An old miner’s cottage is a creative escape in Hepburn Springs, Victoria, for a family and its friends.
THESE DAYS, MANY SHARE the dream of a little cottage in the country. It was something that Kerrie and Greg von Menge also nurtured — to have an escape from their busy city lives. Their particular dream had a twist though: Kerrie and Greg ran an art framing business in Melbourne and also wanted to share their retreat with their artist friends. “One of the main reasons we wanted the shack in the country was because if we stay at home on the weekend, Greg tends to work,” Kerrie says. “And as most of our clients are friends, we thought we could offer them a break in the country, too,” adds Greg, the hands-on framer in their business. Kerrie, who has a background in interior design and television production, had been keen to find a country escape around Hepburn Springs near Daylesford, 118 kilometres north-west of Melbourne. The town is well known for its artistic community. “We’ve been coming up to this area for 20 years and have a lot of creative friends up here,” she says. Greg adds that once Kerrie had planted the seed, it kept growing until three years ago when she spotted a cottage on the market within in their price range. “I started getting excited about the idea,” he says. On inspection though, the property didn’t appeal so they went off for lunch before driving home. “Then we decided to look in a real estate agent’s window and that’s when we saw this place.” Built in the 1860s, the weatherboard miner’s cottage sat on a corner block on the road running down the ridgeline into Hepburn Springs village. From the rear, it had views high over the Wombat State Forest and a track winding down through bushland to Hepburn’s famous Mineral Springs Reserve and Bathhouse and Spa in the gully below. They instantly knew it would be the perfect weekend retreat, not just for them and their two children, Jackson, 25, a graphic designer, and Sienna, 22, a teacher, but also their friends. Previously it had been used as a holiday home and was still filled with all the furniture and bits and pieces of the late owner. Looking past it all, Kerrie’s eyes lit up at the green enamel stove sitting in the fireplace — it clinched the deal. “I loved that stove,” she recalls. “It was a real country house and, from then on, everything we did revolved around that.” Kerrie loves to decorate with her vintage collections and, long before they found the house, she knew she’d furnish their future getaway with the interesting pieces she’s gleaned from the roadside, markets and antiques stores, as well as the couple’s extensive art collection. The artworks include gifts from visiting artist friends, clients and family connections (artist Mark Schaller is Greg’s cousin, and the late David Larwill his brother-in-law) plus Kerrie’s own intricate wire-and-twig work, lampshades, birdcages and sculptures, which she labels Ebony Twigg. These she prefers to give away as gifts, rather than sell, to friends and those who stay at the cottage. “We’ve called the house Ebony Twigg, too — there are lots of twigs here!” she says with a smile. As for the existing furniture in the house, they intended throwing it out until Kerrie started sifting through, finding several pieces that could be restored. “Everything was >
mahogany coloured, and there was blue carpet and purple velvet-flocked paint in one of the bedrooms,” she says. Among the pieces were a set of kitchen chairs, bedside tables and a stained pine dresser, which Kerrie and Greg have since smartened up with a coat of black paint. Meanwhile, the living area’s floorboards were finished in a black timber stain while the four bedrooms were recarpeted. Walls were painted soothing white, and light and dark shades of grey. Greg then repanelled the internal doors and is still in the process of replacing all the doorknobs with old ones. For the couple, one of the delights of country life has been discovering the bartering system operating within the community. “We swapped one of our beds for some organic beetroot and carrots,” says Kerrie. “We have lovely grapes and a plum tree — we started giving our plums away to neighbours, and they came back with plum cake.” Kerrie adds that the country dream was always about sharing as well as finding the right balance in life. “Greg always finds things to do when we’re here,” Kerrie says. “He enjoys the morning walk to get the papers and coffee, and we both love walking down the old fire track to the old Hepburn swimming pool and the springs. It’s so central we can pop up to Bendigo, or drive out to the ruins of Yandoit — or just sit on the verandah watching the birds. The whole idea of this place was to just get away, and the best thing is bringing friends up here and showing them around.” Find Ebony Twigg on Instagram @ebonytwiggdaylesford
ABOVE Kerrie and Greg von Menge. BELOW The large landscape painting is by Tim Lane and the small artwork is by Heidi Yardley. The animal bud vase was made by local ceramicist Bridget Bodenham.
CLOCKWISE, FROM TOP LEFT A Pony Rider wall-hanging hangs above the sideboard from The Amazing Mills Market. The timber foundry mould was also from the market, discovered at the Wooden Duck stall. The birdcage was a found piece; in the twin bedroom, the bedside table is a roadside find. The knitted cushion is from Freedom, and the lamps are from Adairs. The prints were sourced from a local Facebook group; in the bathroom, the vanity is painted in Dulux Domino with black tapware from Bunnings. For stockist details, see page 135.