Who / Narelle + Andy
What / The French House
Where / Trentham
Why / Stay + Relax + Foodies + Events
Instagram / @the_french_house
Melbourne. Bordeaux. Seattle. Trentham. It’s a pleasant and surprising variation on the usual ‘London. Paris. New York.’ and we’ve been bursting to share today’s story with you because it kinda sums up what The Countryphiles is all about.
Wanting to recreate a little bit of provincial France back in Australia, aeronautical engineer Andy and accountant Narelle found their way to Trentham via Bordeaux. Melbourne-born high-school sweethearts, this lovely couple exudes such delightful, youthful, passionate energy that it’s no surprise The French House is the result of their hard work, attention to detail, creativity and joie de vivre. Oh, and they’ve built it for others to enjoy! Quel bonheur!
Creating a sanctuary where visitors to The French House can relax and rejuvenate was paramount for Narelle and Andy along with collaborating, celebrating and indulging in all the region has to offer. Newly opened to guests, The French House is already booking out and little wonder: the custom-built, luxurious French-style self-contained retreat accommodates 8 guests and includes a fireplace, a 100-year-old French oak dining table, a vineyard, parterre garden, al fresco dining area and, for ‘Le Coq Sportif’, there’s a pool table, tennis court and petanque piste. Oh, and groups of 8 can book local celebrity chef Annie Smithers of du Fermier for a private in-house farmhouse dining experience! Vie luxueuse!
Who’d have thought such an amazing story would lie behind the brick house with the duck-egg blue shutters that sits on the edge of the woods in the little hamlet of Trentham.
Au revoir + enjoy! x
Tell us a little bit about your background/s – what path led you to where you are now?
We are high-school sweethearts who grew up within a mile of each other in Melbourne’s east. Andy got a graduate job with Boeing and me with EY (Ernst & Young) and we have stayed working with them ever since; both of us having time working abroad in the US and France respectively. We both have an entrepreneurial spirit and we drive each other nuts with crazy business ideas. It was only a matter of time before we found one that clicked for us both. Enter, The French House!
You are the amazing creatives behind The French House – a GORGEOUS French-style accommodation and event space in Trentham. Wow! Tell us a little about this project.
Thank you – so glad you like it! In a nutshell, The French House represents our little dream to bring traditional French farmhouse design to country Victoria.
How did two corporate-world by-day (Aeronautical Engineer + Accountant) and parents of two young children come to build a French house in a small country hamlet?
You mean how did two geeks build something so gorgeous?! Haha! We have always loved France, and were lucky enough to live in Toulouse for over a year in our late-twenties. There, we loved nothing more than to drive to country towns and stay in chambre d’hôtes, exploring their local markets and wineries. Fast forward to 2014, and a wedding, two renovations and two kids later we braved the long-haul flights to holiday for a month in Europe. We spent the first week at the most gorgeous 300-year-old stone gîte just outside Bordeaux, hosting some dear friends from Toulouse. It was just indescribably relaxing. All the built-up tension from our hectic lives evaporated the moment our feet hit the crunchy gravel driveway. Over the course of the week, we discussed at length how we could get over to France more often. Every two years seemed feasible. But we soon came to the conclusion it wouldn’t be the lifestyle change that we needed. So, then the idea came to us: why not replicate this farmhouse feel that we so loved in country Victoria? And we never looked back!
So, how come we chose Trentham? Well a year before, we had spent a rare midweek day off work together. Turning out of our street we opted to head to Daylesford over Red Hill to avoid traffic. We must have been so distracted by our uninterrupted adult conversation that we missed the Daylesford turnoff and stumbled upon Trentham. A beautiful lunch at du Fermier and a browse through the lovely township made for a perfect day and we fell in love with the relaxed vibe of the place. The fact that Trentham is only one hour drive from our Melbourne home was the clincher. Coming back to us being nerdy number crunchers….having this skill set means that we apply a very critical financial eye to our projects – if the numbers don’t stack up then it’s a no-go. Many a spreadsheet is behind The French House you see today!
Tell us about the build process? Did you enjoy the task of design and project management?
