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Sydney’s trophy home market is well populated by famous houses, but among the ranks of our most indulgent and expensive residences is one that few prestige aficionados and even high-end buyers’ agents even know exists.
Despite Otahki’s relative anonymity – fostered in part by its position on the Lane Cove River and behind a housekeeper’s house on the street – it is ranked by prestige market veteran agent Ken Jacobs as one of the top three contemporary residences in Sydney.
Otahki is officially a five-bedroom house set across a series of interconnected buildings with add-ons like a squash court, a couple of swimming pools and basement garaging for eight cars.
It is a big call by Jacobs given that among his previous listings is James Packer’s $70 million mansion in Vaucluse, La Mer, and John Symond’s Point Piper home that was withdrawn from sale despite receiving a $110 million offer.
Buyers will be able to make their own judgment in the coming week when Otahki is laid bare to anyone with a lazy $50 million or so to buy it.
The property was built a decade ago in Longueville – far from its more conspicuous peers on the eastern suburbs harbourside – by fintech investor Danita Lowes and financial services industry leader David Fite on a consolidation of what was previously three separate houses.
Otahki was designed by prominent architect James Grose, who despite receiving top accolades like the Sulman, Wilkinson and Jorn Utzon awards over the years, never entered it for any industry recognition in order to maintain its privacy.
“Neither of us wanted a ‘look at me house’,” said Lowes, who moved here from the United States about 30 years ago. “It wasn’t about having to be in the eastern suburbs. We wanted a house that was for us, not for everyone else. It had to be subtle and reveal itself once you entered it. So from the street you don’t know what’s there, but I guess from the water you can tell there’s something going on.”
“From the street you don’t know what’s there, but I guess from the water you can tell there’s something going on,” says Otahki owner Danita Lowes.
In its most reduced terms, Otahki is a five-bedroom house made up of a series of interconnected pavilions linked by glass corridors and subterranean rooms and featuring a 1930s house that was once known as Derwent House but is now more accurately described as the entry foyer.
The floor plan is vast, and includes commercial and domestic kitchens, basement garaging for about eight cars, a gymnasium that has a separate weights room, sauna and massage room, and an office complex with a secretary suite, boardroom and its own amenities.
Derwent House is a 1930s-era house that is now more accurately billed as the entry foyer.
More impressive add-ons include a squash court, private jetty and boat shed, a harbourside swimming pool with kitchen facilities, a separate 25-metre lap pool and an outdoor climbing wall.
Otahki’s central living areas are fronted by walls of glass and five bedrooms, of which the main is cantilevered over the harbourfront garden.
What the floor plan doesn’t show is the grandeur of its expansive living areas, high ceilings unfettered by fittings, bespoke spaces for art by the likes of Nell and Robert Owen, and walls of glass that overlook the central garden featuring a single Queensland Bottle Tree.
“The cabinetry alone would cost as much as a small house,” Jacobs said on a private tour as we prodded walls to reveal hidden bars, guest bathrooms and a cellar entry. Indeed, the property lays claim to a total of 17 toilets and a handful of bars because, said Lowes, “each space was made for the moment”.
An office building with a suite of offices, boardroom and its own facilities acts as a gateway to the main living areas.
It didn’t come cheap. The 4400-square-metre parcel was purchased for a total of $12.65 million in 2005 and 2006, and paperwork seen by this masthead put the 2012 construction costs at $29.3 million.
What was once the 1930s-built Derwent House is now more accurately described as the entry foyer.
Of the three years it took Bellevarde Constructions to build, half that time was excavating the site.
“I’m very proud of that house,” Grose said. “I’ve never done a house of such scale and ambition.
From the street all that can be seen of Otahki is the housekeeper’s residence.
“Originally, we had wanted to demolish Derwent House, but we lost that fight at the Land and Environment Court and I think including it as part of the whole actually made it better.”
Otahki was designed by architect James Grose and built by Bellevarde Constuctions over three years.
Jacobs, of Forbes Global Properties, said the house is symptomatic of a push among Sydney’s ultra-wealthy to consolidate real estate in blue-chip locations to create unique family compounds.
“If the house you want isn’t available, and time and money are not an overriding concern, then you create it,” said Jacobs, who has been at the forefront of Sydney’s prestige housing market for 40 years.
Otahki includes a squash court, built into the hillside under the office building.
One of Sydney’s most notable urban consolidations is the Packer family’s Bellevue Hill estate Cairnton: what was purchased in 1935 by the late Sir Frank Packer has grown over the generations to 1.2 hectares thanks to the purchase of nine neighbouring houses.
Menulog co-founder Leon Kamenev undertook one of the most expensive site consolidations in 2018 when he bought four houses in Vaucluse for $79 million to make way for his ultimate trophy home.
Westfield’s co-chief executive, Steven Lowy, has grown his Watsons Bay home to include five lots along the Camp Cove beachfront, and foreign exchange dealer Tony Collick recently completed a buy-out of a block of five apartments behind his Rose Bay home to make way for a larger residence.
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