Today it is easier than ever to practice the ‘art of fine living’ well with the extensive global market bringing prices down and making clothing and home wares more accessible and affordable.
When I was setting up house back in the mid 60’s in Sydney it was a very different story. Now we have a global choice on a grand scale.
However then just as now, for me it is always about quality over quantity. This has ensured that my lifestyle today finds me surrounded by old familiar friends.
Recently when visiting my home city Sydney, I was able to visit two of my favourite art of fine living galleries, where the choice is amazing, the proprietors welcoming and the personal service spot on..
Both Susie and Joan remind me of Mr Selfridge in his day and Steve Jobs in ours, business professionals that know just exactly what their shoppers want before they do themselves.
The things they have seduce all their clients senses, offering a hand picked quality choice from a stunning array of quality temptables for our consideration, which as far as I am concerned, often far too hard to resist.
Situated in Woollahra and Paddington nearby to where I both lived and worked for many years, these two great ladies each have an educated eye with a knowledgeable well-informed and considered refinement of taste.
I love both who they are and what they do.
Susie Loudon of The Bay Tree in Woollahra and I go back a long way to the days when I used to travel from Beecroft in Sydney’s Northern Districts just to go to The Bay Tree.
Then it was a delightful boutique ‘in a heritage house on a corner’ gallery where I would stand for ages gazing with wonder at the superb range of French tableware and cookware offered before I made a selection.
Susie always kept ‘up to the minute’ in terms of offering Sydney women the best of what was happening in France and other exotic climes.
She pioneered many of the more familiar ranges of superb utensils, cookware and linens we enjoy today.
They went so well with the art of country style living, one that was always appealing and well suited to houses in Sydney where I was working as an interior designer for many years.
Susie understood the French took what they liked and added it to what they had been handed down and arranged it with enormous style, presenting the very best they had to offer from a wide range of goods.
She presented her wares in an enlightened and attractive way to our market, especially where the French connection is both strong and cherished, helping them to expand it yet further.
Joan Bowers enjoyed a rewarding career as dealer in antiques and fine art for years in Sydney. She is well known to many as a purveyor of beautiful things, especially associated with India.
Sadly she had to close down a few years ago when she discovered she had a life threatening health challenge to surmount that required all her energy and sense of purpose. However, Joan is rising like a ‘phoenix’ to present a new, exciting and totally glorious selection of clothing and home wares very different to what Susie offers.
They both compliment each other in an interesting way… the connection between French and Indian cultures foremost.
Both too, through their expertise, are contributing considerably to the growth and success of Australian commerce and industry today.
On my visit to Sydney I visited both – it was time for oohs, aaghs and temptations!
These days Susie Loudon’s The Bay Tree is a much larger establishment than the original store.
On Queen Street Woollahra, in the stunning heritage building where Anne Schofield offers her glorious antique jewellery, walking into Susie’s great boutique is like visiting Aladdin’s cave.
Everywhere you look there is a vista in true ‘Roman fashion’, one that ravishes the senses with variety, texture, colour and form.
These days Susie not only offers besides her familiar French staples, glorious wares representing many world markets including England, Portugal and Spain, but also hand made kitchen ‘art’ wares from right here in Australia.
She offers ‘antique’ wares too, often rustic and also very appealing.
The antique cutlery table with its delightful array springs to mind.
Delightful bone and ivory handles, silver plated blades encrusted with engraved detailing with matching forks for eating many different types of foods, its all very appealing.
Then there are her linen wares. Goodness, where to start.
English, French, Portuguese and home grown, to suit any occasion from a picnic out of doors, to tea on the terrace with friends, or luncheon on a sunny day as well as a formal dinner at night.
Checks, stripes, geometrical and asymmetrical patterns, floral, crisp white, captivating cream, pristine plains and hand and machine embroidered… how could anyone choose.
My favourite are the great antique white damask napkins, just like Poirot tucked under his chin, reminding me of my own which I have just passed over to the next generation.
The ‘paper’ napkin choice is more than impressive, from cocktail to super serviette style and size.
Don’t forget to grab your napkin rings, for family use.
Even this old girl who has been in the business finds it hard not to succumb to enjoying a little retail therapy at The Bay Tree.
