Aussie couple Ronnen Goren and Trace Streeter first felt the desire to leave the city and live off the land a decade ago, when they discovered eight windswept hectares of countryside near the spa town of Daylesford. “The loose plan was to amalgamate our passions and combine farming and agricultural work with food, cooking and design; it sounded like a romantic whim,” says Goren. But he adds that Streeter’s upbringing in the countryside, and the pair’s solid work ethic, gave them the confidence to make a go of it. Ten years on the concept is realised in the newly opened Daylesford Longhouse, an all-in-one home, boutique farm, cookery school and bed and breakfast about 90 minutes’ drive from Melbourne in the state of Victoria.
To get to this point the pair’s prized site took a certain degree of taming; after all, rural Australia’s rugged beauty is closely tied to its inhospitable nature. To deal with the area’s extreme temperature variations, howling winds and lack of water, the couple enlisted architect Timothy Hill, a longtime friend formerly of celebrated Aussie firm Donovan Hill. His design references the sturdy simplicity of the Australian rural-farming shed – a humble slender oblong form topped with a box gable roof – and draws upon materials that are hardy but still allow the place to feel homely.
The most notable aspect of Daylesford Longhouse is the translucent corrugated skin that covers much of the structure, a cleverly devised glass-reinforced cladding that allows the warmth of the sun to penetrate it while protecting the interior from rough weather and providing insulation throughout the year. A soft parchment colour, the shell feels perfectly at home beside the warm timber dividing elements and glazed-brick walls that make up the various structures that sit within it. From afar the home could be mistaken for a handsome greenhouse. “Sunsets are incredible,” says Streeter. “It’s amazing when it’s really windy or really stormy; the more extreme the weather is out there, the more interesting it becomes in here.”
In a region prone to extended winters, late springs and harsh summers, this greenhouse-like environment allows fruit and vegetables to grow and ripen easily inside the building. The floorplan pays close attention to this: common areas flow around the building’s core, which includes a central garden, kitchen and the cookery school, providing verdant settings for learning, casual dining and conversation.
Visiting in early spring, monocle meanders past planting beds where asparagus, cabbage, kale, sprouts and rhubarb are all ready to pick. Students at the cookery school also make the most of apricot, peach, nectarine and fig trees. “The Longhouse recalls a Palladian tradition of including living, working, storing and making in a single suite,” says Hill. As well as the garden and orchard, kitchen and cookery school, the interior contains animal lodgings, a reception venue, guest accommodation and the owners’ home. “It emphasises how much – or how little – you need for a few people to survive and thrive: a handful of animals, enough water and year-round crops,” says Hill.
Internalising the agricultural, residential and hospitality activities into one building is a masterstroke from the architect: all of the building’s functions are easily accessible (rain-soaked trips to feed livestock in separate barns, for instance, are avoided) and the design of the building dramatically reduces its energy consumption.
These considerations of economy and sustainability underpin this project. Its impact on the land has been minimal: the industrial superstructure is purposefully light and the native marsupials we spot nearby appear to have been undisturbed by its construction. Meanwhile the roof has been engineered – based on rainfall statistics – to harvest every drop of rainwater required to manage the garden, run the cookery school and ensure that there’s enough water left in the tank to defend the property from bushfires all year. The inside temperature is stabilised using smart insulation; on good days, when the mercury rises, sliding doors can be opened to bring even more nature into the building.
As the sun begins to set and the views of Australia’s seemingly endless golden countryside are shrouded in darkness, we retreat into a series of plant-laden timber-and-brick pods that make up the residents’ living quarters. In comparison to the other sprawling sections of the Daylesford Longhouse, these rooms are modest in size. But when life is built around abundant nature, the couple say that simple lodgings in which to lay one’s head at the end of a long day are all that’s required. “Out there it can feel a bit overwhelming, with everything on your to-do list,” says Streeter. “So it’s nice to come back into this space at the end of the day, where it all feels very comforting.”