A landscape designer's country Victoria escape

Images by Tasha Tylee

This week we meet with landscape designer & Aēsop visual merchandising manager Luke Mortimer at his modern country escape in Chewton. The multi-faceted creative built his abode on Dja Dja Wurrung Country in the Victorian Goldfields with his late partner, artist Steve Burley, 12 years ago. Since then the contemporary building and its increasingly luscious garden has become a full-time home for the former Melbournite. This week we talked to Luke about his unconventional approach to gardens, and the allure of living regionally.

The house in Chewton was designed and built by myself and my late partner Steve Burley 12 years ago. Originally the house was a second home outside of Melbourne, however, as the garden grew, and the landscaping started to take shape my heart increasingly wanted to be here full-time. 

"I have been living in Chewton full-time now for the last few months. The change from dual houses and splitting time between Melbourne and Chewton to a period of consolidation has been the perfect recipe for healing and the next chapter of my life.The home studio in the garden is a massive advantage for a work from home life balance - the studio looks out over the garden and the paddocks beyond. Filled with art, design, and gardening books, it is sometimes hard to not get lost in your thoughts while staring out the windows over inspiring pages.

"I love how comfortable the house is to live in, it naturally moves you through the space with ease, there are great moments of abundant height along with moments of compression. At every axis there is a view out to the garden, the garden is forever changing with the many seasons we have here on Dja Dja Wurrung country which grounds me.

Luke's bed is dressed with IN BED 100% Linen Duvet Cover in Chestnut & Sheet Set in Dove Grey.

All the art in the house is by Steve, there is a massive collection of art that he painted in his lifetime, and the works are constantly rotated around the house and studio. It is a special reminder every time I look up, the works are so colourful and dynamic, it is a beautiful contrast to the grey monotone colour palette of the house. 

Most of the other objects in the house have been accumulated over a long period of time. We loved collecting objects and furniture from the side of the road and vintage stores, breathing new life into them and interpreting them into a modern context. The simple design of the house meshes our two distinct styles together to create a beautiful home.”

All the art in the house is by Steve. It is a special reminder every time I look up, the works are so colourful and dynamic, it is a beautiful contrast to the grey monotone colour palette of the house.

The house is designed with high ceilings in the main living space, I love that the bedrooms have a moment of compression and cocooning, it is the perfect hideaway in winter and a respite in summer. Everything in the bedroom is painted in Dulux Malay Grey, this includes the walls, floor, ceilings, and vintage wardrobes. I love how the mood embraces you, all the big furniture pieces recede into the saturated colour, this makes the artwork and other objects become the focus for the eye. 

"I love the recently found Kartell bedside tables and the vintage wardrobes, most things in the house are recycled or they are found objects, I love taking a new spin on obscure object. I like to mash it all up together to create a unique style.

Originally, I was looking at Castlemaine for somewhere to buy out of Melbourne. On a cold winters day my Mum and I drove up this way with a list of blocks of land to look at, Chewton was last on the list. It sounds corny but I instantly knew it was the one, nestled into the valley, parkland on two sides of the property and a flat block to easily build a house, it was the perfect spot. 

"The block was an empty paddock with a few small trees on it. Cue the next 12 years of toiling in the garden and improving the soil slowly, it has certainly been a learning curve. In a way the house and garden are what drew me into Landscape Design, it was the ability to take a blank canvas in a relatively harsh climate and create something magical.   

"Castlemaine always appealed to me in its easy commute to Melbourne along with its diverse network of creatives and alternative thinkers. Over time I have forged some wonderful friendships that connect me to the community and the landscape here.

I love the Red Hill Hotel in Chewton which is walking distance from home and always a great feed. I also frequent the Castlemaine Art Museum to see new exhibitions and support local artists from the area. There are so many options for good food and wine in the area, I am really spoilt for choice. However, I can’t go many weekends without a visit to The Mill Market precinct which has a huge selection of local traders and produce to choose from including Boomtown Wine, Sprout Bakery & Oakwood Smallgoods, all of which make the perfect complement to a weekend at home of entertaining." 

Life here is simple, it’s easy, and I love it.

Multi-faceted is the perfect word to describe me and my creativity. I worked a long time in retail fashion as a Creative Director and VM manager which taught me so many things about different avenues of creative, what it taught me the most is that I never want to work in fashion again (cue painful laughter). During the pandemic I decided to branch out and up-skill myself beyond fashion and retail, I wanted to do something that I could work for myself and carve out a living outside a major city.

"Landscape Design wasn’t something I was expecting to fall into, however, having a background in design and creative fields with a passion for creating beautiful 3D spaces, meant Landscape Design really appealed to me. My love of plants and garden spaces really brings me so much peace and joy that it seemed a natural fit. 

"After 2 years of juggling full-time work and study I completed my Graduate Certificate in Landscape Design at Burnley, after this I got stuck straight into juggling full-time work and practicing Landscape Design. It was an incredible course to be part of and I have met some very clever people through my time at Burnley, I have a great network of other talented Landscape Designers to bounce ideas off and further my botanical plant knowledge.” 

My love of plants and garden spaces really brings me so much peace and joy that [landscape design] seemed a natural fit.

Luke's bathroom is dressed with IN BED 100% Organic Cotton Towels in Khaki Stripe.

I usually approach things quite unconventionally. I have a passion for creating gardens that are sustainability minded, focusing on water conscious plant selection, microclimate gardens, and working with salvaged and recycled materials in alternative ways to and reduce the impact on the environment. 

"I focus my practice on unconventional paired plantings, using native alongside exotic species, designing gardens that are both sensitive to sustainable water use and the future Australian climate. This makes for a garden that appears English in its origin but is rooted in a modern Australian context.

"Alongside this (because the above is not enough already) I am also working on an avenue to exhibit and facilitate the sale of Steve’s extensive body of work, there are over 100 pieces of work that span 4 decades of art practice in multiple mediums and scale. This remains a work in progress and I am so fortunate to have a wonderful network of creatives I can lean on for advice.

Outside of Landscape Design I also head up Visual Merchandising at Aēsop for Australia New Zealand. I have worked on the Aēsop Queer Library for the past two years; it is a project that is very special to me. Working in a dynamic team of people to bring the library to life, helping to deliver this initiative over the past two years has been close to my heart.

"The curation of not only the visual aspects of the library but of titles has been something I am involved in profoundly. Celebrating and platforming Australian and New Zealand Queer voices through the library has been something remarkable to be a part of. Growing up I never engaged in literature, I thought it was just not for me, however, the involvement in the library really showed me what was missing…. Queer characters and storylines, people that had stories just like mine, relatable. It’s been a special journey to be part of."

I think my aesthetic is really gathered from all the things around me that inspire me, I love to put things together in unconventional ways, both in interiors and in the garden. This is all hemmed in by a strong architectural symmetric plan which underpins both the garden and the house. Steve was an architect and artist, so those aspects heavily influence the way I look at the world and design.

Think about it like Jekyl and Lutyens, architectural framework with the chaos that lies on top of that, somehow this meshing of the two practices creates something dreamlike that is so inherent in the way we connect the garden to the home."

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