At the helm of a hospitality empire, Justin Hemmes knows how to create entertaining space – even in the most unlikely places. How does his own home reflect his business vision?
“I remember Dad laying in bed with lots of pillows behind him and holding one of those old phones talking business,” smiles Justin. “Dad spent his life on the phone and dinner was consumed with business too. When my sister and I were younger we weren’t involved in the conversation, but you’d hear the same thing over and over. Nothing in my father’s life was half-hearted, which is a trait I’m grateful to have inherited from him.”
Passion is not the only attribute the 44-year-old entrepreneur has inherited. The building we’re sitting in – a heritage-listed mansion in Sydney’s prestigious area of Vaucluse – was bought by Justin’s parents in 1974. With multiple wings and a Sydney harbour view, it’s a symbol of their rags-to-riches success story: how Justin’s father, an Indonesian immigrant, survived a WWII war camp, moved to Australia and built a small hat business into a chain of iconic retail stores.
Today, Justin lives here with his partner, Kate Fowler, and their daughter Alexa Merivale. His father, John Hemmes – or ‘Mr John’ as everyone affectionately knew him – died of cancer in 2015. Since then the mansion has been gradually renovated (the brief was ‘contemporary gothic’), with the addition of a palatial swimming pool and a marble open-plan kitchen, where family photos hang amongst brass saucepans.
The house has eight bedrooms, but no office – a decision Justin consciously made as a means of separating work and play. “I don’t like to bring my work home,” he says. “It was different for Mum and Dad. They were both in the same business at the same time so it just flowed on.
“When I’m at home I’d rather be focused on my family and friends. It’s why I don’t go into detail about the business with Kate. I’m dealing with problems 24/7 and, if I try to explain them from the beginning, it’s like rehashing the whole thing.”
The space embodies both a nod to the past and a sense of renewal. “We’ve changed the house enough to make it ours,” says Justin. “It’s not about reliving memories from my childhood. It’s about making new ones with the next generation, whilst respecting everything that has come before us.”
All photos by Kat Parker.