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While some of us were binge watching Netflix and doom-scrolling our way through Melbourne’s lockdowns, Clare Hillier and Sean Morris were making some very good choices. 

Over a few Negronis in early 2021, they dreamt up a plan to create the perfect escape from the everyday; an art and design lover’s haven nestled among the sand dunes of Blairgowrie backbeach. 

Camillo House was named after the creator of said cocktail – Count Camillo Negroni – and there’s more than a touch of la dolce vita about this three story, three bedroom, three bathroom retreat. Plus, a perfectly poured Negroni awaiting you on arrival! 

Fully renovated but retaining the original charm and timber hues of its more humble beginnings, this 1980s beach shack has been seriously luxed up with modernist design, original art and respect for its landscape and history at every turn. 

We asked Clare to take us through the process and intention for developing Camillo House, and for some of her favourite places to visit on the Ninch.  

Where did you begin and what were you hitting for?  

We bought the house from a man called Sid, who had built it with his wife as a holiday house. It had your typical pine lining boards going diagonally on the walls, and then vertically on the ceilings, with that orange tinge. It was visually chaotic but we could see it had really amazing bones and it just felt special. 

The first thing we did was engage Blair Smith Architecture to develop a floor plan and a concept for the design of the kitchen and sleeping wing. We haven’t touched the footprint, but we’ve reconfigured alot to make the most of the incredible natural environment and views. Once we got started we did end up touching every surface!

There’s lots of casual living space, and a different feel in each of the bedrooms. We’ve really been able to get creative in a way that you probably wouldn’t in a house you live in everyday. For example in one bedroom, we’ve replicated the travertine and spotted gum from the bathroom as a bedhead that runs the width of the room. Another bathroom was designed around a particularly striking tile find on Facebook marketplace!

The colour palette and design just exudes warmth and creativity. Is that your personal taste coming through or were you trying to create a particular experience? 

Because it's somewhere you come and stay for a weekend it doesn't have to be as practical as if you’re designing your home, so we can have a double shower and bathroom behind the bed, looking out to the view, for example. And we really wanted to keep it true to its roots, with the ply ceiling that still reads like timber, but is visually calmer than before.  

What we've realized, which makes me so happy, is that people often book Camillo for special occasions like celebrating an anniversary, milestone birthday or elopement. So we are really hoping to give them memorable moments that are a complete departure from their everyday. 

As we were all stuck at home for so long during covid (we were creating Camillo during that second year of lockdown), I also really wanted to have a complete connection with outside and nature, with everything opening up and out. There’s the firepit and the outside bath and we really encourage people to sleep with the windows open to hear the waves rolling in. We want people to create memories here. But also, the kitchen is properly set up, so you can actually cook a meal together, have a long lunch and then connect to the outside and go for a walk.

There are more than 25 original artworks scattered around the house. Tell us about the curation process. 

Some of them are pieces I'd already collected, most of them are Australian artists, with some internationals and of course it’s all original art.

One favourite that just encapsulates Camillo and the colours we were hitting for is a piece by Barbara Kitallides - titled ‘Negroni’! She’s an artist I’d known for a few years and during Covid she put out a series called Cabin Fever which was just brilliant and it happened to include this piece. 

I spent alot of time collecting various pieces to suit specific areas of the house and we’ll keep adding pieces, as well as hosting artists and creatives here for retreats so that they can dream, create and be inspired by the place. We really want Camillo to be an ‘art house’ that is constantly evolving and being layered with more art. 

We also saw our builder, Luke Burns at LUBU Building and his team of local trades and craftspeople as artists and as integral to the creation of the space. Luke was amazing at keeping things moving and being truly collaborative in both solving the technical challenges and adding design input as the project evolved.

And it was really important for us to share local products with our guests. So we have an honesty bar with Avani Wines and we use Taralinga Estate olive oil and all local jams and relishes from BatchMade in our Welcome Hamper

Speaking of locals, what are your fave places to eat, drink and be merry on the Ninch?  

Bistro Elba is definitely a favourite. Penni Ave for coffee. St Pauls General Store for sandwiches. Del Posto is always delicious. And in terms of natural spaces, the coastal walk just here leading out from the house is amazing. Diamond Bay is probably a favourite for a swim.   

Kicking back at the bar with a view on the top floor of Camillo House sounds like a pretty fine way to spend some time on the Ninch… 

It is an amazing view of the ocean… You know, the first time I walked into the house, this sounds quite crazy, but the energy of a house is just so important. I came in here within 12 hours of it being listed, and even though it was quite old, I just felt really held. And I knew this was a space I’d love to share with others.

Camillo House has a minimum 2 night stay and a minimum 3 nights on Public Holiday long weekends. Stays start at $1,000 per night for up to 6 guests.