Nestled two hours drive south of Sydney, Soul of Gerringong is relaxed coastal accommodation that invites all guests to truly slow down. For owners Simone and Ben Matthews, the original house was love at first sight. Although not intending to relocate their family of four boys from Sydney’s northern beaches, the couple were drawn to the 1880s farmhouse whilst visiting and with a few decisive strokes the seasoned renovators found themselves its proud new owners.
Simone and Ben believed the property was too good not to share, so set about restoring elements and creating three seperate guest retreats. Traditional elements like the stunning stone fireplace and original flooring formed the starting point for their plans, followed by the creation of lots of break-out spaces for privacy and solitude. The couple then updated their beloved building with what has become one of Simone’s signatures: light, which abounds throughout the property thanks to well-placed skylights and raked ceilings painted white.
Simone then decorated using another of her methods by selecting a statement piece for each space and building from there. These hero items reflect a love of palm trees – which surround the property in secluded gardens – texture and a neutral palette inspired by Soul's natural elements.
The Dharma Door is thrilled Simone chose items from our collection to contribute to what is now a sought after, soulful space. Here, she shares a little more about her design approach and her key ingredients for a happy holiday.
How do you describe Soul of Gerringong to your friends, family and potential guests?
It took me a while to describe what Soul of Gerringong is, as it is more than a holiday property. I feel like this sums it up perfectly: Soul of Gerringong is about blurring the line between a hotel and holiday house. I have designed it to incorporate everything that I want in a group accommodation. When I am away on holidays I like to wake up and have my morning cup of tea in bed before I connect with others. And a non-negotiable is your own bathroom.
Tell us a little about the story of how Soul of Gerringong came to be.
I say that the farmhouse found us. We were in Gerringong for a friend’s 40th birthday party and from the moment I walked past the farmhouse, it was love at first sight. I didn’t even know the property was on the market! After a month of negotiations the farmhouse was ours. It was crazy as we weren’t looking for a holiday property or relocating to the NSW South Coast from Sydney.
From the moment the keys were ours, I had a vision of creating a new style of accommodation for the area.
What is the ultimate vision for the stunning space you have created? What are you hoping the experience of your guests and event attendees will be?
My vision for Soul is for it to be a place my guests can escape their daily hustle. I set out to create a new style of accommodation for the area that was accessible by less than two hours from Sydney.
To me, holidays are about reconnecting with family, friends or work mates. It is about creating memories; it is a privilege to have guests at our property that are creating lifetime memories.
I want our guests to feel that they have reconnected with others, but also with themselves. My vision is to create a place to come together, but also to be able to have some time to yourself. To me, on holidays I feel like I have a chance to slow down and that is having some solo time. I have designed the guest rooms so everyone has their own internal and external access, as well as plenty of private spots in the property to access the landscaped surrounds.
What do you want them to feel when they spend time at Soul? How do you want them to leave?
I want my guests to experience that holiday feeling from the moment they arrive. What I mean by ‘holiday feeling’ is when you take a deep breath out, your shoulders relax and you feel lighter. My vision is for my guests to recharge, so by the time they leave, their cups are overflowing and they are energised to go back to back to their daily lives.
I am a big believer in how a holiday can have a positive effect on our mental health; it really is powerful. I have aligned with Livin, an organisation focused on breaking the stigma around mental health issues. I want to have a positive effect on each and every guest at Soul.
When designing the renovation of this historic 1800s farmhouse, what elements did you integrate to enable you to support these intentions?
From the first time we stepped inside the farmhouse, we both fell in love with the original character. I told my husband Ben to keep our cards close to our chest when we went in with the real estate. Well, I blew that as soon as I saw the timber floorboards and announced we were making an offer! This is where our design was inspired from.
It was all about keeping as much of the original structure and materials as possible. Those floorboards have been repurposed as the flooring in the Soul Barn, and the windows in the barn are the original farmhouse windows. In the Cabana, we have used the original wall timbers from a dilapidated dwelling on the site that has now become the Soul Cottage.
