The danger of converting an old industrial building is that you lose a lot of the charm that made it attractive in the first place. It’s hard to conjure authentic rustic character once it’s lost; a fact Tony Vella (of Rachcoff Vella Architecture + Interiors) was well aware of before beginning work on this conversion project on Victoria’s Mornington Peninsula.
‘Our vision was to ensure the dairy wasn’t gentrified to the point of not being recognised as a tin shed cottage,’ Tony explains. ‘Rustic farmhouse aesthetics were referenced but then stripped back, to maintain a more minimalist and non-overwhelming outcome.’
The Firewood + Candles project pays direct homage to its utilitarian roots. To start off, a pledge was made to salvage and maintain as many of the dairy’s original materials as possible. The original Baltic pine boards were retained, with the floors stained a muted grey, and the slats lining the walls and ceiling painted with Dulux Calf Skin (an ironic nod to the building’s origins!). This cream shade allowed for the solid oak insertions of the renovation and soft textiles to blend cohesively with original structural materials.
In the building’s former life as a dairy, the bathroom space was originally the cool room. This slice of history is acknowledged in the room’s material palette, which consists of stainless steel and crisp white tiles. Significantly darker than the rest of the rooms in the small cottage, bespoke handcrafted fittings and finishes award this space a subtle delicacy.
Overall, the balance in this design outcome comes from layering soft elements against robust, more structured materials like clay and timber. Where it was necessary to install new items through the bedrooms and living spaces, Tony and his team opted for natural tones and textures such as linen to soften the more hardworking material base.
This muted palette throughout highlights the rawness and integrity present in the original outbuilding, gesturing to the building’s history through thoughtful fixtures and a well-executed materials palette. The outcome here interprets Australia’s historical farming vernacular, with a subtle contemporary attitude.
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Firewood + Candles by Rachcoff Vella is an interior renovation to a previously derelict dairy building. Photo – Tatjana Plitt.
Previously in an unliveable state, the cottage now contains communal and private living zones, including a bathroom and sleeping quarters. Photo – Tatjana Plitt.
A soft and muted interior palette was installed in order to highlight the surrounding bushland and original structural materials. Photo – Tatjana Plitt.
The original Baltic pine boards were retained. The floorboards were stained grey, while the walls and ceiling were painted wiht Dulux Calf Skin (an ironic nod to the building’s origins!). Photo – Tatjana Plitt.
In its former factory life, the bathroom space was originally the cool room. This slice of history is acknowledged in the room’s more clinical material palette, which consists of stainless steel and crisp white tiles.Photo – Tatjana Plitt.
This interior renovation anchors the building’s industrial roots in a softer contemporary attitude and gives credit to the building’s hardworking history. Photo – Tatjana Plitt.