Hello and welcome, we’re back with our go-to neighbourhood guide curated by Sydney creatives and makers, Locals by Locals. With the new year coming in hot and Christmas edging ever so close to our noses, we couldn’t help but reach out to a gift-giving (rather, gift-creating) expert and dear friend, Elise Pioch of Maison Balzac. Having spent her childhood in a quaint waterside village in southern France, eventually moving to Paris then Sydney, Pioch is well versed in what it takes to make a home away from home. Nowadays, the designer spends much of her time between two suburbs — Surry Hills, home to her boutique, and Pittwater on the Northern Beaches, set between Australia’s second-oldest national park.
Through rose tinted glass (quite literally), amber hues and Bauhaus-inspired forms, Balzac’s designs have inspired a new minimalism, one that welcomes colour and hints of quirk. Alongside this, her scented candle range, with aromas of lavender, Moroccan cedar wood and musk, invite us to recall the most sentimental details of place. So! In the spirit of noticing details, taking it all in and a little end of year nostalgia, we asked Elise for local tips and hot spots, too.
TOCH: Tell us a little about your local neighbourhood – the culture, the architecture and the scenery?
EP: My neighborhood sits between the bush and the ocean; it’s only accessible by boat!
We live in MacCarrs Creek in Pittwater on the Northshore of Sydney and my suburb is the smallest in NSW, with a mere thirteen homes all in a row, each facing the water with dense bushland at the back. They are mostly wooden boat houses built in the 1950’s so the culture is one that’s very much [centered around] nature, weather, good food and last minute lunches with neighbors (according to the catch of the day).
TOCH: What made you choose to live there, over any other Sydney suburb?
EP: We wanted to choose a home away from the hecticness of [city] life. We never thought we would actually be lucky enough to find our ‘forever home’ in this very special part of Sydney, but two years ago, we did. The simple fact of hopping on a boat, leaving land and crossing the water to get home allows us to unwind and disconnect. This is why we chose to live here.
TOCH: Storytelling, reflection and memory are at the heart of Maison Balzac. What are the Sydney features, natural and architectural, that Maison Balzac’s designs have been shaped by
EP: The core of my imagination comes from my French culture, from the homes I’ve lived in to the magazines I’ve read, villages, exhibitions and antique markets and then the smallest details I’ve observed as a French person here, but Maison Balzac is now designed in Sydney (where I live) so there are layers of Australian and french features mixed in every product. The biggest influence comes from nature: I find it very honest, raw, ever changing. For example the many colors of the ocean from indigo to teal to azure have informed our glassware collection and the abundance of prawns and lobsters have made us create our now famous prawn cocktail coupes and platters.
TOCH: Where’s your favourite place in McCarrs Creek to kick back and relax?
EP: At home on the deck is really the most heavenly place to be. I like to watch the parrots, the sailing boats, the sky and the trees.
TOCH: Favorite lunch break spot?
TOCH: Best coffee and coffee order?
EP: I never had a coffee in my life but I highly recommend hot chocolate from Church Point Cafe and I prepare the best Chai Tea in the whole of Pittwater!
TOCH: Your store on Bourke street has us in awe whenever we pay it a visit— where did you source the amazing furniture for the store? Any tips when it comes to curating your ideal space?
EP: Most of the furniture actually comes from my own house; all the paintings, lights, chairs and side tables are mine but the central table and Moustache furniture were sourced from France or local online vintage websites. Curating your ideal interior is a chance to hand pick objects/furniture that really speak to your heart. There is no right or wrong, it just needs to give you butterflies in the belly and then you can be sure that it will work in the space. Especially when things don’t match; that’s when your true taste becomes visible.
TOCH: Your favourite places to shop for clothes and second hand furniture — new and vintage.
EP: I rarely shop for clothes but when I do I go to Bassike, Lee Mathews, Esse or Vestiaire Collective online. For second hand furniture you cannot beat Facebook Marketplace, Tamsin Johnson, Serge Castella or any online auction house in France (I recommend Les Enchères du Midi).
TOCH: You’ve got a friend staying out of town this summer, and they haven’t yet stayed at The Old Clare — how would you set the scene for them?
EP: I have been an absolute fan of The Old Clare since even before it opened its doors — I was lucky enough to witness the renovation. I know the level of detail that went into it so I would say to my friends that it is the best home away from home that they could choose in Sydney. Not only the quality of the bedroom (beds, bedding, bathroom etc) but the swimming pool and the rooftop bar, the team and the location make it the best destination for a few nights in our city.
TOCH: Ok! Your friend’s all checked in and now you’re taking them for a spin — what’s your go-to Sydney itinerary?
EP: I would take my friend to the steps of the Opera House then we would walk through the botanical gardens to get to the Art Gallery of NSW and enjoy lunch in the panoramic restaurant. In the afternoon we’d head to Surry Hills to visit my boutique, then go on to pick a flavour at Messina ice-creamery. We would go back to the hotel at the end of the afternoon to drink a cocktail on the rooftop and decide on a swim or not, depending on our mood.
TOCH: Wrapping up on your future plans. Could you give us a little taste of the next collection for Maison Balzac?
EP: Next year’s collection is inspired by the contemporary dance scene in 1930’s France, so we played around [with the idea of] the body, gracious movement, costumes and makeup; ballets and dinner that follow a performance. It is my favourite collection to date!
Note – Maison Balzac’s L’Hotel candle is exclusive to The Old Clare Hotel, and will be available for purchase in the new year!