"It was always on our bucket list to do up an old house and I’d say the property actually found us. We weren’t even looking for a property at the time.”
The story is well told of how Simone saw the property by chance one day when she happened to be in Gerringong. She fell in love instantly, phoning her husband Ben jokingly telling him they were buying a farmhouse. Then minutes later standing outside a real estate office she saw the house in the window. It was for sale. The wheels were in motion.
The family moved to Gerringong at the beginning of 2017 – to live and breathe the town – to immerse themselves in the relaxed coastal mood for a year while renovating and creating their dream coastal property. The plan was always to move back to Sydney afterwards, to Sutherland, where until now their life had always been, however when the time came no one wanted to leave.
“We’ve become south coasters” says Simone Mathews, reflecting on how happy her husband Ben and her four boys are living in Gerringong.
Soul was never designed to be a home, but rather a home to many. Together Simone, an interior designer and renovator, and Ben, a builder, have renovated and sold many homes over the years – 10 in 13 years to be precise – but this farmhouse felt different. Simone could feel it wasn’t meant to be just for one person, but a project to be shared among many.
The brief was to create a holiday accommodation – using a Byron Bay inspired but south coast style; stylish, but laid back, where you could walk in with sand between your toes and relax. A space where everyone can be together, but also have their own space.
“I had a very clear direction from the beginning that I wanted the actual farmhouse buildings to pay homage to the history of the property, so I had to keep a very coastal classic feel to it. You can see those elements throughout a pallet of the blacks, the whites, the naturals – nothing too overpowering and it all works in a unified approach”
Within the farmhouse everything was created around the fire place. The front part of the house is original now holding four guest rooms, all spacious, with ensuite, private spaces, and outdoor access.
Original features have been saved where possible, and additions sympathetic to the time and era. The ceilings in the bedrooms are incredible – vast and raked, spiralling dramatically, shadowing the space with a world of last craft; discovered only when the plaster ceilings in the rooms were removed. Inside a wall cavity, an old book from the 1800’s was found sprouting the benefits of apple cider vinegar for our health.
“It was a really rewarding project. It was different to the projects we usually do because there was history to it. It felt like a privilege to be doing it. It was about restoring it back to the community.
“We learnt that the Cooke family in Gerringong (the original owners of the property) were the first to have a car, and used the property as a boarding house, picking people up from the station and bringing them back for the weekend. So, in a way we have restored it to its former glory, although we weren’t aware of that when we started the project.”
Although most of the walls needed to be relined, the panels were matched to the original profile, as were the windows and floors. Everything that could be reused, has been recycled to the barn. Past the front bedrooms and hallway not much could be salvaged, although during the demolition the fireplace was rescued, found rendered over and covered in green paint. The fireplace now stands proudly, moved to suit the new larger area, but still in its original form, extended and further glorified using local stone accessed from nearby properties.
Farmhouses demand space where everything works together, large communal spaces, personal nooks, relaxed and informal. The open design incorporates a geometric, raked A-frame ceiling, dramatically hovering over the living space, adding brightness, airiness, openness – eclectic but connected.
Another wonderful find was the original oven, again rendered over, lost; magnificent in its presence and natural stone design, now perfect as the outdoor fireplace.
While the farmhouse is classic coastal style, the barn is more a rustic boho theme, and the cabana is more plantation, beside the pool. The barn has been meticulously created; newly built, but repurposing materials to lend an authentic rustic feel. A special space often coveted by brides when they come to stay.
The space itself is perfect as a coastal beachside retreat – yoga, foodie, workshops, weddings, family get-togethers’, girls weekends. Accommodating up to 16 people, corporates are also flocking there for planning, working parties and team building.
“We did all this thinking what if no one comes, and now we are pretty much booked out, which is amazing, it’s overwhelming. We’ve supported local but acted global in our concept. We’ve had a lot of brands stay – Qantas, Destinations, corporates – and when they come it’s not just about the Soul of Gerringong. The whole town benefits. It’s good for everyone.”
“A big thing that Ben and I and the boys love, is seeing people creating memories in our space.”