Genevieve Wearne, owner of the Flop House, a beautiful retail store and network of luxurious B'n'Bs, talks to Calder Western about her tree-change to Kyneton and the genesis of her iconic brand.
The events that led you to Kyneton could be seen as serendipitous. At that moment, if your destiny had taken a different path, what would you have liked that path to be?
The alternative to Kyneton might have been a town called Narrowsberg in Upstate New York. I went to a wedding there before settling in Kyneton and was drawn by the beauty of the landscape, wild animals and the vibrant community mix of ex-New Yorkers and long-time locals living there.
The Flop House was a change in career for you. What was the genesis of the idea that became the Flop House?
Flop House was conceived during a reflective “gap” year that I was forced to take during a period of recovery from a serious illness. My husband worked and for the first time ever I was a stay at home wife. It didn’t suit me as I was used to being busy so my mind went off in many directions and I started multiple projects before I realised that my new business had to be about slowing down and helping others to do the same. I wanted to create a safe space to unwind and develop a product range of sleep and loungewear that contributed to a sense of ease and wellness.
I had read an interview with you in The Countryphiles blog, circa 2013. You were just starting out then. Over the last six years, Flop House has grown considerably. Did you expect it to be as successful as it has become?
It has been an organic process, mainly as the result of word of mouth referrals from guests, local businesses, property owners and real estate agents. There was originally a business plan in place that included a mix of a product line and accommodation. I knew that the business had to be self-sustaining or I would have to go back to an office job which was good motivation to keep responding to opportunities. Periodically I go back to the plan and see how it all fits together or doesn’t.
What challenges have you faced over the years with The Flop House? Are there things that you would have done differently?
The main challenge has been finding properties that are the right fit. When I sign up a new property it is quite a lengthy process to see if we will be a good match and whether I can fulfill an owner’s expectations. It is a partnership that I take very seriously as it brings a high level of personal commitment, responsibility and time management. If I was doing things differently I might have developed a checklist and a more streamlined process for owners however I think our tailored approach and attention to detail is what generally sets us apart.
Are there any milestones in the business that you are particularly proud of?
The proudest moments for me are accolades from guests and the fact that many choose to return and some have become friends or even part of the Flop House fold.
When you assess a house for its accommodation potential, other than the obvious functional necessities and floorplan, what aesthetic qualities do you look for?
A Flop House has to have character. It can be a heritage building or a new luxury cabin but it can’t be sterile and the property must have the ability to transport a guest to a peaceful place of relaxation. There is no defining aesthetic but Scandinavian design qualities, an element of rustic chic, good linen, books and art all help make a space.
The goldfields region is sprinkled with wonderful B'n'Bs. What is the point of difference with The Flop House collection?
It’s true there are now huge number of B'n'Bs in the region. When I started I think there were about 40 known in the local area and there are many hundreds currently. Airbnb has become a big thing. The quality of B'n'Bs has also improved since I started. I would say that we are still outside the norm in both design appeal and genuinely hospitable service but it’s a constant challenge to stay on top and remain consistent.
Australians consider interior design more than ever and obviously, this comes into play when assessing a bed and breakfast. What are your current interior obsessions and what future trends do you see emerging?
Australians are becoming more confident in celebrating personality in the design. Minimalism, white paint and open plan living are being replaced by interiors with more quirk and individual character.
Every home should have ...
A wood fire, bath and sauna.
How has Kyneton changed in the time you have lived there?
It has become a major tree change destination and many young people seem to be buying their first homes and starting new lives in goldfields towns.
I started multiple projects before I realised that my new business had to be about slowing down and helping others to do the same
What are your feelings on the dilapidation of some key historical buildings in Kyneton and the wider goldfields region? What would you like to see happen?
I am very bewildered by the multiple failures of council, governments and communities to save key historic landmarks. The old gaol in Castlemaine and the old Kyneton Hospital both have enormous potential to be developed as community or tourist hubs. I would love to see more successful public-private partnerships to see good development and restoration happen.
To me, the ‘romance’ of the region is almost utopian in nature. A picture-perfect postcard life with fresh air, consuming healthier produce, surrounded by nature, living a slower, quieter and possibly more creative lifestyle. Am I somewhere near the truth?
It can also be cold and a lot of work maintaining a country property. Some tree changers are idealistic and find the reality is not quite as romantic as imagined. Wood stoves are great but not when they go out. A good way of keeping the romance alive is to visit us often as guests. (laughs)
What places would you recommend people visit while in Kyneton?
Definitely the Campaspe River Walk, taking in the Kyneton botanical gardens, the new community children’s garden, oak forest, historic swimming pool and Victorian-era former hospital. Piper street shops and Animus gin distillery but don’t forget the upcoming High Street and Mollisons. A bike is a very handy mode of transport in Kyneton.
My favourite place in Melbourne is ...
Is travel important to you? What are your “must see” destinations?
Do you love music? What artists are currently on high rotation?
Are there websites that you frequently visit for inspiration or a good read?
I like reading The New Yorker.
You can have three people over for dinner, living or dead. Who would they be?