From globetrotting glamour to barefoot bohemia – this NSW south coast sanctuary is worlds away from the Paris catwalks we normally associate with designer Collette Dinnigan. Ten years ago, wanting to shed her shoes and some of the constant demands of her fashion label, she dropped in by helicopter to view this cottage for sale on one of the area’s oldest dairy farms. Two days later, she signed on the dotted line.
On picture-perfect rolling hills that reminded Dinnigan of New Zealand, where she spent her childhood, this 1890s stone home with sash windows and deep verandahs sat immersed in two hectares of garden with towering eucalypts and rambling roses. “There was a feeling of lightness and airiness,” says Dinnigan, “but it also felt enclosed, protected and private.”
Having stepped back from the fashion spotlight in 2013 to concentrate on product design, interiors and special projects, she still unwinds here with her husband, Bradley Cocks, their son, Hunter, four, and Estella, 12, Dinnigan’s daughter from a previous relationship. And this self-confessed private person has taken to the rural life with gusto – before this interview, she had been clearing our brambles.
Eschewing the tailored and tucked-in, here Dinnigan has opted for a breezy Australian-bush-meets-African-coastal-colonial look, fashioning a home with VJ wall panelling, exposed-brick fireplaces, simple ceilings and hardwood floors. When she bought the three-bedroom cottage, it was structurally sound. And she felt no need to change the layout, an L-shape with dining area and kitchen on a west wing, and two bedrooms on a south wing, both of which enclose an open-plan living area and a third bedroom.
But she finessed and accessorised her new surroundings with her trademark flair. “The project was to create a sanctuary for my family that was easy and comfortable, yet fresh design-wise; something romantic and relaxed, with lots of light,” she says.
Nor surprisingly, Dinnigan drew inspiration from her sartorial background. “Fashion influences my decorating style,” she says. “Proportion, colour and attention to detail are key. I also give each property its own thematic thread, as I would a fashion collection, so it brings out its personality. This is done using a strong edit.”
Accordingly, she retained original treasures such as the timber floorboards, brick fireplaces, cornices, skirting and picture rails. The decorative kitchen splashback tiles, recently installed by a previous owner, she left just as they were – “in many ways, they made me want to buy the house”.
Dinnigan painted the walls white to lend freshness and then layered on colour and texture through the furnishing. She installed banquettes in the fireplace nook in the living area, pulled up the carpets and polished the floorboards, retiled the bathrooms and replaced downlights with sconces. The terrace was widened and laid with stone tiles, while on the south side of the cottage, which houses two bedrooms, Dinnigan installed French doors leading to paved pergola. Meanwhile, she converted an adjacent disused butter shed into a guest bedroom.
The decoration happened organically, she says, with no overriding template. Dinnigan’s fashion trademarks – such as lace, embroidery and florals, overlaid with with an understated elegance – are referenced in these soft, feminine spaces, conceived with meticulous detail. And, as with her clothing ranges, her creative inspiration shines through.
“I love to mix old and modern to create interesting spaces that feel original and fresh with a bohemian spirit,” she says. That sense of spontaneity reflects the life of a wandered. “It’s the explorer, the adventurer in me, and every time I move, I add and edit. Here there’s a strong African colonial feel, of a house close to the beach, with white walls and dark brown picture frames and floors, cane furniture from the 1920s and the ’30s, and lilim rugs.”
Also in a nod to her fashion heritage, Dinnigan uses textiles for colour, pattern and texture. “In the right mix, textiles can change a room’s feel and look,” she says. “I have used lots of fabric, curtains instead of blinds, rugs, cushions and always tablecloths on the tables, florals interspersed with with checks.”
Meanwhile, a love of symmetry, perhaps not surprising in a clothes designer, lends a little structure – you see that in the moroccan-inspired living nook and the buttery bedroom.
Her favourite aspects of her rural haven? “I love sitting on the balcony in winter or summer, looking out into the gully with its shafts of light,” says Dinnigan. “There’s space and privacy, and a soul-searching feel to this place. It closes from country to beach, it’s relaxed and intimate, nothing is too grand and ostentatious.
“And I love my vegetable garden – we live off that.” VL