Work. Life. Family. Style. Living the dream here in Australia, and now you’ve got to have a little something extra going on. In some cases, combining work and home is about providing the slack required for the push and pull between the two. Other times, it’s about subsidising the life you choose to live. So here’s to the stylish women who are shaping their own futures. We step inside their empires.
Elise Cook, Winery Co-Owner and Influencer
On Instagram, Elise Cook’s life looks beyond perfect. With her mermaid hair and glistening tan, she breezes through life amid rays of eternal sunshine. Or so it seems. There have been a lot of brave choices behind the lifestyle she and husband Domenic Palumbo have carved out in South Australia’s McLaren Vale. Their property is more than just a home, it plays host to the couple’s wine company, Down The Rabbit Hole.
The cellar door resides in a renovated shed, and tasting room sits within a converted double-decker bus. Elise says sharing her backyard with the wine-loving public has helped build a connection with their brand.
On a more personal front, it also presented the couple a chance to live out a fantasy. “The land just had this feeling about it – really hard to describe but easily felt,” she says. “We couldn’t afford to build our cellar door as well as buy a house elsewhere, so it kind of chose us.”
Pre-reno, the old house on the property was no fantasy “but we had to make it work and it’s amazing what you can do with a space and a lot of white paint,” says Elise. They had zero building experience at the time, but found their way forward and established a modern bohemian feel that swept through the house, cellar door and bus renovations.
Down this particular rabbit hole, work and family are intertwined, says Elise. “This place wouldn’t be here without the help and hands of our families,” she says. “We also wanted to create a family feel with our team. They can all use the house in their breaks, for showers or to crash in whenever needed. So, once again, the house plays a big role in making it a home base for everyone. We know that if the team feels it, our guests feel it.”
Before putting down roots here in McLaren Vale, the couple spent two years on the road living the van life. After all that solitude, the shift to a more public existence is felt, and in their first year on the property they’ve had just two days alone. “We’ve been enveloped by people, and business can be a little chaotic at times,” says Elise. She adds that the guest rooms are a constant rotation of friends, family and travellers, which is a karmic reversal of sorts. “We had so many people welcome us into their homes while we lived on the road, we wanted to use our home to do the same.”
Elise knows her life on the property is a charmed one – customers and all. “I’ve never let myself get hung up on that feeling of needing our own space here. If I really needed that, I would have to pack the van and go somewhere else, because this land – and even this house we live in – is for people.”
Sommer Pyne, E-Tailer and Workshop Host
Australian expat in London, Sommer Pyne, has turned the gorgeous home where she lives with her family into an empire. Under the banner House Curious, the Victorian home in Wandsworth Common is the setting for creative workshops, where participants learn new skills over a shared meal. The entrepreneurial mother of two also runs an online interiors hub by the same name, selling the curated objects staged within the home.
This unique business idea was triggered in 2015 by an all-too-familiar scenario, when Sommer was on a mission to carve out a business that could work around her girls. After leaving her career in advertising and dabbling in property developing, Sommer needed a new path. As fate would have it, she and husband Will were renovating their home at the time, sparking a love affair with interiors.
She thought of a homewares store, “but to do that in London you need a lot of investment”. With Facebook at its peak, she also felt a real need for people to connect offline, away from social media. “London can sometimes be a lonely place and this was my way of bringing people together,” Sommer explains.
The result – @housecurious – combines her love of entertaining with the ultimate justification for a major homewares habit.
The stunning home also trades on its good looks as a film location. BBC drama McMafia was shot there and, while Sommer still ponders over lead actor James Norton in her bed, she’s sticking to smaller still shoots from now on. “As much as you tell people to be careful, something always gets damaged,” she says. Sommer admits it can be invasive but – looking around at the life it affords her – totally worth it.
Simone Haag, Designer
The second thing you notice, upon meeting Simone Haag is that she is incredibly switched on. She radiates with entrepreneurial energy: spotting opportunities in the finest crack; making things happen; changing the game. The first thing is her style, which is no less than sublime as it orbits around her – refined, unexpected and welcoming. The Melbourne designer, stylist, curator and mother of three started her own practice. But before that, she bought her mid-century Melbourne home and she and husband Rhys Haag renovated it together – twice.
The house is the ultimate launch pad. Two rounds of renovations meant double the publicity. The first transformation – all timber panelling, pale larch floorboards and filled with greys, wools and tan leathers – landed at the height of the Scandinavian style trend. “It went gangbusters,” she says, “even landing a few magazine covers.”
Five years on (and three babies) meant a need for more living space. But instead of selling up and moving, Rhys tempted Simone with the prospect of pouring the would-be agent fees and stamp duty into furniture, objects and art via a second renovation, “so that was a done deal from me,” she says.
Location fees for photo shoots help to subsidise a taste for the finer things. “I would be lying if I said I did it for any reason other than the cash! Admittedly it can be a little bit of a stress having to get the house super clean and all children and animals out. But a multi-day shoot can pay for a small holiday for us, or an artwork, or even just new linen for the beds, so [it’s] definitely worth it!”
The hilltop home is also used to host mentoring sessions, where Simone reveals the secrets to her picture-perfect style. It’s also part home office. “Having young kids, my home serves as a place to work, to research, to invite clients over for a casual meeting, and a space to feel inspired,” she says.
So what’s next for this trailblazing designer and the place she calls home? After a sourcing trip to Los Angeles, Simone is planning a mid-2020 open house to showcase the objects, art and furniture she finds abroad. “They will all be for sale – and just another reason to throw the door open!” And why not.
This article originally appeared in the marie claire April 2020 issue