy rate.

The Old Council Chambers is becoming a destination in itself, with guests then inquiring about what else there is to do in the district. Not one to let an opportunity pass, Bianca said she strives to get other local businesses involved, sourcing local suppliers where possible and recommending local activities.

She has noted many of the guests are expressing an interest in making a permanent move to Tenterfield, often checking out real estate offerings while they’re in town. And they’re not just tree changers but also entrepreneurial types, looking to manage existing businesses remotely or to establish new interests in the district, which can only benefit Tenterfield.

An old shed out the back – originally housing the horse-and-cart fire station and the first power station for the northern side of town – has been updated as a function centre. It features incredible barn doors created by Steve, along with a state-of-the-art kitchen.

The centre offers a cosy, charming alternative for smaller meetings, training sessions and even a long table dinner.

Not ones to rest on their laurels, Steve and Bianca have since purchased the Old Uniting Church and the manse next door, keen to put the two properties back together. There are plans for the hall to be better utilised as a community space, although it already hosts the Farmers and Producers Markets, Country Music get-togethers and yoga classes. The commercial kitchen attached to the hall will be brought up to spec.

Purchased from Uniting Church Australia the church has been decommissioned but Bianca said it remains a nondenominational church and will be renovated back to its original glory.

Come spring the plan is to plant out the church gardens in the English style with a white picket fence, harking back to the scenes depicted in old photos and providing photo opportunities for wedding parties.

Bianca insists there are no more acquisitions in the pipeline, although “we’re always looking for opportunities.”

She’s hoping their living quarters in the manse will get some attention, between the church renovation and the next project.

She readily admits the church project is unlikely to generate a financial return, but is part of the couple’s drive to be active members of the community and to give back to it.

“It’s another beautiful heritage building that’s not falling down, instead it’s loved and looked after.”