Tasmanian, food stylist, recipe writer and photographer Michelle Crawford has always had a passion for food and especially the products that are grown in the Huon Valley, a scenic region 30 min south of Tasmania’s the capital city of Hobart.
On a visit to the valley, Michelle fell in love with its picturesque surrounding, lush hills, forests, and stunning reflective water ways filled with wooden boats. She and her family not only adored the beauty of the valley, but also the fresh produce famously grown there.
They decided to settle in the region and eventually purchase their atypical home, a charming Federation free style heritage building, built by one of Tasmania’s prestigious architects from the early 20th century, Bernard Walker.
We got a chance to speak with the talented Michelle Crawford about about the rich history of her home, it’s eclectic interior design and her creative deco tips.
Name: Michelle Crawford
Location: Huon Valley, Tasmania, Australia
Tell us about the area you live in and what you love about it?
We live in southern Tasmania, in the Huon Valley. We’ve always had a soft spot for Franklin, a riverside village, with its main road lined with heritage buildings, a lively boating community filled with eccentric characters passionate about the region and preserving a slower pace of life.
Can you give us a history of your beautiful home, when it was built and the style of your home?
Our home is a commercial building, that was built as a bank in 1906 in what’s called Federation Free Style, that adopted elements from the Arts and Craft movement but pared back to suit commercial buildings. There are a lot of old banks that have been converted to restaurants or boutique accommodation in the area, it’s not a typical home in any sense.
The building is a hefty two-story Edwardian brick pile, on the main road and overlooking the Huon River. It’s had a fascinating history, a bank that operated for 40 years, then when the branch closed after WW2 a local doctor bought the building and converted it to a hospital. For over twenty years it was the main hospital in the valley and saw the birth of 3000 babies. When the hospital was decommissioned in the 1960s, it went through a chequered period of government housing, derelict wreck, community centre, employment agency, antique store and was running as a back-packers (budget hostel) when bought the building at the end of 2019.
How are you able to get vintage photos of your home and its construction? And do you have any other memorabilia from its past?
Bernard Walker was the architect of the building and was famous for his work in the capital. When he died in 1957, all of his papers and photos were donated to the State Library and catalogued I was able to see them. I found a tiny Edwardian photo album of his filled with photos of the bank being built and when it was finished.
The last owners, who were antique dealers and passed on a huge box filled with articles, letters and photos about our home the Bowmont building. Most precious of all, they gave us the actual cash book or ledger that belonged to the builders, circa 1906, and in beautiful cursive writing all the materials and costs of the building are listed over several pages.
What is one of the most unexpected surprises from living in a historical building?
Occasionally people knock on the door to say they were born here when it use to be a hospital and ask if they could have a look inside or take their photo out on the front steps.
What made you fall in love with this property?
Its gracious proportions and its gorgeous energy, proximity to the river, tall ceilings, massive windows and its wonderful history.
Describe to us your décor style and your inspiration?
I’m naturally drawn to vintage and antique pieces, but I do like design classics of the 20th century too. The rustic farmhouse vernacular is very common here in Tasmania, and it’s a style that I feel most comfortable in. We lived in an old farmhouse nearby for 15 years before moving here. Now living in a completely different type of home, because of its proportions and scale coupled with its heritage, I’ve switched my focus and I’m inspired by those grand, crumbling European townhouses and apartments and spend many hours drooling over them on Pinterest and Instagram.
What is your favorite room in the house and why?
Definitely the front room, which we call the grand room, which I use as my studio. It has beautiful tall ceilings, massive double oak doors with heavy iron bolts, its crumbling hospital linoleum floor, and open fireplace, it’s an inspiring backdrop for my work or gathering with friends to share a meal.
Do you have any deco tips for setting up the perfect room?
Just buy what you love, and don’t be too concerned with trends. I love a mix of vintage and new pieces with some larger artworks on the wall, from affordable works on paper to battered old oil paintings. I also think a room looks its best when decorated with elements from nature, and thinking beyond flowers and indoor plants, which are always lovely, but I love pieces like tall, dried fennel branches collected by the side of the road placed in a giant old pickle jar. Or displays made from a piece of beautifully weathered driftwood, fossils, feathers and a collection of seashells or a crispy old bird’s nest. And lots of books please, piles and piles of books!
What are the biggest challenges when designing your [home]:
Deciding what to keep, repair or replace, so that we maintain the building’s history, but bring it into the 21st century to make it a comfortable family home, on a very small budget!
We saw that you have the classic Tivoli Audio Model One Radio in your home, tell us how it fits into the aesthetic of your home and lifestyle?
I’ve had my radio for several years now, I love the design, its honest simplicity is timeless and sound-wise, it packs a punch for such a compact unit.
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What type of music would we expect to be playing your home on a daily basis?
I listen to a really wide range of music, from classical. I love a good piano concerto or a rousing Russian symphony, to 90s alternative to a bit of Tame Impala.
Can you tell us about your work as photographer, writer and any of your other interests?
Most of my work centers around food; I write and develop recipes for many clients, work as food stylist and a photographer. I’ve been working in this field for about 10 years now, but I’ve always had a passion for food and especially the produce that grows here in the Huon Valley. If I’m not in the kitchen or studio, I’ve fallen in love with the old wooden boats that sail on the river, and I’m enjoying learning more about their history, how they are restored maintained and spending time rowing or sailing with friends.