IN CONVERSATION WITH: TARA LARNACH OF SIMPSON COTTAGE
If you're big fans and followers of ours, first of all - thank you, we love you. Second of all, you probably saw some of our enviable BTS stories on Instagram a couple of weeks ago featuring a picturesque beach-and-bush-side location. Well, let us introduce you to the stunning Simpson Cottage.
We chatted to owner (slash custodian - you'll understand when you read on!) Tara Larnach about her journey leading up to and since welcoming the historic and beautiful cottage into her life. Clear your schedule and update your AirBnb app, coz you're probably gunna want to spend some time soaking up its wonders.
Simpson Cottage is an idyllic little building steeped in rich history, tell us its story.
The cottage was built in the 1860s by George Simpson after he was given a land grant and established the first permanent settlement in the area. He built cottage, a dairy, stockyards, pigsty, and market garden. There's not a lot of info we can find about the cottage itself, but we know it was built using sandstone blocks chipped out onsite by convicts - the signatures are still visible today.
William Simpson inherited the estate from his father and started a ferry service from a wharf he built below the cottage for day visitors which ran until the 1920s. He also built a hotel to capitalise on the visitors which became known as Simpson Hotel. He noticed the majority of visitors were European, and in an effort to make them feel at home he planted deciduous trees and introduced deer. The hotel burned down in 1955 but the foundations survived and today the resident National Parks ranger lives in the building they rebuilt on the foundations. The pine trees Simpson planted remain and the deer are a common sighting - they visit the garden most nights!
How did you come across the cottage? What made you take the leap to invest in it?
We came across the cottage as guests in 2009, fell in love and dared to dream. Our first attempt to buy was foiled when we missed the boat and an overseas investor snapped it up. It remained a holiday house however, so we came back and were greeted by a for sale sign - the GFC had hit and the sale had fallen through!
So, we spent another weekend dreaming! We rang the agent first thing Monday morning and six long months later the planets aligned and we became the proud owners of Simpson Cottage... though we consider ourselves more custodians than owners! The cottage has been here 150 years and it will be here long after we’ve left.
Some things are just meant to be, the decision to invest was purely emotional...
Years prior my husband had been to a hypnotherapist to learn how to deal with stress and she taught him to visualise his ideal future. He imagined himself walking up a steep track with sandstone steps in the bush, carrying a fishing rod, a bucket full of fish wearing a wide-brimmed hat, and of all things a Hawaiian shirt. To this day he swears it's the track that leads down to the beach from the cottage, though he’s yet to catch a bucket of fish!
Tell us about the location. What does life in Bundeena look like?
Bundeena is a little village within the Royal National Park just south of Sydney. It's actually a suburb of Sydney, but you'd be forgiven for thinking you’re miles from anywhere! With bush on one side and sea on the other its far removed from hustle and bustle of a busy city.
We walk everywhere and spend many hours overlooking Simpson Bay reading and lazing in the sun. Like all good villages, Bundeena is full of characters... remember Christian the lion returned to the wild after being a pet? One of his former owners lives here. There are oodles of artists and a regular artist trail, and locals who have lived here all their lives.
How do you live and move in this space? What is your favourite room or spot to spend time in?
There are nooks and cosy places ideal for quiet reading and spaces for group gathering where we spend hours eating and enjoying each other’s company. With direct access to the beach and views straight out over Simpson Bay and verandahs on three sides of the house, I can't decide on my spot. It varies from season to season and the time of day. I chase the sun for warmth in the winter or shade and breeze in the summer, so there's lots of transition from inside to outside.
The interiors of the cottage are just stunning. What state were they in when you first purchased the property? Tell us about the process.
The cottage had been restored when we purchased it, so most of what we've done has been cosmetic. Our favourite things about it are the sandstone and character, but it's fairly dark inside. So, keeping the character while we lit the interior was a priority.
I have no discipline when it comes to picking and sticking to a style, all I knew was that I wanted to honour the history. So when a friend recommended a stylist friend of hers, Hannah Brady, to me I reached out and within minutes we had a plan. We painted the walls white to add texture and depth, we lime washed the floors and retained all the exposed sandstone. We wanted to utilise as much of the space as possible so we converted the garage into a studio/games/living space. I made the timber shelves in the lounge room and kitchen using recycled Oregon, and wherever we could we found second-hand furniture - if it's in the cottage it has to be useful or have a story!
We love women in business, and we couldn’t help but notice that you run an online store alongside the Cottage; tell us about it.
I wanted the cottage to be full of linen - it's older and more traditional than cotton and producing it is eco-friendly. However, when I went in search of it I discovered a market swamped with poor quality, mass-produced linen. Good quality AND ethical was unaffordable. So, I decided to import my own fabric and make my own, which you'll find all throughout the cottage!
I found small producers and suppliers in Europe, imported linen fabric and made all my own bedding. I found guests were asking where it was from, so I created a website and started selling - now I can hardly keep up and most of what I make doesn't even make it to the website!
What are some of the challenges you have faced and overcome being a small biz owner and running these different ventures?
Wearing ALL the hats and having to have all your fingers in all the pies! Also, learning to ask for help, I love giving it but suck at asking.
A golden nugget of advice for anyone considering purchasing their first holiday investment property?
I have about ten, but If I had to choose just one I’d say: find a great cleaner and be prepared to pay well! They’ll be your greatest asset.
Learn everything you can anyway you can and do all the workshops you can afford, from photography, to running a holiday house, to basket weaving, and how to use social media. You won't do it all or be great at it all, but knowing how it all works and the connections you develop are worth the time and money tenfold.
You’ll put your heart and soul into it and some days it will break your heart, but for every heart break there are a thousand ways it's healed.
For anyone looking to stay, can you shout out your favourite local spots, stores, and businesses? (Don’t forget a coffee recommendation!)
We’re pretty fond of Bundeena Pizza - plus they deliver so there's no need to leave. Vinegar and Brown Paper make great burgers too! For coffee, we always go to Manna Café. They’ll even make you a packed lunch to take on a hike in the park. We love Audley Dance Hall and Café and they’ve just started making grazing plates for people to pick up on their way through and will cater if you're not feeling up for cooking!
What’s next for the cottage?
It's an ever-evolving list! I’m in the process of designing a new dining space to replace the gazebo, which will hold 12-15 people - so there are even more excuses to sit and admire the view! Oh, and a new outdoor bathtub and hot outdoor shower with a view are coming, so you can wash the sand off as you come up from the beach or just have a hot steaming shower in the middle of winter while you soak in your surrounds.
WORDS | Lucy Francis, TLSE, Tara Larnach
IMAGES | TLSE