We used original materials, but we also wanted to bring the farmhouse to today’s world. So overall, it is a mix of original elements and a design that allowed it to be flooded with natural light via the pitched ceilings and classic black and white colour scheme.
Following design, what decorating elements did you choose to achieve your vision?
Soul isn’t loud with colour; it is all about textures. From the timber floors to the panelled walls to the stone fireplace, I wanted to replicate these elements with the styling. Linen bedding was a must in the guest bedrooms and we have used unique rattan pendants and raw timber furniture throughout the property.
Soul is a holiday property, so I wanted it to feel stylish yet relaxed. I wanted to have some fun and break some rules to create that holiday feeling.
You have also spoken about selecting one statement piece per space and building from there. Can you talk a little more about this, and share some of the creative process you have developed throughout your experience?
There is always one hero piece in a space. If there are too many you will not experience that holiday feeling. The hero piece is there to capture attention, but it is also there to guide our guests through the space.
So we always start with our hero piece! If I think about our Soul Barn, the antique doors are the hero of the space, the eye goes straight to them. I used The Dharma Door Mandala to follow the eye further through the space. We like to guide the guest’s journey in our space.
What works really well in the space? What are your favourite elements?
I am a huge fan of the pitched ceilings - this has become our signature style. Teamed with the rattan pendants, I am in love!
I also love how we have created different styles in each space. They have a cohesive feel, but also have their own personality. The farmhouse is more on the classic side, the barn has a boho influence, the cabana is plantation style and the cottage has the organic feel. Coming next: the Soul Beach House will have its own feel again.
What do your guests comment on the most?
Definitely the fireplace. Everyone is in love with it - which is why it is even used in the heart of summer!
The common thing that guests tell me is that they feel like they are staying in their own resort. They often plan restaurant bookings and local experiences, only to find that once they arrive they don’t want to leave and they cancel all the plans to just soak up the space!
You have used items from The Dharma Door collection to great effect throughout the property’s three separate abodes - including the Mandala and Tala wall hangings, storage baskets, Kasba jute rug and Sunda jute floor runner. What was your intentions when making these selections, and how have you used them in each space?
Before we even started the build I knew that I wanted to feature The Dharma Door pieces. As I said earlier, Soul is all about texture and that is what I love about The Dharma Door’s pieces.
I selected the Jute Wall Hanging because it has such a dramatic effect as you enter the farmhouse hallway. It is the feature in the space, but it also works with the narrow farmhouse hallways. We have supplied guests with The Dharma Door’s woven totes in every guest room to take to the beach or to head up to the street to grab supplies. In the Soul Barn I selected the Kasba Jute Rug to lay against the dark floors; the contrast allows the rug to be the feature.
With our latest property, I just love the rawness of the Tala Wall Hanging teamed with the Sunda Floor Runner. Nothing else was needed in this space, as these pieces are the heroes!
What is your favourite item from The Dharma Door collection to date, and why?
Can I just say everything! Seriously, I love it all. If I have to pick one, it would be the jute wall hangings. I love the detail, the texture and the scale. It is timeless! And a practical favourite are the storage baskets. At Soul, we use them for anything from the firewood storage to housing the throws. At my home, I have an abundance of them for shoe storage, toys and pot plants!
Why do you think natural, woven elements work so well at Soul of Gerringong? What draws you to using them generally?
To me less is more. Working with natural elements is my go-to. It doesn't feel over powering, nor does it lack feeling. Here at Soul we have dark flooring, so the contrast of the natural fibres really pulls the whole look together.
And finally, what is your key piece of advice for those decorating their home? You believe in keeping things timeless and personal, can you share a little more about this?
I have a 70/20/10 rule that I follow for all my projects. This rule allows you to create your own unique style: work with 70% of one style, 20% of another and a final 10% layer to bring it all together.
And my other piece of advice is to find your go-to thing and surround yourself with it. It is that thing that when you see it, it makes you smile & feel good. For me it is palm trees, for others it could be a colour, a type of material or an object. Once you know what it is, inject it into your space.
Images supplied by Soul of Gerringong - visit the Soul website for bookings.
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