Silence in the city: Ben Fordham’s Redfern retreat a calm oasis

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You feel right at home walking into Radio 2GB drive time broadcaster Ben Fordham’s edgy industrial terrace in Sydney’s inner-city Redfern.

Perhaps it’s the well-known voice or seeing a face you normally glimpse on a TV screen from one of the Nine Network’s best known news and entertainment personalities, but it’s actually the lack of sound that hits you.

“We’re in the heart of the city but if you’re quiet” — Fordham pauses — “you can’t hear a thing.”

He’s right. The three-level terrace that he called home with TV presenter wife Jodie Speers until a growing family saw them head to Sydney’s suburbs last year is suddenly silent.

“It’s a nice quiet little strip,” he says of the Well Street enclave just metres from a cafe strip that is coming to life mid-morning.

The home, notable for its stripped-back exposed concrete interiors and wood floors recycled from a West Australian bowling alley, was completed six years ago but the stark materials give it a long-lasting feel.

The street entrance sports a striking sculptural facade but the actual entrance is subtle and leads into a kitchen with the latest ­fittings set against exposed mat­erials.

Builder Steve Fadel of Paramount Property Group lives next door and was key to Fordham buying the three-level Redfern home for $1.7 million in 2010.

The broadcaster was visiting the seven-terrace complex, which was once a Harley Davidson workshop.

“You occasionally get people walking past — old timers — ­saying you know this was an old Harley Davidson workshop,” Fordham says with a laugh.

Fordham was visiting brother, talent manager Nick Fordham, and was curious about the place next door. He walked upstairs and, to the shock of the real estate agent, shook hands on a deal to buy the property from the builder.

“I just walked in and said I’ll take it,” Fordham says. He surprised wife Jodie with news of the purchase.

“Ben loves this place as much as his brother does and I want people around who love it as much as I do,” Fadel says.

“It was important because I knew I was going to stay here.”

The pair are unusually close for a builder and a client. And Fordham reveals that they’re in fact business partners. He helped Fadel buy a nearby site and confides that wife Jodie is now used to his builder mate dropping by to talk about new sites.

“I’ve got the massive property bug,” Fordham says.

“I am absolutely intrigued by it — always have been,” he adds. “In fact, if I wasn’t in media that’s what I’d be doing.”

They are already doing another Redfern project.

The area has rocketed in price since Fadel bought the site that became Fordham’s home back in 1999. He conceived of the building in 2001 but did not start works for another seven years, waiting until the area had matured and the ­tumult of the financial crisis had ended.

Now the area has a village feel. “There is coffee everywhere,” Fordham says. “In the last five years it’s gone in leaps and bounds.”

Fordham speaks lovingly of the complex and it’s clear that with brother Nick also in the block there is a tight-knit group. He will be the first to sell.

“For a lot of us we live on the street — you end up coming home and the doors tend to open up,” Fordham says.

An underground car park links the homes, making it easy for the young families to pop around. “We come in and out of each other’s places,” he says.

Fadel explains that the project fitted with changes in Redfern but admits there were early doubters.

“People thought we were mad developing this kind of thing in this kind of area,” he admits. “But it’s an urban success story — we’ve gentrified the street.”

“We took an old dilapidated building and we put a quality product in there and it brought quality people to the area.”

The home bucks the design of traditional terraces of putting a living area at the front. Fadel put the kitchen near the front, pushing the living space to a more private back.

“The interaction of the street is private but open,” he says. “That’s very important in an harsh urban streetscape like this.”

But the broadcaster is irrepressible and has also been known to drag people from all walks of life in from the street for a chat. That’s when he wasn’t tending his top floor garden as an escape from the relentless media cycle.

The builder and the broadcaster’s love of their homes shines through. They enthuse about going into business together and projects they have on the go.

The broadcaster toyed with keeping the property and considered renting it out but those inspecting the home wanted to buy it. Cobden & Hayson agent ­Matthew Hayson has set an auction date of June 10, with a price guide of $2.6m.

While Fordham admits he will miss his urban hideaway, and he is already planning his next visit to his Redfern family.

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