Sometimes we really need an escape. Right now, our backyard is the best place to run away to, which is why we were attracted to Ooh Lah Lah in Trafalgar. Owner Lisa Newton has created a place where the ordinary world disappears as soon as you cross the threshold.
With Lisa describing Ooh Lah Lah as ‘an adult cubby house’ and ‘an opulent bohemian space filled with vintage treasures’. Our bags were hastily packed and the car produced a tiny squeal as it left the driveway.
Before disappearing into Lisa’s art-filled wonderland, we enjoyed an opportunity to learn a little more about her and how Ooh Lah Lah came into existence.
Lisa shared that she’s a mum of three adult children; the youngest, Nathan, lives with severe intellectual and physical disabilities.
“In 2012, Nathan and I moved to Drouin and were immediately impressed by the warmth and acceptance of the local community. After three and a half years, we moved to the Mornington Peninsula, all the while dreaming of a return to gorgeous Gippsland.
“Our lucky break came when a family friend was selling their home in Trafalgar. We moved into the art deco home, but with the complex nature of being the primary carer of Nathan, I needed to be very creative with my employment.”
Lisa’s always loved meeting new people and learning about their culture. She has also always enjoys secondhand shopping and decorating, so launching a short-stay accommodation place was an excellent way to combine her passions.
“Against my accountant’s advice, I started scouring the local real estate market for a bespoke property. (My accountant’s advice was… way too boring for me!) The universe works in mysterious ways, as the perfect property came on the market within six months of our move to Trafalgar.”
Starting life as The National Bank of Australasia Ltd and constructed in the late 1800s, the building that houses Ooh Lah Lah had worn many hats in servicing the Gippsland community, yet it’s most stylish one was still to come.
Lisa knew before renovating that she “wanted to evoke feelings of opulence and grandeur, while keeping it fun and playful”, and pay respect to the history of the building.
“The natural patina [earned through] age was to be highlighted, not covered over.
“I’m a great believer in upcycling and refurbishment … as I have a great appreciation for the craftsmanship of older furniture, which was made to last. I spent the greater part of six months scouting local secondhand shops and marketplaces for treasures to decorate the space. To assist with the renovating of the building I reached out to a dear friend of mine, Craig, who I knew was the perfect person to help turn my dream into reality…”
Lisa continues, explaining that Craig Fison is a local legend who started out in old-school graphic design (pre-computers), before working for Myer and the Boans department stores to create amazing window displays and eye-catching points of sale.
Craig had undertaken lots of voluntary work for community festivals and events for charity, which then led him to work in the theatre in Perth, then London, Sydney and Melbourne. After cutting his teeth creating stunning sets on small budgets, Craig began working in the film industry in the art departments of films that have received innumerous accolades for their set, prop and costume design, including, Star Wars, Moulin Rouge, Mission: Impossible II and more.
Long story short, Craig can transform a room with only a paintbrush and some Blu Tack, or at least it seems like it.
“Whilst I was very particular of the overall aesthetic, I gave Craig a loose design brief, a very tight budget, a folder of looks and finishes that I loved and allowed him to weave his magic.
“Instead of sending the old kitchen and bathroom to landfill, they were reborn through refinishing it. The rest of the floors are incredible paint finishes that give the feel of an old Tuscan villa, which are then layered with my chosen fabrics and dressings.
“Craig also did a lot of the large-scale paintings to make the space feel cosmopolitan and fun, not to mention the ‘Narnia’ cupboard doorway from the kitchen into the living room, which is a delightful surprise.”
Once the renovations were complete, Lisa then agonised over what to name the property. It had to be unique and meaningful to her. Drawing inspiration from her mixed Polynesian and English heritage, Lisa reveals that Ooh Lah Lah is a play on the word ‘aloha’.
“It means harmony, helpfulness, humility and unity. [It’s] so much more than a greeting — it’s a way of life.”
You can find Ooh Lah Lah on Insta at @oohlahlah_trafalgar and on airbnb.com/h/oohlahlah-trafalgar, where Lisa was able to achieve ‘Superhost’ status within her first year of operations (in 2020 too, mind you).
To check out Craig’s work, please visit Facebook for ‘Craig Fison Design with a Difference’ or Instagram: @artprojector.