Absolutely loved it! Having renovated twice before, we were familiar enough with the building process itself. What we hadn’t anticipated was just how unrestricted we were now that we were starting from scratch! When you renovate, particularly on smaller, inner-city blocks, you are very constrained by existing structures and planning regulations. With The French House, we had a full acre to play with, so anything was up for grabs! Our favourite part of building is the selection of all the materials, fixtures and fittings. It’s crazy how many hundreds of decisions need to be made with a project like this! When you have a particular design aesthetic in mind like we did, those decisions were surprisingly easy to make: they either complemented or detracted from the look we wanted. One decision we took our time over was the timber selection for the ceiling beams in the living area. Finding 7-metre lengths was proving near impossible. We looked through countless piles of reclaimed timber until we finally found, hiding in an overgrown corner of the timber yard, the six perfect lengths with the level of ageing and ruggedness that we wanted. The very next week we flew out to Seattle, so it was a pretty close call! Probably the most tedious and time-consuming part of the build was understanding, interpreting and working within the bushfire building regulations. We wanted to retain the native bushland in the front third of the block and so we did spend a lot of time thinking about the house position on the block and the building materials we used so that we could both keep the bushland and comply with the regulations.
Moss-infused terracotta roof tiles! Wow! Would you like to ‘call out’ to any particular tradies that helped bring your vision to life?
How cool are the tiles?! They are from a collection called La Escandella by Bristile Roofing. During our final negotiations of our building contract, Andy got the offer to move to Seattle for 2 years on a work assignment. We were torn as to whether to postpone the build after all the work we’d put in or push ahead and trust in our builder and architect to run the project in our absence. The fact that we chose to go ahead is testament to the awesome professionals that they are. We are so grateful to our builder Dean Cummings and his team at Bespoke Homes & Renovations and our architect Aimee Goodwin from Project12architecture, who delivered in spades. Without Dean’s passion for reclaimed materials, commitment to our budget and his flawless execution in our absence, The French House would not be what it is today. Also, and in no particular order, we would like to call out the following trades: Bryce from Sonnenschutz who worked tirelessly to find a fire safe material for our shutters, that was within our budget; Bernard from The Good House for our beautiful casement windows and French doors; Brad at evolve Interiors for the cabinetry throughout, including the stunning tallowwood window-seats and sills; and Russell at TimberSearch for being mad about reclaimed timbers and stocking , arguably, the most amazing wood-yard in Australia.
How would you describe your design aesthetic?
Large-scale architectural features combined with unique, vintage and unexpected furnishings and decor.
What/who/where do you draw your inspiration from?
Each other! We egg each other on to critically assess our personal, family and professional goals and then get creative about how we’ll work towards them. Others! We are encouraged and inspired by people with an entrepreneurial spirit. Places! When we walk into a space and fell the need to look closer at the detail or run our fingers over a finish.
What does The French House offer its lucky guests? How do we book?
Guests will feel transported to rural France the moment they emerge through the gum trees and glimpse the French windows bordered by their pale blue shutters. And it just gets better from there! We have custom designed the space to be a place where 8 people can relax, rejuvenate, and reconnect in beautiful surrounds. The relaxed design and furnishings make you want to curl up in front of the fire the moment you walk in. Our bathrooms are stocked with luscious Grown Alchemist products and we provide a beautiful hamper of treats to nibble and sip during your stay. It is a rare guest that will be bored at The French House – there’s a well-stocked library, board games, Netflix, SONOS, tennis, billiards and pétanque. Not to mention cooking up a feast in the farmhouse kitchen! Our bookings are managed by Dayget.
Do you have a Top 5 list of design tips dos and don’ts to offer our readers?
Source from far and wide, and never, ever furnish from the one store or you’ll get an off-the-shelf, ho-hum result. Add dimension and interest with layers of depth, height, texture. Make every dollar you spend work hard. Research to find the best price, and don’t spend silly amounts on insignificant items or you’ll blow your budget too early. Invest in fixtures and furnishing that you touch such as tapware, hardware and work surfaces, save on items you only see from a distance and don’t come in contact with. Listen to people’s advice, then do what you like! It’s your space after all.
What does a typical day in the life of Narelle + Andy of The French House look like; from when you wake to when you go to sleep?
Coffee, start! Pancakes for breakfast. Trip to a local farmers or flea market; food truck lunch. A play at a local park or indoor play-center (weather-dependent). Prepare food for a dinner party. Madly stuff toys into cupboards and hide the laundry before guests arrive. Feed and bath kids. Welcome friends. Kids to bed (hurrah!). (Tell kids to get back to bed.). Eat and drink a ridiculous amount, laugh lots. Tell kids to get back in bed. Retire to lounge moaning we all ate too much. Threaten kids with TV ban if they don’t get back in bed. Dessert and sticky wine. Farewell friends. Watch an episode of House of Cards/ True Detective/Game of Thrones/Vikings/Homeland in bed. Conk out.
