I know I’m not the only one who has meandered on real estate websites, looking for country properties and imagining myself in them. When you’re in the city, it all seems incredibly affordable and give you feelings of open skies and quiet weekends and maybe an orchard (no thoughts of the birds, netting or pruning in this fantasy). Greg Hatton did the search while renting in inner city Melbourne, with dreams of space for a workshop for his furniture design practice and a country life for his family. When Butterland popped up in summer 2009/10, Hatton and his family relocated to the small Victorian town of Newstead and the rest is history.
While we live in a culture that values and validates busyness as a lifestyle, a lot of people I interview for Design Satellite actively work against this. People are looking for something more meaningful to worship than a full iCal- and many are absolutely killing it with their creative practice as a result. Butterland is an extension of Greg Hatton’s creativity and houses his family, workshop and furniture design and landscaping businesses; so it feels like an all out lifestyle and legacy. This interview reminded me of why I started this site last year- the feeling that perhaps there was a chance to do something wonderful from a patch of dirt and an old building in the country for the same price I was renting in the city. Somewhere to put my roots down and make space for the things that can’t be quantified, like the joy of playing Scrabble with my son and watching my dog chase a stick at the river, which makes me laugh out loud every time! That’s not stuff you can plan but it’s certainly been a more compelling reason to get out of bed every morning since I followed the whisper of ‘maybe’ to Denmark 18 months ago.
If you’ve ever restored a building or re-vegetated land, you’ll know it is one of life’s great pleasures, but takes a lot of work – both are happening at Butterland. With various incarnations, including being a candle factory for 25 years, Hatton has had to scrape through knee deep wax and much more to begin it’s restoration. The building was heritage listed in 2013 and exudes a noble, faded charm with soaring ceilings on an industrial scale. It’s a continuation of Hatton’s philosophy for both furniture design and landscaping – practical environmentalism, reclaimed materials and the clearing from waterways of introduced species, like willow, to create long lasting objects of beauty.
Butterland is now used for weddings, photo shoots and other events, often with floristry by Hatton’s partner, of Katie Marx Flowers. Hatton now has space for a workshop, is renovating a space for their home (they are already living in one part) and continuing to produce furniture, run a landscaping business, restore the building and re-vegetate the surrounding paddocks, all with small children in tow. He’s a man who’s got a lot on, but in a classic bout of country hospitality, he made heaps of time for me to have a cuppa and a chat. We talked about the art industry, which artists we like, the fickleness and speed of the design industry and all of the in between. This guy has got his country humble on and despite the amount of action happening there, Butterland is such a peaceful place.
Thanks for having me in your buttery goodness, Butterland, and until then, I will dream of being invited to a wedding there (let’s make it a same sex one in this dream) and we’ll dance all night under those Central Highland stars. Put that in your iCal and smoke it!
What kind of life were you living before you moved to Newstead?
Prior to moving to Newstead I was in the heart of the city, in stinky St Kilda. I was living in a caravan in my workshop as I couldn’t afford to rent a house as well. Life was good but my rent was month to month and I wasn’t making a lot of furniture, as I was predominantly landscaping at the time. I decided to try and find a place in the country that had enough space to set up a workshop and based my budget on how much I was paying rent…that’s how I ended up in an old butter factory.
Butterland is an amazing building, can you tell me about it? What’s going on there for the next few months?
Currently its being used to raise a small family, furniture workshop and event space. It’s the wedding season at the moment so that’s pretty busy, but after that we are easing off a bit to just enjoy it for ourselves. There’s a flower and furniture workshop weekend on the radar too.
The building was built post World War 1 and replaced the original timber version of the same. Back in the day most families living on the land has at least a few dairy cows or more as they provided a regular reliable income. The butter factory was a co-op of all the local landowners. Land use practices and the advent of irrigated dairy country and refrigerated transport put an end to predominately dry land dairy herds in Newstead and surrounds. Prior to me taking occupancy it had other lives too – as a cheese factory, a winery cellar door and a candle factory…for 25 years..and I had the pleasure of cleaning up the wax!!
Has the design or production process of your furniture design changed since you’ve moved your studio to Butterland?
I do have a greater sense of permanence here, so my workshop is better set up and I can store and dry timber for future use which is very satisfying. My aesthetic has moved on a bit, but that has always happened, there a quite a few more small manufacturers that have sprung up in the past few years as well, so that keeps you fresh too – I don’t want to be covering ground that’s already being done to death. I have some new work but it’s all still in very small numbers at the moment.
What are the opportunities and challenges of living outside of Melbourne? How do you stay connected with your industry?
I don’t really, I have been operating with the handbrake on for a few years now so work is definitely part-time on top of restoring the building, building some new living quarters and having a few children. Furniture making comes in fits and starts as does the landscaping – somehow I squeeze it in. By the end of this year I should be committing a bit more time to it, finally get around to producing a few things that have been bumping around in my head. Out of Melbourne doesn’t present any problems, you just have to change your expectations and realise where you are living and appreciate what it has to offer rather than what it doesn’t.