A Simple Stone Farmhouse in Beechworth is Home to a Unique Contemporary Interior by Doherty Design Studio | Project FeatureBeechworth, VIC, Australia
Set on a picturesque Beechworth hillside, a small stone farmhouse feels such a part of the landscape that it appears to be almost as old as the hills themselves.
In reality, the simple stone structure encloses a contemporary holiday home by Doherty Design Studio, which prioritises quality of finish over quantity of space, taking its inspiration from the clients’ fond memories of time spent in Japan combined with a rustic Australian aesthetic. What was intended as a temporary construction while the clients built a large holiday house evolved to be the main project, becoming a deeply personal place that fosters connection – to place, and between the family members whose retreat it has become.
When the clients approached the team at Doherty Design Studio with a schematic design by a local draftsman, being ‘attracted to interesting projects’ Mardi Doherty saw the potential in the simplicity and small scale of the farmhouse. Slowly, as they worked with Mardi and project lead Samantha Deacon, the clients also became excited and involved in the idea of creating a modest yet beautiful stone building with an exquisitely finished interior. This was quite the transformation from their original plans, which included ensuites for every bedroom and expansive spaces. The turning point came, Mardi explains, when she asked about then they remembered being the happiest and they reflected on time spent in Japan. ‘They recognised in the scarcity of space the possibility and beauty of connection’, she says.
From this realisation, the designers and clients became increasingly interested in exploring the potential of different materials that recalled both the Japanese influence and the rustic rural Australian location. The design process became a beautiful confluence of connections and influences. The clients were originally both from Beechworth, making it a significant place for them, and Mardi had recently travelled to Tokyo, so had a personal understanding of the clients’ love of Japanese design.
During this process the design was adapted from the initial plans. Mardi encouraged the use locally quarried solid granite for its textural quality and connection to the landscape, which sets the design apart from a more traditional stone or brick structure. Changes were also made to not only increase the amount of natural light but to allow the light through in strategic ways. Samantha says ‘when the light falls on the stone it’s just glorious’, so skylights were placed above the internal granite wall, highlighting the stone’s natural colour variation and texture.
With the high cathedral ceilings, Samantha explains ‘lighting was key – we used the same light fitting, a black steel base with an amber globe, in different variations in every room’. The warmth of the amber contrasted with the simple, industrial black steel is emblematic of the approach to the interior as a whole, which balances elegant, contemporary simplicity with an appreciation for rustic materials and the beauty of natural imperfection.
The Japanese influence is felt in both the floorplan and the finishes. The dining nook references the clients’ memories of eating with friends in their small Tokyo apartment around a similar style dining table, while the bathroom is redefined as zones similar to the Japanese separation of bathing, toilet and hand basin. The basin is set in a ‘wash nook’ which is visible from the living space (the mirror above the basin reflecting back the granite wall at the other end of the house). To one side of the nook, a luxurious freestanding bath is set beside the window, capturing the view.
In small projects especially, Doherty Design work with a restrained palette of materials, the repetition creating a sense of continuity and harmony. This is clearly felt in the Beechworth Residence, with geometric tiling and wood panelling, poured concrete and black steel used throughout. ‘We started by looking at Japanese materials that were simple and also subtly imperfect, that worked with the rustic Australian influence as well’, explains Mardi. Deep navy-blue Japanese tiles, each slightly different from the other, create a sense of depth and texture, and have a strikingly contemporary effect when paired with tiny teeth mosaic tiles in the kitchen, dining table and bathroom. The ceramic tiles recall the client’s interest in Beechworth pottery, displayed on open shelving in the kitchen, and subtly echo the striation of the timber panelled walls and joinery.
The clients enjoy entertaining, so the kitchen is not only visually a focal point of the space but an important social and functional space too. In keeping with the small scale of the space the kitchen is also modest in size, yet clearly designed for cooking the kind of long lazy shared meals that are enjoyed when one is on holiday. Integrated appliances hide discreetly behind the joinery, but the 900mm freestanding range is a feature of the space adding a slightly industrial feel that is reflected in the poured concrete kitchen benches. It is a kitchen that captures perhaps what the entire Beechworth Residence is about – small yet beautifully finished spaces designed to foster relaxation, connection and togetherness.