Steve and Lina Cabai are quick to point out they’re no design professionals; Steve a teacher and traveller and Lina the PR guru behind Melbourne agency Isle of Lime. However, it’s immediately clear upon visiting their Daylesford guesthouse, Saint Etienne, that the couple have a clear passion for design. Their redesign preserves many of the building’s period features while joyfully embracing a modern aesthetic. The result? A design-driven getaway perfect for those wishing to escape the city grind.

WORDS Melia Rayner  PHOTOGRAPHY Brooke Holm

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The couple had always wanted to work on a project that would give them the opportunity to curate international and Australian design pieces alongside works from local Melbourne designers and creatives. They found their project in Saint Etienne, a 1912 Federation home in the heart of Daylesford.

The three-bedroom home has been completely redesigned by the husband and wife team, drawing on their shared inspiration of travel, food and friends. Key period features like the stained glass windows and corniced ceilings have been preserved throughout the home, while other original elements like the stone fireplaces and hardwood floors have been refined to a minimalist sensibility.

Bright whites and navy blues dominate the colour palette, drawing on travel inspiration from Scandinavia and Japan while injecting a modern edge. Other international influences can be found in the square white subway tiles used in the kitchen and bathroom, and Scandi-style plywood furniture in the bedrooms. Furniture is equally antipodean, mixing pieces from New Zealand, Denmark and Byron Bay with artworks from French designer and poster artist Michel Quarez alongside local talent like Billie Justice Thomson.

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A popular weekend destination for Melbourne’s urban dwellers, Daylesford has no shortage of charming cafes, boutiques and restaurants (including the famous Lake House Restaurant), not to mention ample mineral springs and surrounding spa country. Saint Etienne is a five-minute walk from Lake Daylesford and the central Vincent Street precinct, but if you prefer to enjoy the creature comforts of the home locally-made treats and Netflix are on hand to keep you happy.

While they may not have a professional design background, it’s clear for Lina and Steve this home is a labour of love, and a culmination of their passion for unique art and design. Each room in the home tells a story, from past travels to new discoveries. It’s rare to find somewhere you feel immediately at home, but it’s testament to the couple’s personal touch that Saint Etienne does just that. 

Book a stay at Saint Etienne here.

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‘Simplemente Puntos’ wallpaper by Milton & King adds some character to this classic period bedroom, while plywood furniture add to the Scandinavian style.

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Above: One of Steve’s own photographs, ‘The Peru Boys’ sitting pretty above the HW Klein leather armchairs in a perfect reading nook. The open living area also features a painting by Michel Quarez titled ‘Graphisme dans la Rue Fontenay 4’

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The kitchen features custom cabinetry from Pronto Cabinets, combining plywood and navy Italian laminate for a playful feel. Our favourite feature has to be the denim fridge from Smeg – what a scene stealer!

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