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Driving through the heart of rural Victoria on a slightly rainy-cum-sunny day, I see the undeniable charm that Greg Hatton has fallen for. Considering the sort of furniture he’s been creating for the last seven years, not to mention a naturalistic DIY mentality as a designer, Hatton couldn’t help but take the opportunity that was given to him. It was a chance to own and refurbish an old building known as the Co-Op Butter Factory in Newstead, Victoria (established in 1904), something he humourously calls ‘Butterland’ these days. A compelling project and investment, the site is now Hatton’s reclusive countryside home and furniture workshop. Upon his return from a four-year stint through Austria, where he applied himself as a self-made designer, he stumbled across the ignored building that was for up sale. It struck him as a new project with serious potential to be explored. Chipping away at it slowly, he’s turning the place into something quite special, but he’s got a way to go. Lucky for us, he’s a man willing to share his experience, and there’s more than enough space to wonder and get dirty. If you enjoy the more rustic side of country life, even if for the plain experiential qualities, he encourages you to “come as you are”…
The space, however, wasn’t always this inviting. A lot of work has gone in it, and there’s a lot to keep working on. The decision to move into a run-down building in the middle of nowhere was undoubtedly tied to Hatton’s strong connection to nature – a great inspiration found in almost every aspect of his work, whether that’s creating furniture, a clever landscape design, or even a new bed-n-breakfast concept, which he hopes to realise by the beginning of 2012. When it comes to the varied nature of his work though, Hatton isn’t exactly your average design prodigy. He’s a bit rough around the edges you might say, but an interesting designer to take note of. He has all the talent you could bet on for creating a dynamic and well-rounded project, certainly including some interesting furniture, but the true essence of his design ethos shines through in his naturalistic method of upcycling – keeping things pure and simple – as with the raw materiality of the works themselves. He creates everything with his own hands – most of it in his new workshop. Unlike most designers, those often well rooted within the modern, urban settings of the city, Hatton is a man best suited to work within the hallowed comforts of the Victorian countryside.
“It’s an ideal place for me to work, at least most of the time,” he says. “You definitely get a lot more solitude, I suppose, and you get to know a different gang of locals, but it’s also about creating a balance. It’s one of those things where I’ve been up here for a while now, I’ll be working on things madly in the workshop, then go and do a landscaping job somewhere, then return right back to my place, where I can keep on with what I started.” He admits he often comes back to a workshop that looks as if a bomb has just hit it, but that’s also the beauty of it. He has the creative space that allows him to go ‘mental’ with projects, and there’s no one even close enough to complain about his mess (no one but his girlfriend at least). He also has all the natural surroundings to supply him with the sort of material resources he needs to create most of his work: ample loads of discarded wood, branches and leaves.
“The goal this year is to build two apartments within the structure, and then furnish the whole place with about 50 percent of my stuff and then add different pieces, here and there, to complement the whole look and aesthetic …” says Hatton. “It’s a bit of showroom concept, where you’d be able to stay and have a nice time with friends, if you all planned a good weekend trip together, but you could also buy something if it struck your fancy as something suitable for your own place. Of course it’d be totally different to your typical bed-n-breakfast.”
Considering a slight trend Hatton has identified in recent years, he sees a clear demand for what he calls “contemporising the country” – a very slow process of regenerating interest in the ‘country’ way of life, but making the experiences interesting enough as to highlight the potential of re-populating these old regions in a new and dynamic way, especially throughout Victoria. He reminds us, of course, that it’s not for everyone. “There’s a fair share of interesting/kookie types, plenty of old and young, with little in between, but most people are quite nice and helpful – and easily engaged with whatever you’re trying to do or start,” says Hatton. Again, he stresses the need we all have for balance these days.
He’s definitely not the first to do this sort of thing, of escaping the city for a taste of good old country life, but his case is undoubtedly different. “Living out here is a lifestyle choice we either make, or at least come to enjoy little bits at a time I think,” he says. Lounging in his awesome butter factory/home (a fading bit of Johnny Cash playing in the background), I definitely appreciate this new kind of “town and country” living. It’s a smart ambiance he’s created for himself, ethically minded and rustic as can be. His life is an ideal world (for some)! And as funny as the idea of “contemporising the country” may sound, I can’t help but think that’s exactly what he’s doing.
Nest Collection, designed by Swedish brand Form US with Love, embodies the concept of giving humanity a chance to take a break.