What inspired you to create such a beautiful setting in Healesville?
Healesville is our home and we love to share it with friends who visit. We both grew up in the Yarra Valley (Greg was born here) and careers took us away for a while. We returned to assist family and community with the 2009 bushfire recovery process and decided to make the YV our home again. Reminded of the extraordinary beauty in this Valley and the surrounding mountains, coupled with the great food, wine and art in the region, it was hard to leave.
With Healesville as our base again, we love to host visiting family and friends. Bush walks, wine tasting, the occasional art exhibition and lots and lots of fine food were typical weekends with visiting friends, who kept returning and suggesting others also visit.
We came to the understanding that people loved visiting Healesville and the Yarra Valley and wanted to create a place where guests had a beautiful place to stay. A place where the garden was critical in providing a relaxing and rejuvenating environment. It was also really important that people felt at home when they came to visit, in the same way we like our family and friends to feel when they visit, so we found it easy to make renovating and interior design decisions. It was critical for the house to feel like home and if it ever felt like it was becoming a hotel design or furnishing, we knew we were heading off track.
What is your favourite part of Willow House and why?
3 places, but all for the same reason – The Garden.
I love the lounge. No matter the weather, it is easy to lounge about – comforted with cushions and throw rugs – and simply day dream! Connect with the garden that drifts to the Picanniny Creek, through the harvest garden and up to the ‘green wedge’ vacant land beyond the garden of The Willow House. It is easy to loose time in this day dreaming, contemplation space.
The Harvest Garden. I love to sit in this space, looking back through the willow to the house. There is something about sitting in a space full of life and to discover the gifts the garden provides. We have dozens of Roma tomatos, extra ordinarily spreading their ripening dates so our guests have been able to harvest over the last few weeks and this looks like it will continue for another few weeks yet. The basil and mint seem to grow in front of my eyes and the beans have taken over the Morris Brown ‘bean tipi’ (what I call it, am sure it has a more suitable name). It’s like playing a game of hide and seek as you look for the fruits of the harvest garden. And there is nothing like eating green beans straight from the vine. Figs are a couple of weeks off, ready for jam making and I have made up stories about the Kiwi fruiting vines where we have 1 male to 3 girls (apparently he can handle a harem of 7). It is like I am a couples counsellor, encouraging the girls to connect up with the guy. Winding them along the support wire, to make their way closer. I am sure the Bees can handle flying the short distance between each of the plants, but I like to play Mother Nature, helping them out.
The reading room. We found an old club chair in Greg’s fathers shed (Bruce, Greg’s father was the local upholsterer for many years) and had it covered in a fabric called Willow, by a craftsman Upholsterer equal to Bruce’s skill. From this chair, you can snuggle and read or journal, while still daydreaming out over the garden towards the Willow Tree.
You have a lovely mix of “up cycled pieces” and contemporary design. Is this a reflection of your personal taste? Why does this type of interiors inspire you?
We have always admired designers who are able to achieve a simple and stylish, eclectic design. We have also been really lucky to work with some professionals who do this very well. Their influences seems to be part of The Willow House design coupled with Greg’s good eye for considered placement.
We also dislike waste and how older pieces, with quality craftsmanship are often discarded along with the history, value and love their previous owners shared during celebrations, tribulations, happiness and sadness – Life. Not to mention the environmental impact each time houses and furniture are discarded and replaced with with an inferior, massed produced plastic version. The Willow House has into a bit of a ’cause’ for us. To demonstrate it is just as easy to restore and renovate as it is to demolish and build ‘poo brown brick’ blocks that seem to be the flavour of the month around town – don’t print that! Similarly, we were mortified when much of the weathered and dated furniture in Greg’s grandfathers place was about to leave the family when we were cleaning the house. Decades of life stories that would have been shared around the furniture. The baking stories that would have come from the kitchen dresser if it could speak, the meals shared around the dining table and the relaxation on the 60?s retro lounge, are all to be cherished. Non of the furniture is of high $ value, but it has amazing ‘value of life experiences and colourful stories’. So restoring the furniture and placing it carefully throughout The Willow House was an obvious thing to do if we were going to add to the energy of helping guests feel at home and to be treated like family with all our family pieces shared, – btw, it’s amazing how many people walk in and say my grandmother/father had a dresser/table/lounge/etc like this. Instantly they feel at home. We stumbled on that little gem, that guests would connect so well to the furniture.
