25 July 2023

Slice of Milton's architectural history given new lease on life thanks to sensitive design

| Siobhan O'Brien
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man at renovated building

Designer Alex Papas stands before the new additions at the back of the old Milton Bakery. Photo: Supplied.

Land boom! Gold fever! Headlines like these were splashed across global newspapers in the mid to late 1800s. They referred to Australia at a time when our nation was gripped by a voracious appetite for wool, minerals and land to make both possible.

One of the NSW South Coast townships with most of the ingredients to feed this hunger was Milton. Fertile soil and high rainfall – perfect dairying country. Landowners moved in. Buildings went up. One of these – at the hospital end of town – was the Milton Bakery.

The two-storey edifice was constructed in 1880, but like most buildings of the era, it was externally sound but internally deficient. The interiors lacked natural light and cross-ventilation. The rooms were disconnected, with too many walls and doors and not enough windows.

renovated heritage building

The old Milton Bakery building, on the corner of the Princes Highway and Church Street, has gone through a series of renovations over recent years. Photo: Supplied.

In the decades that ensued, ill-conceived extras were added: cheap panelling, flimsy curtains, tacky carpet and the like. By the time designer Alex Papas and his carpenter brother acquired it in 2018, it was the stuff of nightmares – for an aesthete, at least.

“Unravelling the more recent layers which had accumulated wasn’t easy,” Alex said.

”There was a lot of bread-manufacturing equipment and an oven that equated to nine tons of steel inside the building. It had to be demolished and removed in pieces.

”Only after we’d completed these tasks could we consider reassembling the internal spaces and the heritage components.”

For the latter undertaking, the Papas brothers collaborated with the South Coast-based heritage consultant Trevor King.

“We were keen to get someone who knew the area, and understood the town and the old buildings,” Alex said.

It took the team about five years – and almost the same amount in DAs and jumping through conservation planning and design hoops – to get most of the job done.

“There’s still a lot to be done, but you can’t rush a heritage project like this,” Alex said.

”Time is needed for those who are involved to understand the building. A sensitive, measured approach works best.”

renovated heritage building

At the back of the newly restored former bakery are light-filled pavilions used as retail spaces. Photo: Supplied.

The newly restored building is a beautiful union of old world and 21st century. From the Princes Highway, the old bakery retains its former glory, but inside it is streamlined with historical elements highlighted throughout. The structure now includes eight commercial spaces – retail downstairs and professional suites upstairs.

But it’s what Alex and his brother have done at the back of the building, on the Church Street side, that makes this project truly sing. It’s here that two large spaces with floor-to-ceiling windows jut from the space like light-filled pavilions. These rooms have views over Milton to the east and the ocean, beyond.

“Apart from being an idyllic country town on a beautiful part of the coast, Milton has always felt a little like a frontier town to me,” Alex said.

”There’s lots of hope, good people and opportunity here. This town is growing in interesting ways with respect to food, music, art and such.

”There’s something special about it and all these old buildings make it even more so.”

It isn’t hard to envisage what the free settlers saw in this township all those years ago.

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