Sitting on over 200 acres of farmland in Point Lonsdale—just one and a half hours away from Melbourne—lies a property that has been in Claire Gemes’s family for over 100 years. Gemes had long dreamed of one day turning the space into a hotel she could share with others, and that dream became a reality just last year, when Lon Retreat, a seven-suite hotel and spa, debuted in October, offering guests an incredibly warm and relaxed coastal accommodation experience.
For the design, Gemes collaborated with local interior designer Pippa Melville of Pip Interiors. They first met up in late 2016, sharing Pinterest boards and other images of inspiration until they came up with exactly the design aesthetic they were looking for. Gemes’s goal was for the space to have a “beautiful simplicity,” feeling luxe with a coastal, relaxed vibe.
Walking into the lobby, visitors immediately note this feeling. Melville has always been drawn to natural, varied textures in her designs, using materials such as cane, leather, concrete, stone, and linen to create a warm and inviting vibe, often with a modernist feel. A lush moss green linen sofa by Pop and Scott, a pale rust Argentinian sheep’s wool floor rug, and a large painting by Hannah Nowlan all add to the welcoming vibe. The pace is slower here. Claire offers a generous welcome on arrival, and freshly baked muffins (made by Claire’s mom!) wait on a counter for guests.
Melville explains that the design inspiration came from the surrounding natural environment—the deep, rich colors of the southern ocean, the pristine light-colored sand dunes, the ashy tones of the coastal bushland, and the pinky-blue hues of the sky. “We wanted to bring the outside beauty of the rugged Victorian coastline inside the retreat, creating an integrated sense of place through color,” she says. “We also chose some brass and timber tapware to further nod to Earth’s natural elements.”
The process of design, construction, and renovation took about two years in total, Melville and Gemes sourcing from local artists and craftspeople wherever they could, and incorporating handcrafted timber furniture from Auld Design and Relm Furniture, artwork from local painter Richard Claremont, and photographs by Daniel Baden of Rock Pool Art into the space. Local producers and suppliers also feature in the retreat’s Honesty Bar (where visitors can help themselves to anything, make a note of it, and pay at the end of their stay).
I was lucky enough to experience the Alto Suite, with its stunning views over the farm, ocean, and the Point Lonsdale Lighthouse, which you can gaze over while relaxing in the suite’s deep-set stone mineral bath. The space is also full of natural light, thanks to its huge windows and high ceilings.
On-site, I enjoyed a delicious Pinot Noir from a local wine producer on the peninsula, as well as Osun Sparkling waters, which are infused with beautiful botanicals. Gemes has grand plans to create an in-house dining experience over the next couple of years—it’s just a matter of finding the perfect chef to collaborate with.
Gemes encourages guests to slow down on arrival to Lon Retreat and escape the busyness of life but not in a prescriptive way. You can choose to do as little or as much as you like. The Lon Spa is a perfect way to whittle away a few hours, with simple, blissful treatments to choose from. For spare moments, there are also beautiful walking paths around the property and down to the beach that can also be enjoyed.
“It’s the place in its totality that makes it special. It’s hard to describe without visiting,” Gemes notes of Lon Retreat. It’s a comfortable yet luxurious space that is purposefully designed to make visitors feel nurtured while they enjoy their natural environment: acres of native sand dune scrub and farmland bordered by the southern ocean.
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