Maison Balzac

I first came across Maison Balzac and their stunning candles very early in the peace when shopping in one of my favourite antique stores in Balmain ‘Quintessential duckeggBLUE’. There was something romantic and nostalgic about the scent, not to mention the most elegant 1642 packaging. I adored the candle then and still do to this day. When deciding to open a little retail space again one of the first brands that I wanted to alight with was Maison Balzac. I reached out to Elise Pioch, the founder of Maison Balzac, who was happy to meet with me and discuss my plans. The day we met I had my then 3yr old son with me who had a ball running around her amazingly fragrant warehouse. As he played hide and seek behind huge boxes of stock Elise told me about her beautiful little girl Loulou who also happened to be 3 and we discussed the joys of juggling motherhood and business. She has since become one of my favourite people to do business with, she is incredibly generous and always gracious.


Meet Elise and Pablo | Photography by Felix Forest

All of that aside the reason for this post was to share Elise and her husband Pablo’s charming 1880’s church on the Cola River with you. Growing up, my parents bought a cute little weatherboard church that they restored on McDonalds Road in Pokolbin (Hunter Valley Vineyards), that we lived in for a few years when I was around 10 or 11 years of age. It’s now the home of Usher Tinkler Wines and worth a visit if you happen to be heading to the Hunter Vineyards. As soon as I heard Elise also had a charming little church I wanted to know more and always had the intention of writing about it. I’ve finally had the chance to stay there and as you would expect it’s truly divine. Can I say that whilst referring to a church? Regardless, it’s understated elegance and country charm really struck a chord.


I thought I would ask Elise a few questions.

How did you stumble across this beautiful property and what made you fall in love with it?

My husband, Pablo, always had a dream to own a property near the Hawkesbury River. He loves boating and water skiing, he also loves the wilderness of the bush that surrounds it. So one day he organised a grand tour by bike, from St Albans to Lower Portland, to visit a couple of properties for sale. The Church was the first one, as soon as we saw it, we knew it would be our home. There is a very old gordonia tree at the front of the house, and it was in full bloom, with bees buzzing around, drinking the nectar of every flower, it was magical. The bees made us buy it!

Did you renovate or just walk in and add your je ne sais quoi?

We renovated 100% of the house. We kept the bones and had to install a master bedroom, a kitchen, a dining room, a living room. We panelled all the walls, painted the entire house in a soft white grey that reminds us of the pale gum tree barks. We organised insulation, electricity, we built 2 sheds in the garden, we planted trees and installed water tanks. We fitted a new bell (the original one was stolen)… Then finally we decorated the house. It was the cherry on the cake! Little by little, we added personal objects, each with a specific story as to why they are here. It took 3 years to finish and now we wouldn’t change a thing.

After a recent move back to France, would you mind reminiscing about one of your fondest memories from your time at the church?

One of our fondest times was to get married in our own church, surrounded by 14 friends. It was the first time we rang the bell, which was a gift from Pablo’s mum (she passed away after the gift, so in a way her spirit and generosity was there with us on the day of the wedding).


As Elise, Pablo and beautiful little Loulou have recently moved to the South of France the gorgeous little St John’s Anglican Church in Lower Portland on the Colo River has changed hands, it’s now owned by their friends, Tessa, Ryan, Loulou and Clifford. We have thoroughly enjoyed being their guests over the last three days and sadly as I write this it’s our last morning here. Available for rent through Airbnb, Tessa and her family are the perfect hosts and I highly recommend it for a peaceful and memorable get away.


Thank you so much Elise for sharing your stories and memories, I love that the church bell was a gift from Pablo’s mother and it’s beautiful significance. The bees, the gordonia tree (blooming and buzzing just as you described it) and the fact that so much love has gone into making this little church so magical… it makes me want to come back again and again.


Thank you also to the incredibly talented Felix Forest for sharing your images, they certainly capture this beautiful property’s true essence and have saved me the embarrassment of sharing my own holiday snaps.

Bisous x

Maison Balzac candles, accessories and homewares are available in-store and online through Monsoon Living.

Our Californian Bungalow

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It’s always been in the back of my mind to share some of the creative process of renovating our home with our readers… So here goes!

