Greg Natale creates a moody Geelong home that echoes its historical architecture and its role as a working stud farm

Dark Horse: A Revitalised 19th Century Australian Home That Evokes History
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When interior designer Greg Natale first visited this former 19th-century homestead an hour west of Melbourne, it was woefully bland.

Greg Natale

“It had been redone in the 1980s and was just all cream,” he recalls. “It had no character.” The current owners — a couple with five young children — not only wanted something more elegant and exciting, but they also requested that the new décor reflect the fact that the house stands at the heart of a working stud farm.

Named Rosemont Stud, the bucolic riverside property near Geelong is home to two of Australia’s leading stallions, Toorak Toff and Danzero. And champion sprinter Starspangledbanner recently joined them: he has won a total of four Group 1 races on two continents, including the Golden Jubilee Stakes at the Royal Ascot racing meet in 2010. 

“This is serious horse breeding,” says Greg, and it’s something he has reflected in the home via various equestrian references. In the entry hall, he perched a saddle on top of a potter’s wheel. In the study, he hung a series of [vintage prints] of jockeys and used fabrics featuring stirrup and bridle motifs. He has also filled the home with images of thoroughbreds. 

Greg is one of Australia’s foremost decorators, and his aesthetic has been labelled “Hollywood Regency”. Says the designer, “I layer clean and classic lines together and then put another layer of pattern and opulence on top … Geometric motifs are one of my signatures.” It is a look that will be showcased in his debut book, which will be released by Hardie Grant Publishing this autumn, with a foreword by New York interiors guru, Jonathan Adler.

The five-bedroom house at Rosemont Stud dates from the 1880s and stands on a vast, 2,400-acre estate. The house itself is made from Victorian bluestone — the same rich, charcoal-coloured stone used for Melbourne’s pavements. “The walls are half a metre thick,” he says.

The inspiration for the colour palette inside actually came from the exterior. The dark grey of the stone, the red of the brick chimneys and the white of the window frames are adapted for the interiors, in line with the owners’ request for distinctly moody interiors. So Greg stained the pine boards black and used sombre hues for the main reception rooms. Perhaps the most atmospheric is the dining room, with its black chevron-patterned wallpaper. He also integrated some period furnishings, to give the rooms a more traditional vibe. Among them are gilt mirrors, which were already in the house, and a pair of 1930s tufted chairs he found in an antique store in Sydney. He acquired several items in Geelong, too: a vintage alarm clock, firewood buckets and the gold dinner service displayed in the dining room cabinet. “If I’m working on a house like this, I like to go into the local neighbourhoods and see what I can find,” he says. “It gives it a bit of context.”

For Greg, the reception rooms correspond to the tastes of the wife. “Her aesthetic is more dressy and glamorous,” he says. The husband, meanwhile, prefers a look that’s “a bit more rustic and industrial,” which is reflected elsewhere in the home. The bathrooms feature exposed brass pipes, washbasins redolent of barn sinks and geometric Turkish tiles. 

The kitchen, meanwhile, has a distinctly country feel. Greg was particularly keen to steer clear of built-ins. “You’re not hiding the appliances and all that stuff, which is what I usually do,” he asserts. Instead, there are open shelves and freestanding fridges. He also used the same diamond motifs on the kitchen floors as he did in the bathrooms. “That goes with my philosophy of houses being very cohesive and everything flowing and connecting,” he says.

His favourite space is the lofty family room, where he created two inviting seating areas. One is focused on a fireplace constructed with Victoria bluestone salvaged from the floors of the adjacent coach house. The other is used for television viewing. “I was just so lucky with the proportions of that room and those high ceilings,” he says. “I feel I really captured the spirit of the house in there.”

Photography courtesy of Anson Smart/Tripod Agency

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