Design Destination | The Drift House Port Fairy Reimagined

  • A new chapter for multi-award winning luxury hotel and dining room Drift House Port Fairy reveals an unwavering commitment to quality design and personalised details. 

    In the decade since est first covered Drift House, the boutique hotel has received many accolades, including the Australian Tourism Award for best luxury accommodation in its first year of operation and being named one of the best places to stay along Victoria’s Great Ocean Road. 

    This “small hotel with a big reputation” is owned and operated by sea-changer couple John Watkinson and Colleen Guiney, founded on the vision of “clever and simply beautiful architecture”. The creative couple engaged Melbourne-based architecture firm Multiplicity to design the six suites – each with their own design language – within a historic bluestone terrace and adjacent Edwardian villa. The architects also introduced a shared garden pavilion for guests and their visitors, the Salon, where Drift House guests enjoy breakfast every morning and, more recently, a Spanish-inspired dinner three nights a week.

    We had the pleasure of revisiting the luxury lodging to explore its newly refurbished suites and dinner offering – an extension of their commitment to premium local produce and Australian design and craftsmanship.

    Suite one is located on the lower level of the two-storey building with the original veranda.

    Suite one is accessed through the grand original doorway, featuring the old fireplace for use in winter and a freestanding stone bath.

    Situated in the small seaside town of Port Fairy on Victoria’s southwest coast, the Drift House takes up residence in one of the town’s most historically-significant buildings, ‘Riverdale’, located on a corner site and dating back to 1875. Colleen and John purchased the Victorian-era bluestone building and engaged Multiplicity to conceptualise four guest suites. Six years later, they opened two more suites in the adjacent Edwardian villa, originally a part of the site, and the shared pavilion called the Salon, clad in a perforated metal skin with solid local stone walls.

    The architecture features innovative materials, including salvaged timber accentuating the accommodation’s unique personality. Landscaping ensures an immersive journey between each structure, inviting guests and local wildlife to explore, including a koala that frequents the property. 

    When lockdown struck, co-owner John Watkinson reflects, “we hatched a plan to ensure that we emerged from the lockdowns, border closures and travel restrictions better than we entered”. Suites one and two became the primary focus for a series of updates. “Things started with a conversation about it being time for a lick of paint but quickly escalated into a complete remodelling exercise,” John says. The team revised room layouts, designed new bespoke joinery and lighting and updated colour schemes. John says his favourite new feature is the skylight in suite two. “Being in the original bluestone building, this suite was a little dark but is now flooded with natural light, with the added bonus of an amazing view of the Milky Way at night.”

    “We have had several guests return to stay in the remodelled suites and they have been amazed at how different a space can feel,” co-owner John Watkinson says.

    All suites feature an in-room ‘maxi-bar’ with local wines, craft beers and treats, including homemade yoyos.

    Multiplicity co-founder and architect Tim O’Sullivan says they love that the Drift House is a project that “keeps on giving”. “It allows us to be a lot more playful with the design. Guests are predominantly there for leisure and want a space that is both fun and inspiring,” he adds.

    Once they emerged from lockdown, co-owner Colleen Guiney says they became “very busy, very quickly”. “We decided to develop our dinner offering as a stop-gap measure until the local restaurants returned to full capacity,” Colleen says. “It’s been so successful that we have decided to make it a permanent part of our offering,” she says. Now, the Drift House serves dinner to guests three nights a week from their Salon space, a purpose-built garden pavilion.

    Inspired by the couple’s travels, the al a carte menu features ultra-local produce such as Pulpo Port Fairy octopus served with Otway gold potato or John’s favourite Espinacas con Garbanzos, featuring 12-hour local lamb shoulder.

    Suite two enjoys the restored balcony and views to the river and sea beyond.

    In suite four, the architects had free reign over the interiors. The perforated metal skin casts a soft light through the space. 

    Each dish is paired with a drinks list, with wines curated from across western Victoria, available also through the honesty bar. Breakfast is offered every morning, echoing their focus on organic and sustainable farming. Drift House’s commitment to sustainability also threads through effort to conserve water and energy, reduce waste, buy locally and support small businesses, to give back to regional communities. 

    Down to every last detail, John and Colleen have approached the evolution of the Drift House with care for the experience. Their passion makes Drift House so much more than a place to stay but a destination for cultivating a love of slow living by the sea.

    Like suite three, suite four highlights the architects’ use of recycled materials.

    Suite five and six occupy one-half of the Edwardian villa, characterised by natural light and muted tones, showcasing Multiplicity’s approach of “mixing the beautiful with the ordinary”.

    Sited as a glass pavilion within the garden space, with a veiled screen referencing the louvres elsewhere, the Salon was designed as a space to mingle with other guests, eat and relax. 

    Situated in the small seaside town of Port Fairy, the Drift House takes up residence in one of the town’s most historically-significant buildings, ‘Riverdale’, dating back to 1875.

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