PLEASE NOTE: The ‘before’ photos shown in this post were taken by the previous owners of the property.  

One sunny afternoon in 2018, I said to myself, “I’d love to share my quiet corner of nature with others. At the time I didn’t realise this small wish would become the inspiration for a self-contained, holiday apartment in beautiful Emerald – a place that everybody could enjoy. Today, Ferny Hill Retreat offers guests a whimsical, artistic getaway, with special touches of magic, right in the heart of the Dandenong Ranges. 

In the beginning there was … Google

But let’s track back to the beginning, when my dream was just a dream. I did what many dreamers do – I Googled ‘How to...’. It turned out there was masses of information on how to set up a holiday rental property (aka Airbnb).  I came across some great ideas but there were two frequently raised pointers that did not sit well with me:

  1. Keep colours neutral, and
  2. Ensure the space is uncluttered. 

These were both logical, sensible suggestions, but I read them as safe and boring. Too safe and boring for me. For a start I’m not a fan of neutrals. I realise that oatmeal and grey and ‘in’, but they feel kind of soulless to me. I like colour that pops, that’s bright and makes me happy. Sadly, there’s no neutral tone that’s known for its poppiness.  

And in terms of Pointer 2, the uncluttered thing, it may work for minimalists but to me ‘uncluttered’ brings to mind words like: stark, sparse and austere. Sorry, that’s not the way I roll. I’m a collector and a displayer by nature. I’m in my happy place surrounded by neatly organised, quirky object d’art – whether discovered in a charity shop or purchased from a gallery.  

If I build it they will come (I hope)

Faced with this neutral-uncluttered-dilemma, I took a stand and decided to completely ignore those safe, boring pointers. By then I’d also scoured the larger vacation rental sites and had learned that, although neutral and uncluttered was the norm, there were some unique, quirky places on offer too. That made me feel a little more confident.

So early on I committed myself to creating a getaway that I’d like to stay in. It would be arty and unique. It would be colourful and interesting. It would suit different types of guests, not couples alone. It would bend the uncluttered rule and break the neutrals rule. It would be inviting and, perhaps, a little curious too!  I crossed my fingers, hoping this unorthodox style would be a winner.  

The colorway

As I do when buying cars, I focused on the most important factor first – the colour. I settled on a largely monchramatic, black and white colourway with splashes of lime green and turquoise. I really like this combo and it was eventually used in every room. More importantly, it was so not neutral!

My plan began

The layout of my home dictated the space I was able to convert into a holiday apartment. My home is not a mansion by any means, but it did have a wing I could section off for rental use.

As the following ‘before’ floorplan shows, the available space initially contained:

  • 3 bedrooms, one with a walk-in robe
  • a bathroom
  • a separate toilet, and
  • a covered patio. 

The space was pretty close to what I needed but I still had to tweek a few things. As the ‘after’ floorplan (above) shows, I had some structural modifications made. These included:

  • Swapping a window for a door to create a private, guest entrance from the patio
  • Changing a bedroom into a kitchen
  • Blocking off a walk-in wardrobe, and
  • Adding a lock to the hallway door that led to my part of the house.

These modifications were a bit costly but well worth it in the long run. They were certainly a lot cheaper than building from scratch! 

The living room

From this point onwards the real fun began – the interior decorating.

The previous owners had used Bedroom 2 (shown on the ‘before’ floorplan) as their home office. It was large and had windows overlooking the front garden. It had the perfect proportions and outlook for a living room.

Changes made to the living room 

Luckily I didn’t need to paint or recarpet this room. Just the addition of contemporary furniture and soft furnishings brought a fresh, modern look to the space.

For visual impact (and because I’m an art-o-holic) I hung art, art and more art! Many are quirky, surrealistic pieces that make me chuckle. To ensure cohesion, I used the same style of frame for most of the artworks and built on my chosen colorway with a largely black and white pallet along with the odd pop of green and blue. The art ledges are from Ikea.

