Authority on interiors and entertaining, Melissa Penfold and her style-guru daughter, Isabella Walker-Smith share their days keeping a finger on the pulse of the world of interiors and design. An insatiable appetite for quality and effortless elegance seems to be part of the pair's DNA...
Sambag caught up with the design-duo to talk personal style, inspiring interiors and their secrets to a happy home.
Describe each other using 5 words:
MP: Intelligent, optimistic, inspiring, generous and kind. (Can I also add, focused, confident, polite, and self-disciplined).
IWS: Patsy Stone from Absolutely Fabulous.
Melissa, you’re one of Australia’s top authorities on style, interiors, and design. Could you briefly take us over your journey to becoming a respected tastemaker?
At 20 – with an Arts degree majoring in Communications and Journalism – I commenced my career with a work experience stint at Kerry Packer’s Australian Consolidated Press working on Australian House & Garden magazine. I was offered a job two weeks later and have been writing and raving about decorating, design, entertaining and gardens ever since.
At 25 I became Belle magazine’s interior design editor. In 1996 I was headhunted by The Sydney Morning Herald to help start its Domain section and launch my cult shopping columns, which I wrote for almost two decades. Two best-selling books and a mass-reaching digital platform, later - I still love what I do, every day.
How would you each define your personal style:
MP : Effortless elegance. And not spending astronomical amounts of money to impress others. Because in reality often these places don’t function properly and are not very inspiring places to spend time in. Most people overdo everything. I prefer to simplify what I own with a mix of the humble and the grand.
IWS: Classic with lots of punchy, personality pieces.
Isabella, how much of your style do you think you have picked up, consciously or unconsciously, from Melissa?
IWS: I think I have picked up so much unconsciously from my Mother. From the way I write a card, to the way I entertain, to the way I set a table, to the way I grocery shop! She is the epitome of chic and it’s never lost on me- I have been like a sponge from the cradle.
When schedules become demanding, how do you spend quality time with one another?
MP: We DM, FaceTime, text, and talk constantly in a day as we work together. Quality time is shutting the door in the country or city for a delicious dinner (our fave is a simple roast chicken).
IWS: We work together so we are very fortunate to get a lot of quality time.
Your secrets to a happy home:
MP: Everything that surrounds you affects you, so only have things you love. A beautiful home boosts your happiness and confidence. To be beautiful, an interior doesn’t have to be full of expensive uncomfortable furniture - quite the opposite. To look and feel like home, it needs to speak to and of you. Surround yourself with things that work well, look beautiful, evoke memories, and restore quality to the everyday. Also, the more happiness and laughter that enters your house, the more it is going to feel like a home. Make memories there.
IWS: I’m a total aesthete so my surroundings really affect me. A well-made bed in the morning is a must. Good quality linen and towels. And great quality everyday items like dinnerware and cutlery can really shift your mood. A few candles never hurt either.
Outside of your obvious (and celebrated) flair for style, design, and luxe-interiors, what are you each most passionate about?
MP: My family and home are my #1 passion. I also love a bargain and online shopping (even if I don’t buy – I admire the good, laugh at the bad, gasp at the price tags, and learn). Travel, too, is a lifelong passion – it’s where I find my best ideas. How a hotel serves a drink, displays towels in the bathroom or slipcovers a chair.
IWS: I love anything fashion related. I am constantly online stalking everything from Net-a-Porter to ASOS to Tatler. I have always been a scrapbooker so I love hunting around for inspiration. I have a tonne of archived folders on my computer which keep me inspired and current.
What exciting plans are on the horizon for you both?
MP: Isabella and I are off to a next-level safari holiday with the Classic Safari Company in May: including Africa few adventurers see. Besides Singita – there’s a world-first new camp in Botswana. I haven’t been so excited for a trip in years. Besides that we have some hugely fun projects with great brands and names on the agenda for later this year.
IWS: A fabulous trip to Africa- it’s always been high on my travel list so I can’t wait. And some exciting projects in the works for the end of this year.
And for a bit of fun, if you were each a shoe, what style would you be?
MP: The Emilla Tan Leather Espadrille Wedge: I’ve always loved wedges because they’re not too serious. There’s a playful mood to them. You get the height but also have great balance so they are both easy to walk and stand in. And I love Espradrilles which have this lovely, rustic glamour to them; and are so popular because they’re comfortable, fresh and affordable. That’s me!
IWS: The Grace in patent leather black: A classic that never goes out of style.