The ‘upcycled’ booth table tops – from Giant Steps when they refurbished their dinning areas – were turned into bed heads, and a result of Greg’s passion for fine pieces of timber. I suppose that comes from his love of trees and the garden.
The contemporary components of the Willow House serve the practical needs. We all love a clean, well functioning kitchen and bathroom.
While the house is beautiful, the surrounds and care taken with the grounds is as equally impressive. What was your inspiration there? Do you have a horticultural background?
This is a combined passion, but also Greg’s profession. Yes Greg began his career in Horticulture at Black Spur Plant Nursery here in Healesville. His design career then expanded, to working with some great garden designers and mentors throughout inner city Melbourne , London and other parts of the UK. The London experience that resulted in a great business partnership with local landscape designers and 2 silver medals at Chelsea Flower Show (2002 & 2008). Much of Greg’s landscape design business is now focused on working in the hospitality industry and the transformation of rural and inner city estate gardens.
I have a passion and background in Natural Medicine. So the Willow House in many respects, is the fusion of our two passions and professions. It is a sensory escape, a place where the garden (a natural bridge to the wider nature) helps us connect to a place of relaxation and rejuvenation.
It was important the garden was a full sensory experience. Not just something of visual impact . Fragrance is a critical component of the garden, as well as the unfolding and discovery that take place in a garden design that changes with the seasons. It was also important to include a harvest garden to support a demand and seasonal supply of fresh food from ‘garden to plate’. And finally, the Chelsea Physic Garden and the Orangerie of Versailles had a great influence on our medicinal and citrus gardens.
The seasonal gift offered to every guest is a lovely touch. Will this be an ongoing feature and what other delights do you have in mind?
Thank you and absolutely. Rosmarinus officinalis is our summer gift and we are discussing/debating the best fit for an autumn gift. It is really important to us that that a ‘living’ gift leaves The Willow House with our guests. The culinary or medicinal herbs with their fragrance and as well as their visual qualities are fondly praised by our guests. We have had to add a second gift for our guests who travel to Melbourne and the Yarra Valley by air. We are finding many international and interstate guests are staying at The Willow House and it is proving to be a little difficult to transport a terracotta pot of rosemary home with them. Therefore beautiful handmade, natural soaps from the Botanica Editions apothecary (with the assistance of Dindi Naturals) are going home with our air travelling guests.
You have just completed Willow House and I believe you are already knee deep in another venture…
I know, we thought we were going to have some time off, but destiny had a different idea. Our neighbour mentioned she wanted to sell late last year and therefore, extending the parkland gardens, complete with Billabong, meandering Picanniny creek and Pinoak nursery seemed a natural addition to The Willow House. The second house is still to be named (and renovated), but the appropriate Botanical name is likely to reveal itself at the right time.
What does your ideal Yarra Valley weekend consist of?
Right now, it seems to be renovations.
My ideal weekend, is when friends come to visit. We explore a couple of boutique wineries (not too many in one day, because we love spending extended time chatting with the owners or winemakers); somewhere great to eat (either café or harvesting from the organic market or local fine food stores); and a good old bush walk (Badger Weir or Maroondah Dam are our current favourites – and very easy) to work off all the food, wine and lazing about socialising. Throw in a bit of retail therapy and a massage/spa treatment from one of our secret providers and then we have an easy Yarra Valley weekend. Who has time for renovating???!
Do you have any favourite blogs/websites or magazines that are your go to for inspiration?
We are really lucky being surrounded by some very creative designers in a variety of disciplines, so inspiration is often via their work and collaborating with them.
I am currently enjoying the Share Design blog (quick bites that I don’t see anywhere else) and (it’s not because I am writing to you) morris brown are always sending through great links and shares of really inspirational work. Mags = Habitat, Slow, Green Magazine. Along with a number of Health and Wellbeing publications (part of the profession!). I am sure I have missed a bundle of important ones, but don’t want to bombard you.