After struggling to find a home that ticked all their boxes in Sydney, Hugh and Zoe swapped the Inner West for the Central West - just in time to welcome a new addition to their family.
Anyone who’s navigated Sydney’s property market in recent years knows what to expect. Especially for many first-home buyers, the properties are small, the inspection queues are long, and the auctions are heated.
But even just a few hours away, things are different. For Hugh, a chef, and his partner Zoe, a primary school teacher, leaving Newtown and moving to country NSW was an idea they’d toyed with for years.
“We wanted to get out of Sydney,” says Hugh. After spending lockdown paying “ridiculous rent on a pretty shitty house” in the Inner West, the duo began to realise “we don’t need Sydney as much as we think we do.”
With no properties popping up in the city that worked for their budget, the pair put the wheels in motion to move to Orange. As Hugh explains, “My brother’s been here for six years, so we’ve been visiting the area a bit. It was a move we always thought we’d want to make down the line.”
Initially, the move to Orange was a test run. The pair secured a rental and got to know “which pocket [of Orange] we really liked”. After Zoe secured a new teaching job in the area, they knew they’d have “at least one steady income”. Once their property hunt began, it didn’t take long to find (and secure) the one.
“We literally bought a house via text on a Tuesday afternoon,” laughs Zoe.
The property in question is a freestanding, single-brick home built in the 1960s. It’s tucked away in a leafy neighbourhood street but just a short drive to Zoe’s school and Hugh’s cheffing gig at Hey Rosey, a wine bar serving “fun food and fun wine” in the heart of Orange.
“In Sydney, we weren’t getting a lot of time together because we had very conflicting work schedules. But moving here has meant that we get a lot more present time together. It’s been nice to get that back.” - Zoe
Their new home also came along at the perfect time, with the pair eagerly awaiting the arrival of their first child, joining their adorable black and white cat, Andy Warhol, who “likes to sleep in the sun, watch the neighbours and follow us around”.
Unlike the tiny Sydney rental they’d previously been cooped up in, the couple’s new home has three bedrooms that “get beautiful light throughout the day”, a sprawling garden and veggie patch, as well as a backyard shed - a must-have for Hugh’s “many side projects and things”.
Speaking of side projects, the couple keep themselves busy alongside their main gigs with their hugely popular, craft vinegar brand, Very Molto. After a successful attempt at turning leftover wine from his previous job at Dear Sainte Éloise into vinegar, Hugh slowly began making larger batches and realised he was onto something.
The business is a real family affair, with Hugh producing the vinegar and Zoe designing the bottle labels. Their latest seasonal release includes ‘Bertie’ Blood Orange, alongside their classic ‘Rudy’ Red Wine Vinegar - both naturally fermented from local fruits and wines that were otherwise “destined for the drain”.
It’s a project with sustainability at its core. Hugh wanted to do something about the waste he was seeing in the restaurant industry and took it upon himself to give leftover produce and wine a second life. Now based in one of Australia’s top cool-climate wine regions, the couple are spoiled for choice with stacks of local orchards, growers and producers on their doorstep.
Back at home, Hugh and Zoe have plans to reduce their environmental footprint, too. Establishing the garden is a big focus so they can grow their own food and be “as self-sufficient as possible”, along with the solar panels they’ve since added to their home. Next on their self-sufficiency list? Installing some rain water tanks.
Luckily, the rest of the home is perfect just the way it is. “We bought it knowing we didn’t have to do anything to it, which was a big drawcard.” - Zoe
It’s only been a few months since Hugh and Zoe were navigating the “daunting” home-buying process, with the pair also acknowledging (in what is fast becoming an unfortunate reality for many first home buyers) that they “couldn’t have done this without [financial] help from parents.” At the time, the weight of the decision felt huge, sparking questions like “‘Oh my god, are we ready to do this?’”, admits Zoe.
But, finding a team that spoke their language and were using finance as a force good (specifically donating 5% of revenue to organisations and initiatives making the world a better place) took a lot of the stress and guesswork out of the experience.
“We’ve been in meetings with other mortgage brokers in the past. But the fact that we know that we’re making this ginormous purchase and that it’s not just for us, that it will be helping other people as well, was a big thing.” - Zoe
One look around their mid-century meets “Disco Ball Decor” space, and you get the sense that Hugh and Zoe have truly made themselves at home. “It’s only three and a half hours from Sydney here. We can have the best of both worlds.”
Hugh and Zoe’s top spots to eat and drink in their new neighbourhood
Hill St Grab & Go for “the best chicken schnitzel salad sandwich” that “could fill you for three meals”
Hotel Canobolas for fresh pasta, wood-fired pizza and “Totti’s-esque puffy bread” in their newly revamped courtyard
Are you a first-home buyer feeling daunted by the process? Take a look at our beginner-friendly guide for how to buy a property (in 7 easy steps).