Nestled in Australia’s wool capital, the Western District of Victoria, Sarah and Peter’s farm, ‘Coroona’, has been a labour of love for the couple, who bought it back in 2016 and have since restored much of the bluestone homestead.
“We’d been living in Queensland and decided to return to Victoria,” says Sarah. “The farm came up online and Pete said to me, ‘I think this is the one for us.’ I was going to be overseas at the time of the auction, so we wrote a personal letter to the vendors about how much we wanted the property. We realised it was unconventional, but the home had been much loved and it was an emotional sale; we wanted them to know we would care for and love it like they had.”
“The best thing about Christmas in the country is the space,” says Sarah. “It’s the ability to go out and sit underneath the verandah with a gin in the afternoon sun, or lounge under leafy trees, or a game of cricket on the lawn, or the relaxed evening walk. It’s being able to enjoy your food and drink, and not go anywhere – everything is here. We love the lifestyle, and it’s the one time of the year we truly get to share it.”
Who lives here? Sarah, an author and creative director of Hope & Co and Australian Country House, her husband Peter, a farmer, and youngest son Toby, 18, with regular visits from adult children James, Chloe, Georgie, Eliza and Skye, plus a menagerie of pets.
What’s your favourite room? Sarah: “The Snug – it’s a beautiful room to be in. The windows on both sides mean it’s light-filled, yet super-cosy at night with the open fire during winter.”
Your favourite piece in the home? “Our inherited formal dining table, because it’s so beautiful – and with added leaves it seats 18 people.”
Any decorating lessons learnt? “Be prepared to see the beauty in found objects. Don’t always be seduced by the dollar sign as perceived value.”
The earliest part of the house was built in the 1840s, with further additions in the 1870s, early 1900s and 1950s. And in the six years since Sarah and Peter bought the property, the house has undergone more extensive renovations. “This has been an additional challenge as we’re a working farm, and I also have a creative business [Hope & Co] – so we’re very time poor,” explains Sarah. “It’s taken us all that time to get to a point where we’re living in the house the way we want to and, as is often the case with old houses, there’s always so much to do.” It was also difficult to make changes during the pandemic. “Living in a regional area, trades are notoriously hard to get. As it was, we waited 12 months for a builder for our snug and kitchen renovations,” says Sarah. But there can be advantages in delays. “You have to live in a house and wait for it to speak to you. Sometimes the best solutions would come to us in a lightbulb moment two years down the track.”
As an artist and interior decorator, Sarah describes her style as “classic English meets Australian country”. “I love a bit of rustic-modern. I draw inspiration from a number of different influences – from French and English houses, and I love a lot of American designers too,” she adds.
With bonfire-esque logs stacked in the fireplace, this room is the embodiment of Sarah’s marriage of styles. Gallery walls are a staple, with the walls boasting what she refers to as her ‘Wall of History’ − full of family photos, historical documents and artefacts collected over the generations. The Lyre bird feathers in the frame beside the fireplace were sourced from Baimbridge Antiques in Hamilton. The fallow deer’s head was sourced from a private collector locally, for Pete’s 50th birthday, as he’s had a lifelong interest in taxidermy. The pheasant on the mantle was purchased from Vintage 216 in Ballarat.
Sarah’s Instagram account (@australiancountryhouse) began with Coroona, documenting their journey with the property and life on the land, and has now evolved more broadly into a celebration of Australian country homes and all their influences. “I grew up with a single mother, and often money was tight,” explains Sarah. “Mum was a super-talented interior decorator with beautiful taste. Her adage was, ‘If you can’t afford charm, you create it.’ Good design should be accessible, and the key is looking for beauty and opportunity to repurpose everywhere.”
The couple have raised a blended family of six (now adult) children, so Coroona is as much a place for their large family as well. “Even though we’re virtually empty nesters, we were still renovating for a crowd with six children! And we’ve found, with their partners, extended family, and friends, we have always needed a large house,” says Sarah. “One of our favourite times of the year is Christmas, because people love Christmas in the country – especially family members from the city.”
“The colour of the cabinets was a close match of the Farrow & Ball paint colour called Railings, which I found and fell in love with in the UK,” says Sarah, who had the cabinets sprayed in Resene Shark. The butler’s sink, tapware and pendant lights are all from Schots Home Emporium. Adding character are handmade Spanish subway tiles from National Tiles, handle pulls from The Society inc. and brass knobs sourced from India. “We chose a quartz stone bench for durability, being in the country, and they’re beautifully complemented by our stools from Provincial Home Living.”
Sarah says her family has a fairly traditional Christmas. “I focus on the tree, with loads of coordinated presents underneath, and the table. The rest of the house is filled with fresh flowers and foliage from the garden, and we place festoon and fairy lights everywhere,” she shares. Family recipes are also an annual speciality, with contributions from each generation. “Absolute musts are my mother’s star shortbreads, my husband’s glazed ham and my father’s plum pudding,” says Sarah.
In the main dining space, the bluestone walls on one side are a lovely contrast to the more refined walls on the other side of the room. For a similar colour, try Porter’s Paint Western White. “I’ve done little to change this room, and we inherited the raw silk curtains and pelmets,” says Sarah. “The dining chairs are covered in a dark navy velvet, and both the table and chairs were handed down to us by Pete’s parents. The chandeliers were inherited with the house – how lucky were we?” The table is set for feasting with a Coalport Wedgwood ‘Countryware’ dinner set, gifted to Sarah as a wedding present more than 30 years ago. Ceramic birds and green leaf candelabras, from the Byaduk General Store, add a wonderful whimsical feel, while the table napkins from Provincial Home Living and Stanley Silver cutlery are special finishing touches, as are the individual decorations on each place setting.
“This is a lovely room to bookend the day; I love waking up to the sounds of the birds in this room, and it’s beautiful with the sun streaming through the window in the early evening,” says Sarah of the main bedroom. “We inherited the floral fabric curtains in our bedroom, which I have kept.” The rattan pendants are by Provincial Home Living, and the bedside lamp was a charity shop find. “I loved the shape [of the lamp], so I just painted it in Porter’s Paints Yacht Race and added a new lampshade,” says Sarah. The linen duvet is by Linen House and the artwork above the bed, ‘Winds of Change’, is by Sarah, available from Hope & Co.
Welcoming guests to the home is this charming scene on the verandah. Sarah picked up the chairs on Facebook Marketplace. “These were ugly varnished chairs that I painted with Dulux Linseed. The cushions are from Provincial Home Living and the herringbone throw on the table is one I lugged home from Lisbon, Portugal, earlier in the year – I could have bought the whole shop!”