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