Maxine & Jonny’s Coburg Cottage

This petite cottage in Coburg is where Maxine and Jonny call home, and for the last five years have lovingly tended the garden into an oasis and lined the walls with beautiful things. Their happiness here, however, has much to do with the character of Coburg itself as it does with each other, and this is an ode to them Living Not Decorating in the heart of the suburb.

Maxine O’Heare and Jonny Goldcoast are two of the most likeable people you might ever meet. You can imagine our excitement then, that they’ll soon be welcoming the fourth member of the O’Heare/Goldcoast clan (which also includes their cat Pebby), who is due any day now. This petite cottage in Coburg is where they call home, and for the last five years they have lovingly tended the garden into an oasis and lined the walls with beautiful things. Their happiness here has as much to do with the character of Coburg itself as it does with each other, and this article is an ode to them Living Not Decorating in the heart of the suburb. From here we’ll hand over to Max.

Maxine and Jonny have made every corner of their compact Coburg cottage feel special. Photo by Tim Hillier

“My mum found the house for us. We were moving to Melbourne from Sydney and wanted to find somewhere to live before we got down here to avoid putting our stuff in storage. We thought it would be a much better option to just move it straight into our new home. Mum was our man on the ground, and she toured around to a bunch of open houses for us, all of which were horrible and overpriced.

Coburg hadn’t really been on the radar for us – we wanted somewhere closer to the action – but mum, after a string of bad open houses closer to town, was walking past our place one day and saw the sign. She called the agent, organised a tour and shot us through a bunch of snaps. The house was cute, the rent was friendly and we were running out of time to find somewhere, so we signed the lease. We moved in a week later. We thought we’d stay for a year then move into an area closer to work and friends, but we loved it here so much we’ve been here for five years and have just signed another two-year lease. It seems we’re here to stay!

Where Pebby lays her head is home – which is usually Max & Jonny’s bed. Photo by Tim Hillier.

Initially we were hesitant about Coburg, even though we were familiar with the area (I grew up in Brunswick and mum had lived in Coburg for five years previous to us becoming neighbours), but now that we live here we love it. The local Coburg shops are great – lots of fresh fruit and veggies, Middle Eastern supermarkets, Turkish sweets stores, yummy felafel places (Half Moon is our favourite), cheap nail bars, great $2 coffee, Vasili’s nursery and our local, The Post Office hotel.  There’s also the drive-in and the second-hand market. Over the past year there have been a few cooler cafés pop up to service the younger demographic, and the Coburg Farmers Market started about a year ago bringing the farmers to us. It feels very local and very multi-cultural. It’s also quiet at night time (aside from the occasional hoon) and there’s lots of bird life. We are still really close to all the restaurants, cafés and bars of Brunswick.

Restored cottages and terrace housing are some of the many styles that dot Coburg. Photo by Tim Hillier.

Before living here we lived in Surry Hills in Sydney. It was noisy and busy but close to so many restaurants and bars and walking distance to everything (almost). It was completely different moving to Coburg – it truly felt like we’d moved to the suburbs when we landed here. I felt a real sense of calm during the quiet of our first night.

Peaches, figs and lemons spill abundantly over back fences. Good for a snack when you’re strolling the back alleys of Coburg. Photo by Tim Hillier.

Our local community is a mix of many cultures, demographics and socio-economic groups. There’s an interesting bunch of young families, jail birds, old Italians and Greeks with abundant fruit trees which spill out onto the lane ways, and lots of young Middle Eastern folks sharing their food, culture and stories. During summer there’s boxes of people’s fruit and veggie gluts on the street with signs saying “Please take me”, and always a willing elderly gardener tending to their plot willing to pass on tips on how to get the best flavour out of your tomatoes or the best and biggest sun flowers.

Many families take over the lawn out the front of their homes, creating gardens for everyone in the neighbourhood. On summer evenings they put seats out there for older people to rest on when taking a walk. 

The houses are all on big plots so there is lots of sky and tall trees to enjoy.

The Coburg shops are a hub of activity, for residents both young and old. Photo by Tim Hillier.

All our homes before this only had courtyards, so we were keen to have some more space to play with dirt and try our hands at a veggie patch. My mum is a big gardener so I have always been interested in plants and although the garden wasn’t a must for us it was certainly a big plus. Because this is a rental property our philosophy has been to spend as little money as possible on the garden. This has meant we have been resourceful at turning our waste into fertile soil (we have both a compost and a worm farm), trying organic, cheap home remedies for pest control  and we have become great at growing from seeds and cuttings.

From soil patch to oasis, Maxine and Jonny lovingly tend their garden. Photo by Tim Hillier.

When we moved in there was a bed of bare soil out the front and just 2 trees in the backyard, but now we have a green and growing garden that gives us lots of joy especially during the summer months.

Beautiful pieces from friends and found sit alongside each other on almost every surface of the house. Photo by Tim Hillier.

Our bits have been accumulated from a million years of being collectors of objects, choosing things that have a story or sense of nostalgia. We are both drawn to old things, the more bashed up and loved the better. Some things are from overseas travels, others were gifts or finds from markets. We started a mask collection a few years ago from places we have since travelled and have masks from Sri Lanka, Mexico, Indonesia, Japan and Italy.

Maxine’s mum fashioned this small table from a 1950’s formica wall hanging and gave it to her on a recent birthday. Photo by Tim Hillier.

Many of our pieces of art are by friends, and furniture pieces are family hand-me-downs from grand-parents and great-grand parents. Some of my favourite collected bits are an African ceremonial head dress found at a garage sale for a song, my collection of beautiful vessels by my very special friend Leah Jackson and a photo by Chris Searl bought at a charity auction. Jonny’s biggest love is his harlequin man chair, perfect for sipping whiskey on a winters night. For me, I love the garden in summer, the lounge in winter and the kitchen for all the times in between. Pebby is a big believer in living the relaxed life. If she’s not in her basket in the sun, she’s on a lap or under the doona in our bed.

Small details make this home such a special one. Photo by Tim Hillier.

Home for me is certainly summed up in the saying “Home is where the heart is”.

It’s the place where my loved ones reside, which could be here in this home, or somewhere else entirely with or without our possessions.

Home for me is Jonny and Pebby. And soon our new baby.

Always welcome. Photo by Tim Hillier.

 A sincere thank you to Maxine and Jonny for having us into their home. We await baby news and wish you both all the best. For more Living Not Decorating by Tim Hillier, check out his photos within our story on the Heller Street Park and Residences.