Two hours’ drive from Sydney and Canberra lies the Braebrook property, named after a Scottish word meaning “stream on a hillside” — and true to form, you can watch a meandering creek from the tree-shaded deck. Home to Australia’s largest magnolia tree, an abundant fruit orchard and cascading old willow trees, Braebrook was once a dairy farm — until, controversially, it was the site of a proposed micronation in the 70s.
Previous owners Lindsay and Lilian Munro filed documents, currently housed in the National Archives of Australia, to create their own country on these picturesque five-acres. They were planning for their independent nation to have a luxury health spa featuring a “large castle” to accommodate guests and events, and of course, like any good sovereigns, the Munros wanted to manufacture and sell passports, stamps, currency and “tastefully designed” souvenirs. Like calendars.
Needless to say, the government stymied the Munros’ dreams of seceding, and today Braebrook is a beautiful holiday spot that Australians don’t need a visa to visit. The property changed hands and now belongs to a Sydney-based family of five, who spend school holidays in the modernised 100-year-old farmhouse and rent it out the rest of the year.
And the classic weatherboard house is looking extra beautiful right now, because renowned style and shopping expert Melissa Penfold has just revamped its interior. With regular holiday renters coming through, the decor needed to be low-maintenance and hard-wearing — but it had to look good, too. “We chose tactile but tough materials throughout the house that have visual interest and wear well,” explains Melissa. Cottons, linens, wicker, jute, timber, stone and metal are the stars.
Melissa decided to work around a few key quality pieces already in the house; a seven-metre solid timber dining table, a knockout chandelier and two well-built sofas. She updated the shiplap walls with several coats of Dulux Lexicon, which she calls, “a foolproof liveable shade of white paint that always works well in the Australian countryside — too much colour can look unflattering and visually noisy.”
Then it was time to go shopping. “We did what we always do, seeking out fad-free, hard-wearing classics,” says Melissa. “An African wicker sofa, pretty timber consoles, a coffee table, elegant lamps, and cushions. Plus simple curtains, bedding and baskets. Timeless staples that can be mixed and matched.”
Styles and themes, like French and Oriental, were blended together with a cohesive colour palette and lack of pattern. “A limited palette is unifying,” explains Melissa, “while warm textures, such as leather, wool, and rattan, are easy on the eyes. “
Windows everywhere were treated to new timber venetians and roller blinds from . “Windows and walls were treated as one seamless surface to instantly correct proportions,” says Melissa.
The bedding, curtains and cushions are a mix of , , and .
Fans and door hardware are from Bunnings. Furniture is mostly from , and Barbara’s Storehouse.
Rush and jute matting from was added to timber flooring. “It’s affordable, but doesn’t look it and holds furniture beautifully,” says Melissa. “Once we got the flooring right everything else seemed to come together.”
Finally, all spaces were sharpened with new table lamps and lampshades. They give rooms confidence and are one of the first things people notice. “We opted for great bases in classic shapes from glass to metal topped with big linen shades,” says Melissa.
Walls were decorated with a mix of African baskets (old and new). “The aim was to just fill up the spaces, working from the centre out,” says Melissa. “Massed together, things achieve drama. We raided Orient House for African tribal trays in all sizes and shapes and used them on walls in living and sleeping areas to create drama.”
, but be careful how long you book for. You just might find yourself inspired to set up your own nation state (and we know how the Australian government feels about that)…
Melissa Penfold provides an easy e-decor service: You send photos of your rooms, she sends back a shopping list and design instructions for your space.