“Have you seen the movie Maverick?” asked Gillian Hall-Smith, owner of Pennys Road farm, tucked away in the tiny hamlet of Graetztown, near Keyneton.
Stepping into one of the original stone outbuildings, which has had past lives as a laundry, boys’ bedroom and a chicken coop, her reference to the 1990s Mel Gibson movie becomes clear.
Greeted by an elegant claw foot bath, wood fire, Edwardian dresser-cum-vanity, antique chaise lounge and french doors that open out into a courtyard with views of the picturesque hills green with the promise of spring, this is a bathroom that invites more than the basic ablutions; there’s a rustic lavishness evocative of scenes from the wild west.
These outbuildings, and the main house that Gillian calls home, were the original dwellings of the Graetz family, who built here in the 1860s.
It stayed in their family for close to 130 years, with the last Graetz to live on the farm, Ossie and his wife, Enid, selling up in the 1990s.
When it came into Gillian’s hands sixteen years ago, she saw the potential to turn the derelict outbuildings into guest accommodation with updated amenities, while still preserving the home’s original character.
Two other rooms adjoin the bathroom; the bedroom, which was once a store room over the original cellar, and the living room, which was the homestead’s kitchen.
“I don’t know if I can give it officially the badge of a German black kitchen, but it would be pretty close to it,” said Gillian.
The original bread oven is still embedded in the wall, which once would have been stoked with hot-burning wattle coals, and years of soot coats the mantlepiece above the wood stove.
“When I moved in here there was still an old apron hanging on the hook. The room hadn’t been used for years. It was a rubble floor,” said Gillian.
No longer rubble, the floor is now covered with hand made tiles, courtesy of Gillian’s builder, Harry Makris, who oversaw the renovation and added his own unique touches like the tiles, and the panelling on the bathroom walls which was cleverly moulded on antique pressed tin ceiling panels.
Harry and his team, or the “fairies” as Gillian calls them because of the way she would go away and return to find projects completed as if by magic, kept to Gillian’s brief of not diverging from the home’s rustic appeal and heritage.
“The fairies knew what I needed from them and they did it really well,” Gillian said.
Rough edges, chippy paint, and evidence of years of wear and tear have been preserved.
A charming example is the kitchen threshold, the thick red gum worn down in a curve by generations of Graetz family feet.
The early crispness of spring is gently waking Gillian’s cottage garden from its winter slumber.
The cherry tree in the middle of the courtyard that separates the guest rooms from the main house is blushing pink, and produce from the garden is changing with the season.
Gillian is a talented cook and baker; up until recently she was preparing inventive vegetarian dishes at Edenmae Estate Wines in Springton one night per week, and she regularly cooks for her guests at the farm.
So having a garden that offers organic homegrown ingredients that she can use along with other local produce is a joy.
“I love doing the food so much,” said Gillian.
“It’s whatever starts to come up in the garden, so at the moment the rhubarb is putting out new growth so I can use that. The lettuces have started, the greens, I’ve got broccoli plants…
“I spent most of my day out in the garden yesterday, and God, I was in my happy place.”
Spring flowers too, will bring new opportunities to decorate.
“I love floating flowers, so instead of big bunches, it’s the detail,” said Gillian.
“You can take the tiniest, humblest little flower, and if you float it in water then you can really appreciate the beauty of it.”
It’s not unlike what she has achieved at Pennys Road, a humble farmhouse preserved and celebrated in the hands of its most capable caretaker.