Landscape designer Kathleen Murphy is keeping fond childhood memories alive with this coastal home designed to safeguard the future.
Jul 07, 2022 3:25am
Growing up on a dairy farm in Gippsland, Victoria, Kathleen Murphy didn’t have too many long holidays far from home during her childhood. Instead, the family would bundle into a car and head 25 minutes south to Inverloch, where the river meets the sea.
“Inverloch was always where we took our day trips to – it enabled farm life to continue,” Kathleen explains.
A sleepy fishing town at the mouth of the calm Anderson Inlet, Inverloch was the sort of quiet place that flew under the radar, with tourists and city slickers favouring the Mornington Peninsula or Phillip Island. Even now, it still has a relaxed, countrified feel – which is why Kathleen, 48, and her husband Robert, 49, were keen to put down roots.
“Robert is originally from Ireland and grew up in the coastal town of Lahinch, County Clare, so we both knew we wanted to retire by the sea,” Kathleen says. “I still have family in the area so Inverloch seemed like the perfect spot.”
But, with house prices on the rise, they didn’t feel like they had time to wait for retirement before making a move. After five years of fruitless hunting, they boldly made an offer on a house that wasn’t yet on the market, and it was accepted.
The late 1960s-era, two-storey house just 10 metres from the beach was in need of TLC, but Kathleen loved the feel of the space, with its sea views, balcony and large windows.
Knowing they would need to make the house a financially viable investment until they were ready to retire, Kathleen and Robert hatched a plan to lease it as luxury holiday accommodation when they weren’t using it for their own family getaways with their three children, Conor, 15, Niall, 14, and Niamh, 13. But, before they could welcome guests, they needed to do a substantial renovation.
“It was really run-down,” says Kathleen. “There were lots of damaged walls, and the master bathroom had water damage and needed to be gutted.” Plus, she adds, the balcony at the front needed repairs to make it safe to use.
Settling on the house just as COVID-19 swept the globe, it became their pandemic project. Kathleen, an award-winning landscape designer, took on the garden revamp, filling the beds with native plants. She brought in stylist Belle Hemming to guide the interiors. She was also lucky to have a family friend, builder Paul Lovell, help get the house into shape.
“Home renovations have taken off during COVID, so it was really hard to get tradespeople, but he came to us on Sundays and worked seven days a week, the gorgeous man,” she says.
With the beach so close, a coastal-inspired look was a given. But Kathleen wanted to offer a different riff on the typical beach-shack theme.
“Our brief to Belle was to make it attractive so it could bridge all seasons, not just summer, because it is actually lovely in winter,” she explains.
Belle’s answer was a palette of rich, moody colours inspired by the bushland surrounding the beach, creating a cool retreat in summer and a cosy cocoon in winter. While initially Kathleen wasn’t sure about cloaking some of the already dark spaces in deep tones, she trusted the process and gave Belle free rein.
“I think it’s important when you engage a creative person not to stifle them,” she says. “I know that from my business, too, when people get me to design gardens, that you need to be left to do what you do well… She’s done such a good job – it really works.”
Kathleen’s creative eye has also come into play – an op-shop aficionado, she sourced a few second-hand pieces of furniture and collaborated with friend and photographer Marnie Hawson on a collection of artworks for the house.
“I wanted to make it feel like my place, too,” Kathleen says. Marnie’s photographs sit alongside works by local artist Lucy Hersey, who specialises in paintings made with foraged earth pigments. Championing local artists, craftspeople and the area’s natural beauty was important to Kathleen, who is passionate about protecting the environment.
Alongside eco-friendly touches such as an onsite compost and organic linen, Kathleen set up a carbon offsetting scheme with three nearby farmers, including her brother, who now runs the family dairy farm.
“I’m planting a tree for each person who stays, and I envisage there’s going to be at least 500 to 600 planted each year,” she says. The goal is to create a wildlife corridor across the farms, creating strips of trees, shrubs and bushes for reptiles, birds and other creatures.
“I believe that you should always make things better than how you found them,” Kathleen explains. “I thought that if I could connect with local farmers and get them to agree to fence off their cattle from the trees, and if I supplied the plants, it would really make a difference over a few years.”
With the home’s refresh now complete and a plan for the future in place, Kathleen is looking forward to spending the summer reliving her childhood holidays with the next generation.
“I love that Inverloch has that combination of the sea and bushland,” she says. “There’s great bushwalking all around, you can take kayaks up through the river, the beaches are safe, which is good for kids, and it’s got great fishing, which I love to do. It’s just really nice to switch off.”