For our readers in lockdown right now, this story might inspire you to make a treechange. Or plan a holiday to the Southern Highlands of NSW...
And at the very least, put Berrima Vault House on your must-visit list. It’s also a reminder that dreams do come true. Just ask interior designer and mother of two boys Carlie Philby and her husband Simon, the talented duo behind Berrima Vault House (the venue everyone’s talking about).
The pair moved from Sydney to the Highlands a few years ago, and when they saw that one of their favourite Georgian heritage buildings in Berrima was vacant, they knew they’d found their perfect space. Fast-forward to May 2021, and after an extensive renovation, the pair opened the doors to the elegant member’s club. Housed in the converted Taylor’s Crown Inn in the historic Highlands town of Berrima, the house was built by convicts in 1844, and now extends down into the original prison holding cells below (dining in these cells, which used to hold prisoners waiting for hearings at the courthouse across the road, is unlike anything you’ve done in Australia). The venue has been completely reimagined by Carlie and Simon, yet it still feels full of old-world charm.
“From the offset, I knew there was a chance to create something a little different for the Highlands,” says Carlie. “I wanted to take the historic bones of the building and clash it with colourful and rich interiors.” Step inside the chic country house, and you’ll feel like you’re stepping back in time, just with every modern comfort you could possibly desire. Which as exactly what Carlie wanted. “It was important to highlight the building’s original charm, while updating certain features to bring the building into the 21st century. Making old meet new,” she says. You can come for breakfast, lunch or dinner; to work; to network; and there’s also a three-bedroom accomodation offering upstairs.
For Carlie, it was also the launch pad for her new interior design company CP&Co Interiors. Here, we speak to the talented designer about motherhood, making the move down South, and her love of interior design.
Interior designer Carlie Philby with her two boys at home
Tell me about life in the Southern Highlands – when did you move there? And how does life differ in the country compared to the city?
We fell in love with the Southern Highlands years ago and ended up marrying there in 2015. Shortly after finding out we were expecting another son in 2017, I woke my husband up one Saturday and told him we were taking a little drive south to the Highlands. If I had learned anything from raising one boisterous boy in the eastern suburbs, it was that we needed more space. We viewed three properties and by the following Monday, we had put an offer in on a rustic 3-acre homestead in Berrima. We weren’t quite ready to move down full-time, so we divided our weeks between Coogee and Berrima, but by the time our eldest son Hudson was ready for Pre-K we knew we had to take the plunge and make the Highlands our home.
It sounds cliche, but a lot more of our time is spent outdoors in the garden playing football and going for river walks. When Covid hit we planted a veggie garden and bought chickens and I’ve honestly never been more satisfied living out my mini-farm dreams.
What has surprised you about life in the Southern Highlands?
I’ve been blown away by how friendly and inclusive the residents of the Highlands have been. Making friends was easy and that is not often the case as you get older. We are always going to friends’ houses for dinner with the kids and hosting dinner parties ourselves – surrounded by mayhem, kids running indoors and outdoors, and appreciating that everyone is cool with last minute cancellations/being late/turning up unannounced – things we would have stressed over in the city.
Rural life is often romanticised as a kind of slow, lovely step away from the hustle and bustle of modern life, and especially from city living. So I’m interested to know whether you think your life is any less of a hustle now than when you were living in the city?
I can’t say that our lives have become any less chaotic than they were in Sydney. Although the green space, fresh air, and feeling like we’re often in the English countryside has really helped. Especially in recent times. The interesting thing is that there’s a real community of super smart, progressive driven people down here that keeps the hustle alive. The taste levels of property, design, and hospitality are definitely starting to reflect that.
“ It sounds cliche, but a lot more of our time is spent outdoors in the garden playing football and going for river walks. When Covid hit we planted a veggie garden and bought chickens and I've honestly never been more satisfied living out my mini-farm dreams ”
You’re an interior designer – when did you first show interest in interiors, and how did you turn it into a career?
I remember as a child I took great pride in rearranging my bedroom and always had it looking presentable. I guess you could say my love of interiors started from then. Though it has only been in recent years I have been able to turn my passion into a career. My husband and I have bought, redecorated and sold numerous properties in Sydney and the Highlands, and this year I took on my first commercial property – Berrima Vault House which has helped launch my company CP&Co Interiors.
Where do you turn to for interior design inspiration?
How would you describe the interiors of your own home?
I would describe them as “Modern/Traditional English”. We recently completed a reasonably large renovation and opened a lot of the house up. I generally gravitate to a rabbit warren style house, so it took a bit of getting used to, though I have managed to add enough clutter in the form of soft furnishings, family photos, art and books (lots of books) to make it feel cosy again.