The couch is actually a sofa bed so we can easily sleep extra guests. I didn’t skimp on this and tested many models before I found one that was truely comfortable.

On the opposite side of the living room (pictured above) a workspace was set up – handy for writers, business peeps or anyone who arrives with a laptop. The wall above the desk was the perfect spot for the TV.

And what was once a door to the large walk-in wardrobe is now a funky fireplace. The wardrobe has a new entrance on my side of the property, transforming it into much needed storage space.

To the left of the fireplace is a chest of drawers that I found second hand and rejouvenated. It contains games and has extra drawers for guests. Note the top of the drawers and the shelf above – life’s boring without knickknacks!

The bedroom

This room is shown as Bedroom 3 on the ‘before’ floorplan. It’s the only one of the three bedrooms that remained a bedroom.

Changes made to the bedroom

Once again the paint and carpet were fine in this room, which was a bonus. 

Research and common sense told me that a good night’s sleep is a must for any well-rated Airbnb. With this in mind I made sure the queen mattress was high quality.

Linens were chosen to work with the overall colour scheme and I (elegantly) plopped out lots of pillows and cushions for a cosy feel. 

Against the wall at the foot of the bed there’s a retro style dresser that matches the bedside tables, all purchased online. And yes, there are also a few obligatory knickknacks on top. 

A particular favourite of mine are the irregular shaped mirrors above the dresser. Also found online, they’re unusual and add interest. There’s a tall mirror in the wardrobe for those who prefer a less fragmented reflection of themselves. 

Chevron, black and white curtains, matching those added to the living room, were hung to block out light and heat on warmer days. 

And luckily for our guests, there was already a TV bracket on the wall. It turned out cheaper to buy a TV for it than remove the bracket, fill the holes and repaint. So now there’s a TV in the bedroom and another in the living room.  

The kitchen / dining room

Ferny Hill Retreat’s kitchen was formally Bedroom 4 on the ‘before’ floorplan. This room underwent the greatest transformation.

The window in the photo below was replaced with a door, creating the guest entrance. It links the private patio with what is now the kitchen.  

Changes made to the kitchen

Carpet in any kitchen is a definite no-no, so it was replaced with durable bamboo flooring. 

Then a kitchen was installed – the sink is positioned where the wardrobe used to be.

On the other side of the kitchen there’s a dining nook for four. The kitchen gets the least light so I wallpapered a feature wall in my chosen colours to brighten the room up. There’s also a cupboard for glassware, crockery and condiments in this area, and it’s on this cupboard that guests find most of their breakfast provisions. 

The hallway

Changes to the hallway

I continued the art theme in the hallway, hanging more pieces I framed or mounted myself.

At the end of the hall I wallpapered the linen press to look like shelves. This worked well with the overall theme, broke up the blandness of the 3-door intersection and added a whimsical touch. 

The patio

Changes made to the patio

I didnt have to do a lot here. Paving was laid and a screen was installed to give guests (and me) privacy.

The end result

It took me quite a while to get everything done. It had been a lot of fun creating this arty little apartment but I was pretty nervous when Ferny Hill Retreat first opened.

Would people like it as much as I did?

Should I have stuck with uncluttered and neutral?

Would guests ‘get’ the odd little touches?

It was the high season (summer) when Ferny Hill Retreat first launched so I had the best possible chance of success. My problem was that it was a brand new listing and had no guest ratings yet. I’d read that this would work against the property and had been warned to expect a slow build up. 

That’s why Ferny Hill Retreat’s immediate  popularity and flood bookings was a real surprise. It exceded all my expectations. In the first 6 weeks it was only vacant for 3 days. I’d never washed so many sheets and towels in my life. Better still, the guests’ reviews were exceptional!

All the hard work and my little bit of risk taking had paid off. Whew!

If you’re interested in learning more about Ferny Hill Retreat or
experiencing it for yourself, simply hit the button below!