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Photography Lizzy Hodgins for House Perv

Renovating brings up so many emotions, good, bad, ugly and indifferent. Without being too long-winded I need to explain a little of my childhood and background. I grew up with avid renovators. My parents were renovating when I was born and still to this day spend hours discussing opportunities of bringing life back to run down old houses and heritage buildings. They renovated a terrace house in Kirribilli (Sydney) before a sea change to St Albans (Hawkesbury Region) where they worked on an extensive renovation of an old sandstone house that was later purchased by Maggie Tabberer (Australian’s original supermodel & fashion designer), followed by the historic Settlers Arms Inn that was built-in 1836, and all of this before I was of school age. Then a move to Wollombi in the Hunter Valley saw the renovation of an 1840’s slab cottage in the village followed by their first ‘build from scratch’… a beautiful sandstone house and a number of little cottages nestled into a gully not far from the Wollombi township. Then there’s the weatherboard church restoration and extension (now the home of Usher Tinkler Wines) along with nine spectacular sandstone buildings known collectively as ‘Peppers Creek’ in the Hunter vineyards and endless other city renovations and extensions on terrace houses. The list seems extensive and each and every one was a personal project, so we have literally lived in most of them.

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My husband (then boyfriend) and I had never really discussed renovating but when we found an old Californian bungalow in Newcastle we instantly fell in love. It was damp with plaster peeling off the walls and mouldy ceilings. We both tried to act complacent in front of the real-estate agent but the first moment we had alone we confirmed the feelings we were having were mutual and so the path was set. We did everything we could to secure the sale of the property as quickly as possible.

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We spent endless nights discussing our creative ideas. I rushed out and bought a big folder to file all of our sketches, quotes and plans and to this day I love to look back on it and see just how far we have come. Once we had nutted out our plans we ran them past my parents who made numerous suggestions one of which was to place a large warehouse post in the centre of our lounge room to create different zones and to create extra structural support for a second floor and another was to take out more of the existing rear wall to open and link the old house with the extension. Some of their suggestions literally saved us thousands not to mention the endless hours my father put in on the building site. All sounding pretty standard so far, one of the things we did a bit differently was to have my father draft our plans the old-fashioned way with protractors, pens and drafting paper. My mother (who is an artist) created the most beautiful watercolour painting to accompany our council application and along with the standard engineering reports, fees, etc our plans were finally approved. No CAD programs or computers insight!

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We more or less left the front of the house (containing the bedrooms) intact, but completely removed the rear to create an open plan living/kitchen/dining that opens onto the deck and garden. We decided to use the natural graduation of the block to step the extension down which allowed for a second floor in the gable. This also meant that we could match the roofline with the existing house so that from the street there is no evidence of a cumbersome extension. What was originally the homes kitchen was completely gutted to create room for a stairwell and library/study area. We put in an internal wall to expand the size of the bathroom and to create space for a laundry. We flattened a little rickety tin shed at the rear of the lot and replaced it with a detached double car garage reusing the bricks from the rear external wall of the old house. I love that we reused materials from the original house; it seems to keep things harmonious. We also removed an old triple pane window from the rear wall and relocated it into the stairwell.

reno fullThe building process was a huge learning curve for me not only trying to project manage our future home but learning about the tools, materials and techniques. I was quite proud of myself towards the end as I walked through Bunnings with my shiny trade card knowing what the tools and products on the shelves were for. I learnt to mix cement the old-fashioned way after the mixer broke, I know all about repairing damp walls, stripping skirting boards, wire brushing bricks, building budgets, bobcats and drill bits and was generally on hand at every stage to make the final decision. Some of the trades were amazing, some were not… there were a lot of ups and downs but at the end of the day it was worth it!

For all the work that we have done there are a million little jobs that we haven’t and now that our children are a little bit older and we’re a touch more rested, it’s time to embark on the finishes and finally select our toilet roll holders, towel rails, dressing room mirrors, laundry shelving and the restoration of our beautiful tessellated tiled verandah amongst other things… wish us luck and happy renovating!

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LA Home – Anne Ziegler

We have been quiet on the blogging front for way too long… now with Christmas and the New Year festivities well and truly behind us it’s high time to put pen to paper and get the ball rolling.

So to kick-start our belated New Year and make up for lost time Monsoon Living is taking you on a fantastic house tour!

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We’re going home with Anne Ziegler, a trend, retail and brand consultant who bases herself between Los Angeles and New York. Through her consulting group she has helped some of the world’s biggest fashion retailers navigate each season’s critical creative and major merchandising decisions. To give you an idea Vogue, Victoria’s Secret and Armani Exchange are a few of Anne’s clients, need we say more!

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Now to this gorgeous home… a 1,600 square foot, two-bedroom residence set high in the hills of Laurel Canyon. Originally built in 1934 the home has undergone a major renovation. Now with its impressive whitewashed pine floors, exposed beams and a crisp white colour scheme plus loads of natural light, what’s not to love!

