Transforming a dream into reality, landscape architect and urban designer Natasha Morgan left behind her career and life in Melbourne to create Oak & Monkey Puzzle, a design, event and horticultural-focussed property just outside of Daylesford in Victoria, where she now lives with her two children.
Beneath 160-year-old oak trees, Natasha Morgan spoke with Fiona Killackey about home renovations, fulfilling dreams, the magnificence of nature and the delight that comes with living off the land.
Breathtaking. That’s the first word that comes to mind when you pull off the seemingly endless Ballan-Daylesford Road and into Oak & Monkey Puzzle, a property renovated by Natasha Morgan. Set back from the bitumen, the stark, white weatherboard home stands out against a backdrop of soaring gums and age-old oaks. Acting not only as a home for Natasha and her two small children, Oak & Monkey Puzzle is also a buzzing place of business. In collaboration with other local creatives, Natasha hosts events, workshops, shoots and even weddings on the property, as well as utilising the spectacular garden to grow flowers for a local florist collective, and a host of produce for her popular preserves.
‘I had dreamt about owning a place in the country since my early days at Uni, and had been passively looking for about eight years,’ says Natasha. Initially searching for a weekender, Natasha changed her mind when she and her partner stumbled upon an almost derelict property, housing what was originally the Spargo Creek Post Office, built in the 1860s by Swiss-Italian builder, Mr Spargo. ‘I stood there under those towering trees, and felt the dream had to happen somehow’ she says.
Utilising her skills as a landscape architect and urban designer, Natasha created all the drawings for the new home, with work carried out by herself, her partner, and various tradespeople. ‘It was so rundown… we had gaps in the walls where bats would fly in’ Natasha recalls. One of the renovation highlights was discovering the original post office walls. ‘You can actually see the builder’s fingerprints in the earth… I love to put my own hands on this and imagine it back then.’
Merging the best of a Gold Rush-era structure with a crisp palette of white, black and charcoal, the home brings together an endearingly ad-hoc edit of vintage collectables and contemporary details. ‘I like to think of the home as an experience you inhabit, rather than a collection of things’ says Natasha.
At one end of the home is a master bedroom with new parquet flooring and artwork from Josh Bowes, alongside an all-white bathroom with a spectacular view to the garden via an oversized window. At the centre of the home is a dramatic dark dining room, featuring that original exposed earth wall from the original post office. An all-white kitchen leads onto Natasha’s mudroom, where she stores her preserves. At the front of the house is the lounge room, featuring a wall of vintage and contemporary art, as well as Natasha’s collection of vintage pewter and stoneware. Her children’s room is a mixture of vintage and new, bursting with colourful paintings and wooden toys.
‘I love it here,’ says Natasha. ‘What started as a dream has turned into more than I could imagine!’
Natasha hosts workshops and events at Oak & Monkey Puzzle throughout the year, click here to see upcoming dates and details. This year the Melbourne Food & Wine Festival’s Regional Longest Lunch – Daylesford will be held on the property, with proceeds going to the Daylesford Primary Kitchen Garden Program.