If you’ve seen pictures of my home then you know my aesthetic is very influenced by Bahamian/Raj/Surf/Beach design.
I love palm trees, elephants, shells, surf prints, anything created by a Hicks…this has made me a very frequent shopper at Mandy Urquhart’s beautiful store My Island Home. Last count I’d bought five elephant things from her.
She (and the store) are the very definition of cool Beach meets Hamptons meets Somerset Maugham design. Here she opens her home and her closet and shares the best tips on how to make the beach look chic not kitsch.
Describe your personality in three words.
Honest. Independent. Perceptive.
What inspires you?
Trends and how they come and go, getting morphed a little each time around. Not to mention the people who set them. Some are visionaries, some are just good magicians. But there’s a little “Smoke & Mirrors” in everything and that’s inspiring too if it’s clever.
Tell us how you came to start My Island Home.
I was burnt out after 15 years in the mad, bad world of advertising agencies. I wanted to be my own boss and build my own brand. I grew up on the beach and had been planning a beach shop for years in my head. But that had kind of been done by the time I was ready to do it. Through my time spent living in Asia and holidaying in the Pacific, my home quickly became furnished in a style that I joked could be called ‘Asian-Pacifica’, or Pacific Rim style. My Island Home really just came from there.
A Beach Lover’s Home.
Where did your passion for homewares begin?
Back when I was allowed to have bright blue furniture with lime green walls in my bedroom as a young teenager. I put up posters of rock bands and displayed all my trinkets. My dad used to call it ‘The Bazaar’.
How would you describe your home’s style?
A mix of Asian and Pacific Island style. A bit retro too – Honolulu in the sixties. Suffice to say Elvis in “Blue Hawaii” is a favourite.
What are your top tips for decorating your home?
Tip 1. Splurge on a couple of key pieces you love, like a good quality sofa and storage cabinet or armoire.
Tip 2. Then add smaller pieces slowly, working to the style or colour palette you like at the time.
Tip 3. These smaller pieces can then be changed over time to create new looks.
What’s hot in homewares right now?
I think people are ready for more colour. They need a bit of a lift, a bit of a cheer-up. But I’m biased. I’m not a neutrals, minimalist, or French Provincial girl. I’m all about colour. And there are loads more green and purple and yellow around in homewares at the moment.
What’s your best decorating tip for people on a budget?
There are budgets with the luxury of time, and budgets with no time. If you are in the former category, then trawl the auctions for pieces you can repaint or re-upholster. If you fall into the latter category I suggest Ikea. Honestly. They have amazing stuff for the price.
What’s currently inspiring you?
We do a different story in-store each season. It’s usually a place or a style. So far this year we’ve done ‘Costa Cartagena’ inspired by the colours of this amazing town on the Columbian Caribbean, and ‘Pagoda Moda’ which was a Chinoiserie story. I am constantly drawn to the Caribbean and South America. So for spring it’s Mexico and the vibrance of fiesta colours.
Tell us about the latest interior that has amazed you?
This gobsmackingly beautiful house on the beach at Malibu. It looks straight out of a film set. It features in the book ‘Rooms to Inspire by the Sea,’ and was on the cover of Belle Magazine (June/July issue). Its architecture and interiors are a beautiful, exotic mix of moorish and modern.
How often do you rearrange your furniture or change the look and feel of your home?
I love a spring clean! I ask friends around for a long lunch then start asking their opinion about moving a piece. Before you know it we’re moving everything around. It’s hilarious!
What is your most treasured piece in your home?
My giant clam shells. My grandfather gave them to my parents before I was born. I rescued them from under the hose taps in our old family home. They were green with algae but cleaned up beautifully. Now they grace each end of my balcony.
What’s the last item you bought for your home?
Probably my baby Weber bbq. It lives on the balcony and I use it all year round.
Any DIY pieces in your home?
Does a shelf unit that came flat-packed count? I had to get the man in to deal with the assembly! I have zero patience for instructions. They never make sense. But I do think if instructions were written by women it would be fine.
Beach Styling Basics.
What’s an unexpected way to bring a beach vibe to your home’s decor?
There’s a fine line between kitsch and whimsy when you are working with a beach theme. Blue & white, shells, surfboards can be over done.
