Nicole Hateley and Darian Szyszka already knew they worked well together. A year earlier they had both decided to quit their jobs in construction management to open a cafe. It was a huge risk, but one that paid off straight away, and the and the business hit the ground running.
A year later they were after their next challenge - enter a tired old property in the Victorian spa-town of Daylesford.
“Nicole was really the one driving this - it had been her intention to renovate a holiday renatl property for a while,” Darian explains. “We knew we wanted to do something together, but whether it was something like this, or maybe another business in the city - we weren’t sure.”
While the business was ticking away back in Melbourne, Nicole hit the countryside with only a half-formed idea that perhaps they could buy an old property, renovate it and list it on holiday rental sites like Stayz and Airbnb.
It was another gamble, but the more she thought about it, the more she believed they could make it work.
Then along came their dream house.
“It was interesting, because although I had been looking for quite some time, about three months, this house just ticked all the boxes,” says Nicole.
“It was the right proportion - it’s huge. If you are going to go and have a country retreat, you have got to think about why you want it. Do you want it just for yourselves? Do you want it for family and friends? We wanted it for family and friends. And the fact that we found a property on that scale was great.
The house, which the pair have nicknamed ‘Country Roads House’ is set on five acres, with a dam and several paddocks.
But while the scale was impressive, it was the configuration of the inside space that pleased Nicole the most.
“The best thing was - all the bedrooms were equal size, which is a really big drawcard for people if they are going away with friends - no one draws the short straw and has to sleep in the kiddy bed,” she explains.
As soon as she showed business partner Darian, he was onboard, and they decided to buy in together, with the support of their respective spouses.
They decided to set aside $500,000 total for the house and its renovation - an ambitious figure.
“We were talking about $500k for a buy, and then once we got it, we wanted to budget between $30-50k for renovations,” Darian explains.
“Nic was pretty keen for us to do it for around $30k, so we gave ourselves a bit extra for a contingency.
“That was the total - so finishing it, right down to cutlery and teatowels,” Nicole explains.
The pair settled on the property in early January, and began work immediately.
Having a construction project management background helped, but for Nicole, who had built herself a holiday home previously out of a shipping container, it was more about hard graft than industry know-how.
“But I don’t think Nicole is the Average Jo when it comes to that sort of stuff. I think she has got it in her blood,” Darian explains.
The thing that had attracted Nicole most to Country Roads House was the fact that in terms of renovating the property, most of the work was just cosmetic. This meant they didn’t move walls, or relocate rooms. In fact, the only really big job was re-doing the bathroom.
“We didn’t do any structural stuff,” she explains. “That’s was the thing - it was about choosing the right house; one we knew we could go through and do just heavy cosmetic work to.
“We removed parts of the bathroom, but it was about seeing what we could reuse, and glam up. That’s what you have got to do when you have a small budget. You need to be able to be savvy with what you are doing; by making it look and feel completely different, but on a shoestring budget.”
Tired old colour schemes were replaced with a crisp white. Exposed beams, which had been painted a tired 90s green, were repainted a dark steel colour - instantly lifting the home, and bringing it firmly into the present with an industrial/barn feel.
“I always love an ugly duckling. I knew we were on to a winner,” she says.
Neither Nicole nor Darian had any connections in the Victorian country town they had just bought in, so they did the only thing they could - talked to locals.
Pretty soon they had amassed an army of trusted, local tradesmen, who were punctual and efficient to a fault.
“It was all through word of mouth,” Nicole explains. “Going down to the local hardware store to ask them who they knew, and if they had any recommendations. And also, too, we talked to our neighbours and asked them who they would use, because it’s a regional area, and everyone knows everyone.”
It helped that there was also a community document listing all the local tradie businesses.
“So we used that,” Darian explains. “So when the flooring guy came in, he’d say stuff like, ‘Use Jim, and Dave for Electrical.’ It worked out well.
In just three months, Nicole and Darian had finished their renovation - and already had a waitlist of friends, clients and customers lining up to stay at their new place.
“Nicole wasn’t surprised - she knew it would be good,” says Darian. “But I was. I thought it would take a lot longer for word to get out.”
And now - it’s onto the next challenge.
“I’d love to do another one,” Nicole laughs. “I’ve been bitten by the bug. Maybe a beach shack next time?”