This striking rural home, owned by Fran Derham and Michael Robertson, is a lesson in nurturing the seed of an idea until it surpasses the original vision and becomes something altogether different, yet better. The Wensley, known affectionately as ‘The Shed’, is located high on the rolling hills of rural Victoria, in Wensleydale, on the Surf Coast Hinterland, a 20-minute drive to the iconic Great Ocean Road. The property, set within a dramatic 32-hectare (80-acre) farm, blends perfectly with the natural vernacular.
Within the design and build, the couple has channelled their dream of creating a unique family bolthole, which doubles at times as an exclusive Airbnb retreat that sleeps ten. Their approach to curating their home is somewhat different from Lynda’s more eclectic style; here, the look is sparse and collections are limited. But what gives this home its character and a sense of unity is the use of one material: wood. Wood is ever-present within the home, it provides the raw ingredient used for both the build and bespoke storage; the textural palette that informs all the spaces; the frame for the breathtaking picture windows that negate the need for art; a repurposing of Michael’s long- collected salvaged timber stock; and a seamless link to nature. ‘Timber lies at the heart of it all: we have worked hard to keep clutter at bay, allowing the materials and architecture to inform the space,’ explains Fran.
The mix of Oregon (Douglas Fir), ironbark, silvertop ash and Australian hardwood timber, the surrounding earthy ambience and underfoot organic warmth exudes a restful calm. Interestingly, throughout the entire space, not one plastered or painted wall breaks the flow. ‘There is a softness and subtleness to the timber: it moves and changes colour seasonally, and as you enter, the building immediately cocoons you. At night, with pitch-black skies, the wood lends an overwhelming quiet to spaces and sleep,’ she says.
Fran, a producer, had grown up spending summers nearby and, together, the couple had fostered a love of this area. ‘In 2010, Michael went out for a drive and came back saying that he had found the perfect spot to build a getaway. We both instantly connected with the seclusion and land.’ The idea for the build began as a passion project for Michael – a builder, with a desire to create his own contemporary take on the iconic Australian shed. At weekends, for four years, the couple lived in their caravan on the land. ‘We wanted to get to know the landscape, the views and to work out how the seasons affected the plot, so we were happy to take our time. The house resonates with personal meaning: it is where Michael proposed to me and feels very pivotal to our connection with each other, and now to our children too,’ says Fran.
No strangers to renovating, this was, however, the couple’s first new build. Michael, inspired by time spent in Montana, USA, and the couple’s shared passion for skiing, was drawn to the log cabin style of luxury mountain retreats, as well as the iconic Kempsey House, New South Wales, built by architect Glenn Murcutt in 1974. To help bring ideas to life, they commissioned their friend, architect Nick Byrne. ‘Nick, well-known for his clean-lined contemporary designs and sculptural angles, collaborated with us and the interior designer Lisa Buxton, who helped us add an international edge to the rustic interiors.’
The design marries two connecting buildings: one shed the home and the other a store, with potential for future projects. The natural cross ventilation from the striking glazing – integral to the success of this build – unites nature and structure. The monolithic concrete sculpture, adjacent to the wood- burning stove, creates a sense of drama and can be enjoyed from every angle, both in the downstairs open-plan layout and in the upstairs galleried loft – home to a fun bunk room that sleeps six. ‘Sitting by the fire, taking in the view and the beauty of what we have created together, feels very humbling,’ Fran reflects.
Throughout the open-plan design, a sophisticated kitchen and glamorous bathrooms are complemented by contemporary lighting, organic textiles and sustainable textures. ‘The build will get even better with age and will, we hope, be nurtured for generations to come,’ says Fran.
‘Curate: Inspiration for an Individual Home’ by Lynda Gardener and Ali Heath published by Hachette Australia is available to buy now!
The Shed is available for rent. See the listing here!