When not in Seattle, you reside in Melbourne. Do you consider yourself to be ‘Countryphiles’ at all? Do you love country life?
We love the feeling of decompression once you reach the highway and set the cruise control! The wide open spaces, the rolling hills and the dense native forests are all elements that we’ve enjoyed since childhood. To now have planted our roots in the country and integrate into the community is a lovely, lovely feeling. One of our contractors asked me if I was sure I wasn’t a country girl, because I give country hospitality. So maybe I was a city girl, destined for a country life all along!
What are the ups and downs of running small creative businesses like The French House in the country?
Ask us in 12mths!!! This has all been such a whirlwind and we are still catching our breaths! I guess the biggest risk we faced, like any accommodation business, was not getting bodies in beds. We couldn’t afford to get off to a slow start with our bookings, so we enlisted expert luxury holiday rental agents Dayget to market The French House. They have done an amazing job and we are really pleased with the response to our offering.
Coffee or Tea? Do you have a favourite country café?
Coffee. Trentham Collective is our go-to place for the best coffee in town.
Where was the last great meal you enjoyed/shared in the country?
Hands down, it was lunch at du Fermier where chef Annie Smithers delighted our party with tomato and goats cheese tart, zucchini spaghetti and a roast pork loin with mustard cabbage and baby root veggies. It was perfection.
It’s the weekend and I’m staying at The French house. How could I best spend my days?
Stroll into town for coffee and breakfast at Trentham Collective. Pick up fresh produce at a local farmers market. Find a treasure at a local trash and treasure market. Lunch at du Fermier (book ahead!). Browse the shops in Trentham, Kyneton (Piper St) or Daylesford. Soak in the pools or get a treatment at the Hepburn Springs complex. Take a picnic blanket and lounge on the sunny lawn at the Daylesford Cidery. See a matinee movie at the Daylesford cinema. Devour a charcuterie plate at Belvedere Social in Daylesford. Attend a local workshop (try Natasha Morgan, Annie Smithers and Red Beard Bakery, to start). Have a punt on the horses at a Country Racing Victoria meet. Go to a music gig at Hanging Rock. Go bushwalking/mountain-biking/horse-riding. Visit the Trentham waterfalls. Play a round at the Trentham Golf Club. Have a hit of tennis. Take a soak in the Jacuzzi. Play a game of pool. Play a game of petanque. Fire up the BBQ or put on a slow cooked roast for dinner. Watch a Netflix movie. Whatever our guests end up planning, we hope that, above all else, they find time to Relax. Rejuvenate. Reconnect.
What ADVICE would you give those dreaming of setting up a small business in a small town?
Go for it! Do lots of research, including meeting some locals to hear what they say about the region and its needs. After we visited the vacant block The French House was built on, we lunched at the pub afterwards to mull over the purchase. We called over both the waiter and the manager who affirmed there was a huge need for more accommodation in town. Be prepared to befriend the town. The locals are much more likely to support and recommend your business if you are friendly and speak well of their town and townsfolk. Finally, don’t just jump on the bandwagon. Instead, offer something different that allows you to play to your strengths and will differentiate you from other businesses.
What can we expect NEXT from you/The French House in the future?
From The French House, we are thrilled to announce that our guests can now reserve a night of private dining with Annie Smithers! Groups of eight will interact with Annie as she presides over The French House kitchen to deliver a sumptuous three-course menu, attended to by an exceptional du Fermier waiter. You can also expect more collaborating with local artisans to combine our accommodation with events or workshops. Guests can already receive a 10% discount when they attend a Natasha Morgan workshop and stay at The French House. In a couple of years, our 200 Pinot noir vines will have reached their full height and complete the perfect surrounds for special outdoor events such as weddings or special functions (our tennis court will comfortably accommodate a large marquee). From team Narelle + Andy, watch this space! We haven’t quite got the building bug out of our system yet. Think Moroccan architecture with a French twist!
What would be your DREAM project or collaboration?
A not-for-profit organisation that puts our skill sets and assets to work for the benefit of families struggling through serious illness.