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Although this home is in Los Angeles it typifies a style of decorating that we so often see in Australia; bright, sun filled rooms and a splash of colour introduced through art, furniture and homewares.

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I find a common thread between my thoughts on decorating and the way in which Anne approaches the styling of her own home. “The style of the house hasn’t been planned,” Ziegler says. “It’s a spontaneous accumulation of things I’ve gathered for years. I believe that when you consistently buy things that speak to you, they work together.”

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Given the demanding schedule of Anne’s career it was important for her and her husband to find retreat in their home. “My job is so visual,” says Ziegler “I spend all day looking at magazines, books and blogs for inspiration. So we wanted a peaceful place in the canyon away from the over stimulation of our lives.” This house has not only provided them with large open spaces but also created that sense of calm that they were so desperately seeking after a decade of cramped apartment living in New York.

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Special thanks to Anne for sharing your home and to photographer Brittany Ambridge for allowing us to use your beautiful images.

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 All images courtesy of Brittany Ambridge for Domino.

Paris Apartment – Andréa Krueger

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Bonjour! Allow me to reminisce of my holiday in Paris whilst sharing this stunning apartment on the city’s Left Bank. To set the scene the location is amazing, the 7th arrondissement is in the heart of Paris and is not only the home of some of the city’s grandest sites (Eiffel Tower, Champ de Mars, Musée d’Orsay) but magically combines the quintessential atmosphere of a Parisian neighbourhood.

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Meet the homes’ owner, fashion and brand consultant Andréa Krueger, who bought the apartment in 2012 and set to work redesigning with a focus of adding warmth and charm. She was previously living in the apartment as a tenant, so was well aware of the space and the challenges that lay ahead. Many of the rooms had little nooks and crannies making it a challenging project, especially when it came to the placement of conventional furniture. But with a background in design, a little imagination and the determination of hunting down that perfect piece, her hard work has well and truly paid off. This petite sized apartment is stunning and the attention to detail shows in every view.

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Influences of the Bauhaus Art Movement and Andréas passion for art and design is a focus, from the framed Alexander Calder tapestry sitting comfortably alongside an Anna Skladmann photograph in the living room, to the Gerrit Rietveld “Zig-Zag” chair and the vintage glove mold she uses as a book end in the study nook. The decorating has evolved naturally with pieces collected from her travels both locally and abroad. Andréa believes that the best interiors unfold over time and not to be tempted to rush out and buy everything at once, it’s about finding the perfect piece that you really love.

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One of my favourite things about this apartment, other than the amazingly beautiful de Gournay wallpaper in the bedroom and the incredible location, is the fact that it has a sizable terrace, a rarity in a city like Paris. The outdoor space doubles as both haven for local birdlife and sanctuary for the owners’ and their dog, English cocker spaniel Leopold.

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All images courtesy of Brittany Ambridge for Domino.

LA Home – Chay Wike

It has been a while since I was in Los Angeles… I was in my teens and had my focus well and truly set on Disneyland, Universal Studios and the Hollywood Walk of Fame. If I were heading back to LA today I would have a slightly different focus… I’ve discovered a shop called CHAY and I love everything about it! The owner Chay Wike opened the doors to CHAY in 2012 and this gorgeous little shop features her own line of locally made clothing and lifestyle pieces that are both timeless and practical. Alongside her work are collections from various designers and carefully curated pieces for both the home and hostess.

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I love Chay’s style so I am thrilled to feature her beautiful home in the Hollywood Hills as our very first house tour on the blog.

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Light and inviting with splashes of colour against white walls, Chay uses rugs and runners to add warmth and texture to hard surfaces. The house is not fussy or pretentious and has a beautiful focus on the raw materials used in construction; polished concrete, bare bricks and exposed timber beams for a timeless design.

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Simple styling with pieces the family truly loves gives this house its personality. After reading a lot of interviews about Chay, her life and her brand I can really relate to her outlook on life… She believes in surrounding yourself with the things you love! It can be as simple as an amazing handmade chef’s knife for the kitchen (available through her store) or a family heirloom. Have things in your life that have meaning and then the decorating naturally falls into place.

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Chay’s house has spectacular views over Los Angeles yet the city feels a million miles away. It is a calm house… the sort of house you could imagine entertaining in, relaxing in and truly enjoying.

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Special thanks to Chay for sharing your home and photographer Brittany Ambridge for providing the visuals.

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All images courtesy of Brittany Ambridge for Domino.