French baking ware, particularly those heavy cast iron pots in all sorts of great colours that cook a casserole to perfection are hard to resist.
I have always enjoyed ‘slow’ cooking, which the French perfected, putting the dinner into their great wood fired ovens each morning as they left for working in the fields.
They then came home when the sun went down to enjoy their rich full flavours together with a green salad and crispy fresh baguette.
Yum just can’t help salivating at the thought and so I gave in and purchased a colourful enammelled pot designed for just one.
After Susie’s gallery I had more and yet very different stylish temptations to give into at Joan Bowers delightful Mary Place establishment in gorgeous Paddington.
I knew Joan Bowers previous gallery when I left Sydney up until 1999 when I found myself living in Queensland. This trip to Sydney was the first time I had personally met the lady herself. And what a privilege it was.
We have many mutual friends, but with the way we all live life today it often proves hard to meet up in reality.
Here in her new place of abode, the former Mary Place Art Gallery at Paddington, Joan Bowers seems to me to be in her element; the right place at the right time.
Taken to meet Joan by a dear friend, parking nearby among some of Paddington’s best terraces was not a difficulty, 2 hours seemed to be the norm.
I must say I love the scale of her new intimate and personal encounter and it was good to see her relaxed and happy with a broad smile on her face and looking full of vitality after what was a harrowing time from all acounts.
Loved the great outfit she was wearing too. My friend was also wearing one her hand made padded sleeveless coats, just perfect over a light wool dress although my eye could not find one although there were many short varieties that were delightful.
Joan sources her clothing and homewares from her favourite international arts and cultural destination India, where she works one on one with the villages of people she supports.
The stunning and colourful textiles have been an integral aspect of the Indian lifestyle for centuries. Made up into wares and clothing all designed by Joan, they certainly suit today’s and Australia’s easy lifestyle.
While admiring what her Indian village workers have already achieved, Joan has helped them to expand their range to take on world markets, helping them to grow their skill sets.
Apart from her glorious array of bedroom linens, Joan presents her goods superbly themed in a range of captivating and colours. She went to great lengths to explain the interesting process the Indians employ when fixing their natural dyes.
This was a secret the French discovered when importing the much admired Indiennes during the 17th and 18th centuries, sending an industrial spy to find out how. They were very popular at the court of King Louis XIV and, as we are now, people were mesmerized at how colourfast Indian textiles were.
Joan particularly loves the colour Indigo and the process of manufacturing it explaining it at length; the richness of the bountiful blue used on garments for both women and children was very appealing.
The tiny jackets would be hard to resist, especially for grandmothers who love fine detailing, which Joan excels at.
The pure soft linens for baby’s bed, just as for adults include wares that are hand blocked printed, quilted or embroidered.
All Joan’s handmade garments are entirely wearable, unique and very special, made using natural fabrics, woven with an eye to beauty.
Skirts, Jackets, tops, bags, totes, scarves, shawls and accessories to delight, Joan has many wonderful things that would truly tempt and melt the strongest heart.
Piles of cushions add the perfect accent to any room.
Fabulous and fierce objet d’art like a dazzlingly ceramic den of ‘dragons’ would add interest.
Then there are her carefully selected hand painted furniture pieces.
Was wishing I had just won Lotto so that I could go on a huge splurge.
Joan presents her range of clothing for women and children in designs that are timeless; their desirability and deliciousness born from her own strong sense of style.
Presenting well whether it is the costume you are wearing of the art, furniture and furnishings you are living with on a daily basis, style is a matter of personal choice. It’s not about the amount of money you spend.
Style reflects what your values are and the standards you seek to set and achieve during your lifetime.
Style is beyond money, fads and trends, even beyond labels; it is about what you like and are passionate about, not a trend that you follow slavishly but rather one you interpret to suit yourself.
For Joan Bowers style is all about a high standard of excellence
In the future a more equitable, peaceful and beautiful world for everyone to enjoy will be at the very essence of our ability to practice the art of fine living well into the future.
As a supporter of small business all my life above all for me it is all about Susie and Joan’s superb range of goods and welcoming, warm personalised service that gathers me in everytime, keeping me coming back for more.
Be sure to visit both soon.
Carolyn McDowall, The Culture Concept Circle, 2015