The same applies to a tropical theme. Hula girls and frangipanis have to be edited, though not completely ruled out. I think it has to be about careful placement so all these fun things don’t get out of balance and the whole thing starts to look crazy.
Palm trees and pineapples are my favourites for giving a room that beach-y island feel. A big potted palm tree really looks amazing. Or a bowl of pineapples with their beautiful sweet fragrance. Or just a cushion or a lamp base with the motif will give a room a subtle beach look.
I also like to mix in some retro. You can use real antiques; I’ve used antique Chinese furniture in my place. I love the colours of the lacquer they use – black, red, yellow, green. Or just add a couple of vintage pieces – whether it’s an old black & white print of a 60s beach scene or something mad like an old 70s water-ski. It just helps to give a room a bit of history and depth. Garage sales and auctions are great for finding pieces like this.
If you don’t live near the beach, is it still possible to work a beach theme into your home? What expert advice do you have?
I read once that something like 85% of Australians live near the coast. But not everyone lives in a beach-y house or apartment. We often have customers say they’d like to toss everything out of their place and start again with a beach-tropical feel. I tell them to start with a single room.
In the old days most homes had a “sun room” somewhere in the house. It was the casual lounge room with plenty of light. Often it was themed from people’s travels to coastal areas or the islands. And it was also often more colourful than other more formal rooms. I say bring back the sun room. It may not work if you live in snow country, but even there you could have a beach-y bathroom for a bit of fun!
How would you describe your own style?
Colourful. Fun. I spent so many years wearing suits in the corporate world I have a kind of allergy to anything too serious.
Who’s your celebrity style crush?
Stella McCartney oozes the casual style I like. Also, she’s not so much a celebrity, but Elisa Nalin -the Paris-based Italian stylist. She describes her style as ‘happy’.
What three pieces do you find yourself wearing constantly?
1. I live in our striped Matelot t-shirts. We do different colours every season. Some with sequinned motifs on the front. We also do them in a dress and the navy stripe has been our best seller for years!
2. Our big Agate Orbit Ring in grey-blue. It matches my eyes and just seems to go with everything.
3. Cashmere cardigans, year in and out. It started years ago with my mum’s old twin sets. This year we made our own for the shop in beautiful bright colours.
What is your most treasured piece of clothing in your closet?
Mum’s cashmere twin sets. They were made in Scotland in the fifties and are still going strong. Not a pill on them. Extraordinary quality. I’d be ill if I ever lost one.
What’s in your closet that you’ve never worn before?
The most amazing flapper-style dress. It has a mesh base with an embroidered animal design that’s then beaded. I bought it for a friend’s Safari-themed 40th, until I found out the party was in the garden. Grass: so not heel friendly.
What was your most recent purchase?
A ridiculously expensive pair of Paige jeans in emerald green. Divine.
What are your favourite places to shop?
I do love fast fashion – Zara, H&M. It’s guilt-free. But I wear all our My Island Home label clothes so I really don’t need to shop for clothes. Shoes are another thing. You can’t go past Double Bay for shoe shops!
What’s on your wish list?
Nude shoes for Spring/Summer. Flats, strappy heels, and even clogs. They balance the bright colours and prints in my clothes.
Any fashion tips to share?
Use accessories. Especially costume jewellery. They can be really inexpensive but make a plain outfit look really polished and put-together.
A sneak peek inside Mandy’s personal jewellery collection!
The LifeStyled List
Tea or Coffee? Both.
Favourite Flower? Orchids.
Heels or Flats? Both.
Favourite Cocktail? Mojito.
Style Icon? Elisa Nalin.
Signature Scent? Anything with Tiare – the Tahitian Gardenia.
Favourite City? Hong Kong.
Reading… ’The Baroness: The Search for Nica, the Rebellious Rothschild‘ by Hannah Rothschild
Listening… ’Good Day‘ by Nappy Roots – every morning!
Every home should have… a pineapple. It’s the island symbol of hospitality.
Biggest fashion weakness… Shoes.
Guilty pleasure… Fanging about in my Mini Countryman.
Every woman should own… a dog.
I will never wear… anything short again.
Can’t live without… Skins compression tights for the gym.
I need… an island holiday.
I want… a perpetual summer.
Inside Her Home.
As if you don’t want to go shopping now – www.myislandhome.com.au
Photographer: Erin O’Sullivan