Insights • Inspirations • Destinations • Design

Saturday, August 18, 2012

A Picture-Perfect Country House, Part 2

As promised, here is the second part of the post on Fern Vale Farm. Soon after I photographed this beautiful country house (thanks to its gracious and engaging owner Jane Charlwood), it was voted as one of the Top Ten Country Houses in Australia by The Australian newspaper. It was an extraordinary accolade for what is essentially a quiet, understated, monochromatic cottage hidden away in the shadow of Hanging Rock. But it was also well deserved. Jane Charlwood worked magic with this formerly run-down, gloomy B&B, and turned it on its melancholy head.

I've lost some of my original photographs, but they probably weren't very good so it doesn't matter! Fortunately, Leigh of the beautiful Brabourne Farm blog did a post on it in 2009, and so I've used her scans of my old photos, with gratitude. (Thank you Leigh.) These were  used in the book Country Estates.

I hope the new owners are very, very happy here. Fern Vale Farm is a rather special place.

Tucked away down the end of a holly lane, like some fabulous fairytale-style hideaway, Fern Vale Farm is one part magic, one part minimalist chic. When Charlwood, a Melbourne- based interior designer, first purchased the property, however, it was dark, cluttered and recovering from a period as a bed and breakfast. The house, which is over a century old, was worn out, and looked it. Charlwood’s father suggested she pull the lot down. 

But, like so many who fall in love with a country house, Charlwood wanted to save it: she felt the house still had soul, and a spirit. So the “rabbit warren of rooms”, as she calls them, were opened up and reconfigured into more liveable areas. Five bedrooms and three swish new ensuites were carved out of the former bed and breakfast rooms, while a sunny kitchen, a beautiful long dining space, a cosy library, a country office, a fabulous living room and a spectacular sunroom flowing out to a deck and then down to a playing field-sized lawn hemmed by hedges and mowed to perfection for summer soirĂ©es were created out of the rest of the interior.

Of course, the facelift took a little more than some clever architecture. The harmonious balance of big open rooms and small intimate ones was achieved by hundreds of litres of white paint, which Charlwood used to ‘open’ up the formerly cramped guesthouse. Window frames, walls, even floorboards were all finished in a chalky eggshell white that has transformed the house into a gallery-like space fit for the sleek vignettes that have since filled it. 

Some of the timber was too beautiful to whitewash and so Charlwood simply updated those parts with a rich, glossy chocolate finish, which has made the house a little like architectural confectionery: completely and utterly irresistible.

The interior is pure glamour but it is the garden, with its shady nooks and rose-scented crannies, that truly makes this place. Most of the garden is green, which was a surprising choice for a country garden, but Jane felt it a simple planting scheme was best to reflect the monochromatic palette of the interior.

Even the animals match the colour palette! (Jane's not the only one who colour-coordinates her livestock: Martha Stewart also does it.)

Fern Vale Farm could be described as the Audrey Hepburn of country houses: understated in its chic simplicity but also infused with delightful splashes of wit and whimsy. Polished to a sophisticated finish, the house has now achieved an apotheosis its original B&B owner may never have imagined.

{All images mine, excluding 7 & 9, which are from RT Edgar's property website}


  1. You're so right. What an absolutely beautiful and enchanting house. I particularly love the kitchen and the dining area. And the boxwood balls in their containers against the brickwork - gorgeous. Just done a quick flick through the your posts I have missed and dearest Monty Don is one of my hugest crushes - my friends back in UK used to tease me about it - I watched him every week on Gardeners World. That Italian garden he visited looked amazing.... I agree with your top gardens and I have been lucky enough to visit Villandry, Sissinghurst and Barnsley House (before it was a hotel and the garden was open to the public). Hope all well with you Janelle. S x

    1. Have just emailed/commented on your blog, darling Sarah. Will be sad to see you head back to the UK. But hope to visit you soon! xx

  2. I remember seeing this house - I became obsessed with the armchair in one of the photos. After I priced it at Space, I became less obsessed! It is a lovely house and garden.

  3. What a lovely place, thanks for the tour.x

  4. I coveted that chair too Heidi! It's from Space furniture. And yes, I think it costs more than the house. Jane also had it in her Albert Park house; Vogue Living shot it for a story one year. xx

  5. I like the climbing roses and that painting , Storrier?


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