Genesta House on Steele Street

Genesta House, formerly known as Cowan Brae was built as a family home in 1914, and was used by four generations of the Ewen family as a holiday home and permanent residence until 1961, when it was converted into a guesthouse. 

George Ewen was a building contractor based in Melbourne. George, his wife Catherine and their  children used to spend summer holidays at the Findlay family owned guest house Seaside Villa, in Findlay Street, Cowes from the early 1880’s.  This was one the earliest island guest houses.  They came originally by stage coach to Hastings then ferry to Cowes.  The railway was put through to Stony Point in 1889 and connected with the ferry, making transport easier.

Here he built his retirement home Cowan Brae, a weatherboard and roughcast plaster rendered building.  The building appears to have been built in two different periods.  The main rear section could be confused with a Victorian building having mid Victorian iron lace on the south facing verandah and several Victorian windows. The front section was added in 1915, consisting of two bedrooms opening onto the east facing front verandah.  The verandah is of Edwardian design but the two front windows are definitely Victorian with their semi-circular tops and Victorian mouldings and details.  The front roof is cedar shingles, which remain to this day nestled under the newly constructed Zincalume roof. 

George was a keen gardener and planted out the eastern part (3/4 acre) with ornamental and vegetable gardens.  Some of the trees still remain from this time.  

George’s only surviving son Harold Ewen lived at Cowan Brae for ten years during the 1920’s. The home continued to be used as a holiday home by family and friends until 1946 when Percy and Elsie Hutchinson also retired there.  Percy had been a State Savings Bank manager and they planned to build a retirement home on a block they owned at Essendon.  Building materials were impossible to get during the war, so the only option was to retire to Cowes.  Even at Cowan Brae there were problems as the building needed repairs and upgrading.  The cedar shingles were leaking and there were buckets placed around to catch the drips.  There is much correspondence between Percy and the Department of War Organization of Industry to get permission to buy the required building materials.  The building alterations and additions were designed by Harold Ewen and constructed by Cowes builder Joe Walton.  

The original drawings done by Harold showing existing conditions and proposed works.


The external appearance of the front and two sides of the house have changed little with succeeding owners.  The internal rooms have been changed for their use, first as two flats, and now as a guesthouse, but the main rooms remain much as they were first designed.