Set among tall gum trees and thousands of walnut trees, Cortes Kiln is a farmstay built for its surrounds. The former tobacco kiln was converted into a weatherboard cottage in the 1950s and recently renovated by its current owner, Ronaldo Cortes.
Cortes was born and raised on the Gapsted walnut farm, Valley Nut Groves, where the kiln is located, just over three hours’ drive north-east of Melbourne.
“It’s a four-metre-high double-brick kiln that was built between 90 and 120 years ago to dry tobacco,” he says. “It was eventually converted into a house, which my family purchased in the 1990s to rent out to those working on the farm. I purchased it from my mother and got to work on it in 2018.”
Cortes hadn’t originally planned to be a builder-farmer – he studied film and photography in Melbourne – but returned to his family’s farm help out, then stayed and renovated another weatherboard cottage on the property, Cortes Cottage.
“I started renovating Cortes Cottage the year I came back, with help from an old neighbour. I designed it and fitted it out. It was the first project I ever did,” he says.
Cortes now oversees the 97-year-old farm, tending to its 170 acres of river flats and 175 acres of walnut orchards. And the Cortes Kiln is his second project, for which he called on architect Kate Fitzgerald of Perth’s Whispering Smith Architects.
From the entrance, a long hallway of black-stained Tasmanian oak floorboards separates the old from new. At the north end of the cottage is a spacious bedroom, which stays impressively cool on a hot day. And at the south end is a fern-filled internal atrium. Sunlight filters in through a translucent polycarbonate frame, and an entire wall slides back to reveal verdant property outside.
“Kate was a country girl, so she encouraged me to highlight the history of the property,” says Corte. “She drew up plans to rebuild and rejuvenate the old home – exposing the old red-brick kiln, keeping the steep pitch of the roofline and working around the brick fireplace. We had plenty to work with.”
The pair also designed many of the finishings, from door handles, to concrete basins and the inbuilt couch. There are walnut-wood chopping boards integrated into the kitchen bench.
“We avoided purchasing anything that we knew we could make on-site,” says Corte.
The cottage’s living spaces are open plan with polished concrete floors and white-painted exposed timber walls. There’s a fireplace in the living room, a striking concrete bathtub with a beautiful view, and a fully-equipped kitchen.
Cortes Kiln is a short stroll from the Ovens River (with resident cows along the way) where you can swim or fish.
Walnut season starts in late-March and finishes around May, so if you time your visit right, you can eat them fresh off the tree.
“My grandfather Ebehardt [Schlapp] studied agriculture at the University of California in Berkley where the walnut industry was thriving,” Cortes says. Schlapp founded the farm with his brother Henry in 1923.
Cortes, who is the third generation of the family at the farm, already has another restoration project in his sights – an old walnut storage barn he’s turning into a studio for emerging artists. It should be finished by late-August.
Cortes Kiln is available to book on Airbnb. It suitable for one to two guests and costs from $220 a night.