Welcome back to my blog series “Country Homes Around The World,” where each month, I spotlight an inspirational country home and homemaker from around the world. For July, I’m inviting you into the beautiful residence and life of Melissa Penfold, one of Australia’s most trusted journalists. A tastemaker, writer and trendsetter, Melissa runs an eponymous blog and is a respected authority on style and design.
What part of the world are you in, and how would you describe this part of the country?
Our country house is in Australia’s Southern Highlands of New South Wales, which has long been a beautiful country escape for city-dwellers with its charming villages, gorgeous homes, great food and rolling hills. But these days, people are as likely to come for the shopping as they are for a great weekend. In a world that can seem overcrowded, the district feels big and gloriously quiet, yet dynamic and relevant, too. To be two hours from Sydney, there’s lots to do, eat, see, visit and explore. It has the highest percentage of Australian artists per capita. I knew the area well as a child, but I wasn’t such a fan. We lived in Sydney, but my father and mother had a 500-acre property which I didn’t like visiting – I wanted to be in the city having fun. My paternal grandmother, sister and daughter all attended the same girls’ boarding school in the area. Green space is far more appealing now. Plus, the Highlands is very social if you want it to be, and quiet if you don’t.
Tell us a little bit about the character of your home. How did it come to you?
My husband, Nicholas Care, and I had barely begun a casual search when we stumbled upon our country house in the picturesque village of Burrawang. We came to see another house but noticed an inspection for this one by chance. We came down the drive and just thought, “This is it.” Then we walked in and thought “Heaven.” Within two to three weeks we owned it. Nicholas had never been to Burrawang in his life. He’s Italian but spent the first eight years of his life in Germany, and it reminded him of that. Now he’s a regular at the pub and plays golf here. The stone and rendered house is 10 years old and incorporates many old, salvaged timber and stone pieces, including doors, windows, lights, flooring and a fireplace, so feels a lot older.
How old is your home, and how long have you lived here?
The house is a decade old but looks much older. We’ve lived here for six years and can’t imagine it not being part of our lives.
Who do you share your home with?
My politician husband, Nicola Care. My 28 year-old daughter, Isabella, is a regular visitor and my 25 year-old son, Hugo, has moved home during lockdown, which is a great treat.
What is your favorite room or space in the home and why?
The kitchen-living-dining area is the hub of the house; it’s where everything happens. It’s a warm, welcoming space – and we’re always in it. There’s plenty of seating areas, so people can gravitate to the window seat or the sofas, the dining table or the kitchen bench. A big fireplace in salvaged stone has a fabulous impact as an architectural detail, plus it’s the ultimate focal and gathering point that forces people to relax. Plus, there’s windows on both sides of the room that infiltrate the space with natural light and makes it feel amazingly calm – everyone who visits has the same feeling of serenity.
How did you create spaces for family life?
In the beginning this was a weekender, but now it’s become home. There’s room for everyone, and it’s the most wonderful house to live in. It’s a thoughtfully designed house with clearly delineated spaces for living, working, relaxing and sleeping, which fosters a feeling of balance, health and pleasure for all family members. The main entry and the mudroom is at the side of the house and opens to a huge area with a round library table that doubles as a table for breakfast and lunch as it gets lovely morning light. To the left towards the front of the house, there are three bedrooms, a study, a bathroom and powder room. To the right is a large living, dining and kitchen area and beyond that, the master bedroom with ensuite, dressing room and laundry. Behind the house is a barn with a one bedroom guest apartment upstairs, a garage, a laundry room and a cellar downstairs. This has been invaluable during Covid. My husband, son and daughter’s beau have taken turns using it as their study, and work area. It means they can get distance from the rest of us when they need space. This has allowed a sense of getting away when travel is impossible.
How would you describe your style of decorating?
As a rule, my rooms are unstudied, unself-conscious and unrestrained, perhaps because – when I pull rooms together – I just “feel” my way along. The feeling is always light. And lived. Comfortable for 20, comfortable for two – with offbeat pieces mixed with grander items, placed off center. Ultimately, it is more important to find out what you like and what suits you. Everything that surrounds you affects you, so only have things you love, and your rooms will continue to refresh your spirit. For me, it’s big, squashy sofas upholstered in white canvas and wicker chairs with large, crumpled cushions and timber floors and shafts of sunlight overlooking an endless, lush green landscape that bring endless joy.
I love neutrals – they’re restful to live with. I always use the same “non-colors” for tones and textures in an interior. And fill rooms with things that make you happy, as you are more likely to enjoy your surroundings and – most importantly – they will work well and allow you to live a life free of complexity. That’s perhaps the greatest luxury in these increasingly chaotic times we live in.
What is your favorite season at home and how do you celebrate?
I adore all seasons, yet spring is special. Every outside wall is festooned in flowers, foliage and vines. They trail, creep and climb everywhere, becoming a textural backdrop to plants in the garden. Yellow roses cloak the entry. Boston ivy adds greenery to the entire side and front of the house. Clematis, wisteria, and Begonia roses make lovely company, spreading across walls. The terrace, which opens from the dining rooms, has a diamond-shape trellis of jasmine blossoming with flowers. There’s views of endless hedges and lawns and sky. We eat outside every day. It’s so peaceful.
Any special tips for creating the feeling of “home?”
To look and feel like a home, it needs to speak to and of you; think of things that put you in a good mood – your surroundings should make you feel equally good. If you want to live well, it’s never too late. You don’t have to be rich, and every day is an opportunity for a fresh start. It’s about creating an emotional experience.
What does “country home” mean to you?
Open kitchens with lots of beautiful cupboards for tidying things away, insanely good food and open fireplaces. To gaze from your spacious, calm bedroom at endless hedges, lawn and sky. It’s a fairytale. Our house is completely peaceful. Not so much a place to be seen, but a place to disappear. I love arriving here, closing the door and not thinking about anything. The secret to country houses is big, tranquil rooms that are easy to live in (and maintain): lots of mirrors, a few really good pieces of furniture, beds with crisp, white linen and big bunches of foliage for a feeling of country splendor. It’s easy to live well in a country home, and at the end of the day, living well is what it’s all about.
Thank you so much for sharing your gorgeous home with me, Melissa!
All photography by Melissa Penfold.