While holidaying in Port Fairy in 2007, Colleen Guiney and John Watkinson discovered a double-storey bluestone Victorian home that had been left to the weather. Looking to leave their city lifestyle, the couple – a former CEO, and artist and visual merchandiser, respectively – bought the place and enlisted Melbourne architectural firm Multiplicity to reimagine the building as a boutique, design-led hotel.

Guiney and Watkinson had worked with Multiplicity on their home in Richmond, and knew the firm would be able to blend the home’s historical style with striking modern elements. Completed in 2013, the reimagined building’s old verandas and patinated bluestone at the front now contrast with a new frame of laced metal cladding and glass panels at the rear. “[Multiplicity] specialise in taking an original building and putting their design overlay on it, but not in a way that completely obliterates the history,” says Watkinson. “They maintain glimpses but give a contemporary update to it.”

Inside, each of the four suites have been imagined as individual statements – each one completely private and bespoke. A freestanding bath sits in the middle of suite five, filled by a one-off tap of wood and metal; two-metre-long light switch cords dangle from ceilings; the home’s original cast-iron fences have been converted into custom door handles; and Guiney has taken the abandoned home’s curtains, screen-printed them and reimagined them as cushion covers. “We wanted to redefine the notion of luxury,” says Watkinson.

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In 2019, Watkinson and Guiney expanded Drift House with the purchase of the Federation cottage next door. They added two suites, dining facilities (including a Spanish-influenced kitchen run by Watkinson, a lifelong lover of cooking) and a communal space called the salon, which contrasts with the privacy of the suites.

The converted cottage features long, natural timber and sandstone blocks reclaimed from a local demolition, while the salon has a luxurious, mid-century sunken lounge that invites conversation. The cottage retains the clever design and elements of surprise typical of the original – even a front door isn’t as it seems. “The whole section of wall, door, frame, and leadlight around it, all hinge,” says Watkinson. “[It’s all] the [door] into the room.”

During lockdowns, Watkinson and Guiney also updated the interiors of the four original suites. “Part of it was learning what guests loved and responded to,” says Watkinson. “They loved the detail in the design, so [we] focused really hard on introducing more of those bespoke elements.” Single-pane skylights fill the rooms with natural light, while black raw-steel shelves will patina over time, mirroring the building.

Watkinson says guests return multiple times per year, often booking a different suite just to explore its unique eccentricities. He says they come for the design as much as the holiday. With a dedication to bespoke touches, the stitching together of history and evolution keeps guests coming back. “Quality design is a little bit misunderstood,” says Watkinson. “It goes beyond just putting some quirky cushions around or interesting furniture. Really good quality design is much more considered.”

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This article is produced by Broadsheet in partnership with BMW as part of The Next Guide. The Next Guide is a series dedicated to celebrating the people who are shaping our constantly changing culture in Australia, as well as investigating how sustainability will impact how we live in the future.