Before Kirby Kaye and her husband Jack had their fourth child, it was their three sons who were set to be seventh generation on the Kaye family property Ballakaye - an indigenous name meaning Home of the Kayes.
There had only ever been one girl born on the 1800s property - 60 years ago - so Kirby and Jack assumed all their children would too be boys.
As such, the couple fashioned the name Settler & Sons as the overarching title for their creative endeavours, and as a way of paying tribute to generations gone and to come.
“Jack’s family has been on their property since the mid-1800s, so when we decided to get married we moved back to Nowhere Creek into an old shack on the neighbour’s farm and lived there for a few years,’ Kirby says.
“We came up with the name before our daughter was born. We had three sons and didn’t think we would have a girl!”
Kirby’s many ventures – including long lunches amidst the Ballakaye property, and a coveted accommodation offering - are all inspired by her rapture with the country.
Growing up as a country girl in the heart of the Goulburn Valley, her childhood was an immersion in the natural world. A space for solace and reprieve.
She spent much of her younger years in the company of her beloved grandparents, and her days were spent relishing in the beauty of the farmland surrounded by those she loved and admired.
“My grandparents were dairy farmers and I spent a lot of time with them as a kid,” Kirby recalls. “My pop had a miniature farm and grew all these fruits and vegetables and I loved hearing stories about how he grew up on the farm.
“I’ve always loved the country and horses and that lifestyle. I think it’s just in my blood. So it was lucky that I fell in love with somebody who loves it more than me.”
Kirby’s background is in Equine Studies. She completed her degree at Charles Sturt University’s Agricultural College, so her desire to work with the land comes as no surprise.
What is perhaps a little harder to fathom, is her love for interior design. And more-so, what influenced her exceptional knack for the aforementioned.
A little deep dive puts all ponderings at rest.
“I’ve always had a passion for interiors and old houses, especially gardening. I couldn’t wait forever to have my own home and garden to play around. I think if you love gardening, you automatically love interior design,” she says.
When Kirby and Jack took over Ballakaye - aptly-located in remote Victoria’s Nowhere Creek - they were able to truly realise the home of their dreams. Since their move, the couple has been working laboriously to beautify their forever retreat, all the while working on properties both in Ballarat and (more recently) New South Wales, as well as Kirby’s acclaimed long lunches, which she hosts as a one-woman show amidst her much-loved property.
The Kayes’ stunningly renovated Ballarat AirBnB comprises a country aesthetic, juxtaposed against tasteful modern features that conjure up profound feelings of calm and awe.
Kirby says her family decided to purchase the property so they had a base in Ballarat for their school-aged children.
Doubling the home as an accommodation offering simply made sense.
“I pretty much made a beautification job for myself that I thought would be fun,” Kirby laughs, as though her life’s plate is devoid of commitments. “We didn’t have to do anything structurally, but we made her a bit prettier than she was. She was pretty unloved when we bought her.”
Boasting many of its original 1920s features - beautiful leadlight windows, original flooring, high ceilings – Settler & Sons is a recluse that infuses everything that Kirby loves into one characterful space, including her adoration for gardening.
“I’m always trying to bring more of the outdoors in. Even our tiny kitchen in Ballarat felt like a bit of a dungeon, so now the big window opens up into a servery window which just makes such a huge difference.”
Kirby’s artistic dexterity and love for the land is made manifest through each of her ventures, instilling delight among seekers of fondness everywhere.
When she is asked about Settler & Sons’ overall design aesthetic, she exclaims that it’s not a style, but a feeling.
The accommodation is laden with antiques and new furniture, with touches of modern, old and vintage. A “mix of what catches my eye”.
“I couldn’t pigeon-hole it into a particular style. I just wanted it to feel warm, inviting and comfortable. “Our home away from home.”
“It’s exactly how I would have my farmhouse – light and bright and with all the bits and pieces from our life, collected to create a homely and eclectic feel.
“It’s homely because it’s our own personality in our own space, rather than us trying to emulate someone or something else.”
And while Kirby says she’s constantly questioning herself and wondering whether her efforts, décor and design will appease, she has come to realise that if you create for yourself, you are bound to attract in droves – no pun intended.
“I was really taken aback by how popular it’s been and by the beautiful feedback,” she says. “The house has such a personality and warm feeling about it that the guests feel like they know you.
“You can tell a lot about people through the things they put in their home. There’s a warm hospitality to it and that’s what country life is about – unpretentious and comfortable.”