Hugh Stewart: Art of Living





  2. Photographed by Hugh Stewart | Sittings editor Victoria Collison           Hair and make-up by Allison Boyle | Nicholas Morley
  3. Words by Natasha Inchley

Atop a hill that dips and rolls its way down to the ocean, and at the end of a winding road dense with Eucalypts, you can see yachts on the water, sparkling in the late afternoon sun. It was just such a setting that tempted photographer Hugh Stewart and Emma Warburton to set up their weekend retreat here, close to Sydney's northern beaches, and motivated by their young family's need for space. Warburton says, “We found the house online five years ago by luck and thought its quirky little studios and garden spaces were so appealing. You could immediately imagine yourself wondering down its pathways, it felt almost like being in the country.”

Warburton says the process of transforming the house was an evolution that began with the couple knocking out walls in order to capture the sunny views overlooking Careel Bay. An enormous stone fireplace was built and the kitchen remodelled (“You couldn’t even put a pie in the oven,” Stewart says); the cupboards were then painted a shade of pea green. Next, the pair tended to the two cottage studios, which were crumbling like biscuit. Stewart says, “It wasn’t about making an architectural statement, but more about being clever, just working to enhance its charm.”

Today, the home couldn’t be cheerier. “The sun wakes you up and you constantly feel its warmth throughout the day,” Stewart says. Indeed, the lifestyle the couple has created shelters them from the bustle of city life: at weekends the family unwinds here, Flynn, 5, and Matilda, 7, happily play in the garden or curl up in one of the cosy cushioned reading nooks, while Lily, 20, can host her friends. In the evenings, dinner is served outdoors with Warburton favouring big bowls of salads, grilled fish and baked vegetable or lentil dishes bought from the local organic markets.

Image gallery, above: 1. In the artist's studio, Emma wears black Equipment shirt from Belinda, Marni pants and Balenciaga sandals from Cosmopolitan Shoes; Lily wears Isabel Marant dress and R.M. Williams boots. 2. Photographer Hugh Stewart; his still-life entitled Portobello Hotel Room 33. 3. Lily wears black Forte Forte singlet and Christopher Kane brocade skirt, both from Belinda, with R.M. Williams boots; Stewart's still-life entitled Clareville 6. 4. Emma, at window, wears Céline shirt from Land's End Store. 5. David Bromley's acrylic artist palette entitled Boy and Bird; Lily, outside, wears Bassike singlet and Willow pants.


Much like the couple’s attitude to life, the interior is relaxed and informal. Having inherited her grandmother’s blue china, silverware and an enormous dining table that the couple shipped from Wales, Warburton worked in the traditional pieces with their existing collection of furniture sourced when the pair lived in New York. Everything else was reupholstered or painted, much of it found at antiques fairs, while the contemporary art that hangs is mostly by friends: Derek Henderson, David Bromley, Olive Cotton and Grant Matthews among them. “It might all be a bit incongruous but it just sort of works,” Warburton says.

Stewart’s own photography is created in the art studio at the bottom of the garden. Acclaimed for his portraits, the New Zealand-born photographer has captured some of the world’s best-known faces in unguarded, oftentimes irreverent and candid moments, names such as Paul Newman, George Clooney, Johnny Cash, Nicole Kidman and Catherine Deneuve. More recently, Stewart worked with director Baz Luhrmann to capture the cast of The Great Gatsby and also staged a solo exhibition of still-life work. He says, “I was never really interested in fashion photography. I realised to be a good fashion photographer you also have to be really passionate about fashion, and I couldn’t be, I was too cynical about it.”

He began working on his still-life collection whilst traveling throughout Europe with his family last year. “I needed a project so I started collecting old bottles and flowers cut from gardens.” Stewart then photographed the vignettes in the garden shed of Warburton’s grandmother’s house in Wales, on an old 4 x 5” camera in very dark light. “I liked that they had a little story to them and it gave me a sense of purpose – I’ve always loved antique markets, this gave me something to look for.” As for traveling with a young family in tow he says, “We drag them around on planes, not at the expense of their friends or their education, but wherever possible, and it’s nice that they’re flexible.”

Back to their Clareville home, and Warburton says her greatest memories here are at Christmas time when friends and family come to stay. “I remember looking out the window and seeing the kids on the trampoline, friends relaxing in the garden after a long lunch and Hugh’s sister teaching Matilda to meditate.” She says, “I love that we can be out in the open air – last weekend Matilda made a piñata and hung it up in the tree and the kids spent the entire day in the garden. It gives them space to think rather than relying on the TV,” Warburton says, “More than anything, we love the freedom.”


Above: Rise and shine. Emma and Matilda lying in. Below: A quick tea ceremony, then breakfast is served on blue china given to Emma by her grandmother. Emma wears a Mooji shirt and Gap jeans.

Above: A rare off-duty moment. Emma wears an Equipment shirt from Belinda and Gap jeans. Below: The kids stay in the picture. Lily wears a Nina Ricci dress from Belinda, pictured with Matilda and Flynn, in the family sitting room.

Above: Fatigued mouseketeer, Flynn rests on the couple's antique chaise. On the wall hangs a treasured black-and-white photograph taken by Max Dupain entitled At Newport, featuring Emma's father at the local swimming pool in 1952.

Above: Stewart's still-life entitled Hereford 5; a chest of drawers in the main bedroom and a photograph from The Piano series by Grant Matthews. Below: Emma's favourite flower, cabbage tulips; and the family sitting room

Above: A swell life, with views overlooking Careel Bay. Emma wears an Equipment shirt and Forte Forte pants from Belinda, with Balenciaga sandals from Cosmopolitan Shoes. Below: Matilda and Flynn in the arcadian garden, followed by a Clareville sunset.