What started as a handful of lush photographs of a moody Gippsland beach, some inviting Mid Century Modern furniture and a very dreamy looking outdoor bath set-up shot under the sparkle of fairy lights splashing across our desktop from photog Andrew, evolved into the following interview with Dan Robertshaw.
Dan is the man (you knew that was coming!) behind Get Specified — co-operative design company that connects producers and importers of boutique architectural products with clients, and the owner of the fetching Venus Bay home that caught our attention (and it’s not his only one).
Recently returning to Gippsland, Dan is immensely passionate about what the region offers visitors, entrepreneurs and young families like his, as well as how good design can boost Gippsland’s already rich appeal.
Dan, can you provide a little background on yourself? You’re originally from Mirboo North; what led you to move away and what has enticed you back? Plus, which is your favourite Gippsland beach?
My parents emigrated from the UK in ‘84, as my father, a consultant, was transferred to work in Gippsland’s power industry — the old SEC! (State Electricity Commission). I grew up in Mirboo North, moving to Traralgon when I was 17.
I entered the design industry, managing high-end import companies in Melbourne, Perth and Sydney. Throughout, I retained roots in Gippsland; my mother lives up the hill in Tyers, my brother chose to raise his family in Traralgon, and we make an annual pilgrimage to Mirboo North Swimming Pool for old time’s sake!
In 2019, we relocated to Warragul.
I wanted the kids to have the same freedom I was lucky enough to benefit from when growing up. Warragul offers easy access to Melbourne, has us closer to the coastline we love and is on the doorstep of so many great, year-round outdoor adventures.
My favourite beach has to be Waterloo Bay at the Prom. It’s a true reward for the hike and never fails to take my breath away.
Can you paint the story of how Tea Tree Hill was developed into the delightful and inviting form it is today? Why was its rebirth important to you?
Tea Tree Hill (TTH) was secured in 2015. After a long period of travelling, I wanted a space to disappear and reset. Gippsland was the easy decision. I knew it well, family were close by and it remained relatively quiet, and so offered the desired disconnection that some of Victoria’s other coastal regions couldn’t provide.
Anywhere in the world I’ve travelled, the addition of an outdoor bath, spa or pool has always caught my attention. It was a chance inclusion at TTH but has now become a signature of the homes we offer.
Regardless of budget, we challenged ourselves to meet this brief and it produced some interesting results; the brass splashback and entertainment system shelves were created by the kids throwing yoghurt, lemon and salt at each other in the back garden.
It was inexpensive but has an amazing character!
We understand that you (or your collective) have additional properties in the region, including Tea Tree Hollow. Do these follow a similar aesthetic or are there design changes that further tie it to place?
There are many consistent inclusions, though we prefer each of the spaces to reflect their direct environment. The coastline of South Gippsland differs so much — part of the appeal for us. With Tea Tree Hill (Venus Bay) there is a constant energy created by its proximity to the wilds of Bass Strait. The house has a lively, expressive feel.
Walkerville, only 15 minutes up the road, feels like another world, peaceful and contemplative. As such, the home has a calm, reflective feel.
In each case, we try to have the interior spaces directly express these external elements. We invest a lot of time into finding suppliers, local where possible, that reflect our values.
I think there’s an ‘honesty’ to great design in Gippsland. It’s not overstated or pretentious. It has integrity, and an imperceptible comfort. It might just be me, but it feels like home.
Why do you feel accommodation in Gippsland is a savvy business decision?
To me, Gippsland still feels like an undiscovered secret. There’s so much to share and such diversity.
From a commercial standpoint, the limited competition makes it far easier to differentiate your accommodation or experience. Less competition provides a greater opportunity to reward guests with a truly unique and memorable experience.
In some popular tourist destinations short-term rentals, like Airbnb, are no longer seen in a purely positive light. Whilst Gippsland isn’t at that point, how can our tourist drawcards have a great relationship with these platforms?
I can understand the negativity towards Airbnb. In some ways, it has made it ‘too easy’ to offer your space and call yourself an accommodation provider.
However, as a vehicle to open up a region that may not have the tourism infrastructure for visitors, its reach can’t be ignored. By using Airbnb, we’re able to provide exposure for the region and contribute with tourism revenue that it otherwise could not benefit from.
In doing so, we feel there’s a definite distinction and responsibility on accommodation providers to protect and promote the values, community and environment of a region, and to offer them to guests accordingly.
Given you have these exceptional choices, where will you be spending your Christmas Day?
We’ll head to Mum’s pool, while we wait on the Mirboo North pool to open for a BBQ under the tree ferns. We might allow others to enjoy the coastal place, and instead hitch up the van and head inland, somewhere like Toorongo Falls, to enjoy the outdoors somewhere in Gippsland over a bottle of Patrick Sullivan’s finest!