Almost at the end of the scenic Great Ocean Road lies the picturesque fishing village of Port Fairy standing guard over the mouth of the Moyne River and overlooking one of the most beautiful stretches of coastline in Australia.
In the early 19th century whalers and seal hunters used the this coast and the bay was named by the crew of the whaler The Fairy in 1828.
The village has a rich history – John Griffiths established a whaling station in 1835 and, in 1843, James Atkinson, a Sydney solicitor, purchased land in the town and built a harbour on the Moyne River.
Port Fairy has more than 50 buildings in the town protected by the National Trust of Australia. One of these is a bluestone residence built in 1852, a pre-Victorian house built for sea captain John Mason but the home’s colonial features were concealed behind countless later additions.
“The old house was an uninhabitable wreck when we bought it and to see it in all its glory today is a great feeling,” enthuses Colleen Guiney, who with John Watkinson, purchased the Port Fairy house seven years ago. “We set out with a simple aim; to build the best accommodation in regional Victoria. It has been six years in the making, dogged by planning battles, unique design requirements and the challenge of creating something entirely bespoke all from a distance.”
Colleen and John had rather diverse backgrounds that now compliment each other in their Drift House venture.
Colleen was a visual merchandiser creating window displays, styling for photoshoots and providing consulting to small businesses to improve customer spend. “As a visual merchandiser I have learnt how to sell by creating an emotional attachment to a product that makes a customer pick it up and purchase it. At Drift House I use these skills to create something our guests will appreciate, fall in love with and go home and tell their friends about this very special hotel in Port Fairy.”
John started his career as a geologist but didn’t really like it and took on a series of jobs to buy himself some time till he worked out what he wanted to do when he grew up! These included pizza cook, prawn trawler-man, fruit picker and selling consumer electronics before spending many years in senior executive positions, specialising in sales and marketing. He went on to become a CEO of a business process outsourcing company and chief marketing officer of an ASX 200 company.
“Throughout this time John was always planning an escape to a better life and progressing up the ladder was his means of getting there. He misses nothing about the corporate life to the extent that he now regularly forgets to take his mobile phone with him and can’t remember most of his computer logins,” Colleen says.
Designed by RAIA award-winning architects Multiplicity, Drift House sits within the solid bluestone walls of one of Port Fairy’s most impressive buildings. With an imposing double storey, balconied Victorian façade and a strikingly modern perforated metal addition to the rear, it is already an icon of the town’s streetscape.
”When we first inspected the property, it wasn’t clear what was original and what had been added,” says architect Tim O’Sullivan, a director of Multiplicity.
This was confirmed by interior designer Sioux Clark, also a director of Multiplicity, ”What made it confusing was that many of the additions and alterations were from recycled Victorian materials, such as the iron lacework added to the front verandah in the 1930s.”
The owners brief to Multiplicity was to create four spacious self-contained apartments using the original building and by providing a contemporary wing.
Ms Clark said the house was “invested with so much seafaring history” that Colleen and John had “developed a Ghost and Mrs Muir mindset” for its redevelopment — the past coexisting with the present in a romantic narrative. “In architectural terms this translated to the heritage house being replicated in a new structure — same shape and scale, stripped of high Victorian embellishment — sited directly behind ‘the old’, such that the bulk of the ‘new’ was hidden from street view.
[The Ghost and Mrs Muir was a romantic 1947 film based on a novel written by Josephine Leslie under the nom de plume R A Dick. Set in early 1900s England, a young widow, Lucy Muir (Gene Tierney), moves to the seaside village of Whitecliff and into Gull Cottage with her daughter Anna (Natalie Wood). Lucy is visited by the ghostly apparition of the house’s former owner, a roguish but harmless sea captain named Daniel Gregg (Rex Harrison) who she eventually falls in love with.]
Unlike many boutique developments, where every room is identical, each apartment in Drift House has its own signature. John and Colleen wanted a bed-an-breakfast that offered a point of difference.
Drift House is a property of contrasts consisting of four very private and entirely self-contained suites each with an individual design. The use of innovative materials, salvaged timber and beautifully designed fixtures results in a modern, cutting edge and superbly comfortable environment. The original bluestone residence is complimented by a modern extension clad in a perforate metal skin with a glass link joining the two buildings that provides light and private entrances to each apartment. Walls crafted in local stone define the landscaping and anchor the building solidly on the prominent corner.
Each suite is entirely bespoke and provides guests with a sense of discovery. High end fixtures combine with salvaged materials used in unexpected ways to create a calm, sensual and supremely relaxing environment.
“It is unique, individual and thoughtfully crafted and will set a new standard for accommodation in regional Victoria, one that relates to the history of the site and the place but from a contemporary perspective. Like all great designs, Drift House will polarise opinion but for experience seekers, the design savvy or those simply looking for something a little more inspiring, it will provide a refreshing option. Striking external architecture combines with sumptuous and sensual interiors to create a feeling best described as sexy luxury,” Colleen says. “We think Drift House is a special place to stay. It does not represent five-star opulence nor doily wrapped Victoriana.
It is unique, individual and entirely bespoke.”