Has having children changed the way you approach interiors?
Before kids, I was all about crisp white furnishings. After kids, I’m all about dark coloured slip-covered furniture that I know I can wash on the regular. I know there will come a time when we can have our neutrals again, so for now I am enjoying the change.
How do you create cosy interiors that feel beautiful but lived in?
I believe the key to beautiful yet cosy interiors is all in the layering. You can never have too many cushions or throws – just ask my husband!
Berrima Vault House is Australia’s first five-star private members’ club – tell me about finding the space and what you loved so much about it?
My husband has always dreamt of opening a hospitality venue, something he almost did in Bondi many years ago. We had been looking for a property to open a farmhouse style club and had recently missed out on one when we were passing through Berrima. We saw that one of our favourite buildings in Berrima was vacant and thought it would be the perfect space.
It was built by convicts in the early 1800’s and every room in the building is unique. There was clearly a lot of work to be done but the bones were all there and we knew when we were done, it would be something special.
Where did you begin with the interiors – where was your starting point?
From the offset, I knew there was a chance to create something a little different for the Highlands. I wanted to take the historic bones of the building and clash it with colourful and rich interiors.
Bold colours, ornate light fixtures, stone and ironwork are featured heavily throughout the house. It was important to highlight the building’s original charm, while updating certain features to bring the building into the 21st century. Making old meet new.
It was also important to make every room feel unique, designed to feel special in its own right – relevant to the history and features, with a bit of edge. There are subtle consistencies across the buildings with the quality of materials, fixtures, fittings and furniture. From the metals – with brass and steel used, to the lighting, and custom furniture we’ve had specially made.
The paint colours selected throughout are all heritage colours and relevant to the village of Berrima and the context of the 1840’s. With technology, art, furniture and infrastructure that makes it relevant for the 21st century.
Tell me about the artwork curated by Ali Hillman?
Ali truly is the most extraordinary woman. She really understood our desire to have a venue where old meets new. Thanks to her, our walls are sprawled with the latest works of Tim Maguire, Megan Seres and renowned indigenous artist Christian Thompson.
How do you want people to feel when they’re at Berrima Vault House?
It was my aim to create a space that was beautiful, but also comfortable. somewhere people would be happy to waste hours away. My hope is that BVH will transport its guests to another time and place. Allowing them to revel in its old-world charm, while enjoying updates of modern comfort.
Tell me about the food at Berrima Vault House?
The food is “Modern English”. The menu is understated on purpose, because when the Exec Chef Tommy Prosser says “Fish and Chips” or “Sunday Roast” – it’s the best fish and chips or Sunday Roast in the area! Similar to the overall experience across the venue, we want people to see, feel and taste it for themselves and make their own opinions. “Under promise, over deliver” is the mantra. It’s a beautiful building we’ve lovingly restored and reimagined, and so far the response has been amazing.
The pandemic has put the spotlight back on regional Australia – what changes have you seen in the Southern Highlands since the pandemic first started?
Since the pandemic, the Highlands has seen an influx of Sydneysiders moving down here. There is no longer a need for people to work in the office, so people have been exploring the idea of greener pastures and a life outside of the city. It has been a real joy to see like-minded people gravitate towards the Highlands and has made the transition for us a lot easier.
Let’s talk motherhood - take me back to that transition into motherhood, what was the most challenging stage of new motherhood for you?
When Hudson, my eldest son was 10 months old, my father was diagnosed with Stage 4 pancreatic cancer. We sadly lost him after a six-month battle. To this day, it was the most challenging stage of motherhood for me. The juggle of caring for my young son, while trying to be there and present for my Dad, Mum and siblings was overwhelming. To this day, I still carry a lot of mum guilt from that period.
Motherhood has such an enormous impact on our careers, so I want to ask how it’s shaped yours?
For a good three years, I put my career plans on hold. A girlfriend used to say to me “the days are long, but the years are short”, and even though some days were so damn long, I’m glad I was there (full-time) for the early years.
What are your all-time time management tips? How do you get it all done?
Is it ok if I say my time management skills could be improved?! I’ve never worked in the corporate space and have been lucky to be a mum and enjoy my passions. I prefer to ignore the constraints of time and focus on my projects and my family, without a set formula. The best work comes from caring, and everything I do personally or professionally comes with wanting the best for my people.
At Berrima Vault House
You work alongside your husband – what is the secret to a successful working relationship with your partner?
Saying “Yes dear”. And that works both ways! And date nights. During the early months of establishing BVH, we went without them and it definitely took its toll. You don’t realise how important having that alone time is until you give it up for a while!