Goldfields region, VIC

A sustainable church conversion with heart VIC

By Rachel Wagner

November 4, 2020 | 6 minute read

Mel Savage Photography
Mel Savage Photography

Grayling’s Gift is a luxury escape that abides by one simple rule: everything that goes into this home must have heart. And Grayling’s custodians Annie and Shane Brereton believe you simply can’t get this from things that are brand new. 

We spoke to Annie about how she and her husband created their gorgeous and sustainable holiday retreat in a restored 1870s church, using almost entirely salvaged and recycled materials. 

* At the time of writing, activities and places mentioned in this guide are at varying stages of recovery from COVID-19. Please check government and business websites for specific details on opening times and any restrictions before you travel.

The Grayling’s Gift story 

Grayling’s Gift was born when a daring couple bought a church on a whim. 

Fresh off the success of a renovation for a client on the Mornington Peninsula, Annie and her husband Shane were on the hunt for a project of their own.

“We had both agreed that whatever property we bought had to be something out of the ordinary, a little bit unique and we both agreed on a church,” Annie explains. 

In the tiny country town of Lexton near the Pyrenees wine region, the pair stumbled upon a pint-sized 19th century church that they knew they could transform into something genuinely special. 

“I said let’s just go for a drive. It’s out near Ballarat, if nothing else we’ll stop and have lunch and a nice day out. Of course, we drove in the driveway and looked at this property and went, ‘it has to be ours. Termites and all.’ The floor was caving in, it was in wrack and ruin and an hour later we owned it.”

Mel Savage Photography
Mel Savage Photography

A sustainable home  

Grayling’s has become one of a slew of properties leading the way in authentic, sustainably-minded accommodation and travel. This socially conscious mindset was paramount for both the owners from the outset. 

“Shane and I have only been together for four years. When we came together we re-evaluated a lot of things in both our lives and one of the things we found that we had in common and was important to us was, we just wanted to tread a little lighter on the Earth."

“A lot of accommodation venues go the other way, there’s lots of overuse of things and that just didn’t sit well with us. So it was very important that sustainability was at the heart of it." 

You can see it in the small, considered touches around the church. Grayling’s has no single use coffee pods, toiletries or tea bags as part of the owners’ mission to minimise their footprint as much as possible. 

“We also support local businesses in the surrounding regions with the purchase of produce that we supply for guests, minimising food miles and supporting local at the same time,” Annie says. 

And while all these substitutions means it costs a lot to do sustainable holiday accommodation properly, it’s a decision that pays off in spades when you do it as well as Grayling’s Gift.

The space

Design is just as much at the forefront of Grayling’s ethos as sustainability. 

If you haven’t stayed in a church before, it’s quite an experience. One that Annie says never gets old.

“It is a humble little space. It’s only about 40 square metres. It’s not very big at all but it’s special.”

Dappled light leaks through stained glass windows, casting playful shadows over the impressive collection of salvaged decor. Pillar candles, dried bouquets of native flowers and sumptuous throw rugs sit alongside a grand Chesterfield lounge and vintage clawfoot bath. The charm is in these little details that punctuate the building’s interior. 

“They’re one off pieces, they’ve had a previous life just like the building has, so they have stories to tell and I find that really interesting,” Annie says. 

You could spend your entire stay soaking in your surroundings, scanning the walls for new trinkets and imagining the past lives of the well-loved antique furniture. In fact, some visitors do just that. 

One guest told Annie, ‘we just came and we sat and looked at the windows all day.’

Everything in here, every vase or piece of cutlery, is carefully chosen to meet the church’s aesthetic and tell a story. 

“We may be predominantly secondhand and salvaged but nothing is without thought or care or attention. Or intention,” Annie adds. 

“The reuse element for us is also really important in just invoking that specialness, the memories and the uniqueness of the place.”

Instead of trips to Ikea, Annie and Shane go on treasure hunts to the local salvage yard. Ballarat is filled with fantastic salvage yards and antique stores to fossick through and the couple says it’s the thrill of the chase that makes it so exciting. 

“It’s being at the salvage yard and going, oh my goodness, look at that piece of pressed tin that we haven’t seen here before, it’s speaking to me - how can we incorporate this? It ended up being made into a door that hides our refrigerator,” Annie explains. 

But amidst the eclectic, there also has to be a little luxury. 

“We have a few items that we purchased new, obviously a bed and we have the finest quality French linen bedding.” 

Mel Savage Photography
Mel Savage Photography

Slow travel and connection 

You’ll quickly find on arrival that Grayling’s Gift is in a bit of a dead zone for phone service but Annie and Shane see this as a bonus. 

“We very much pitch Grayling’s as a place to come and disconnect in order to reconnect. It’s about creating an experience where people are forced to come in and to enjoy each other again, to enjoy themselves, to re-energise from what is just the busyness of everyone’s lives these days.”

You won’t find a television or any fancy appliances in the old church and the internet is a bit shoddy. What you will discover is a tantalising collection of books, games and arts and craft supplies to take you out of your ordinary life and engage with something that doesn’t involve a screen. Grayling’s guests can try their hand at learning macrame, or play some hymns on the 100-year-old pump organ.

“We had one beautiful guest last lockdown who said, ‘oh my god you had a guitar, I didn’t even know my partner could play and he serenaded me all weekend,’ Annie shares. 

“It’s these amazing simple experiences that people can have that really draw them back to the essence of simple living, beautiful, meaningful relationships, all of these things we’re trying to bring out in people.”

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