When you start your new life in Australia with just one suitcase, it pays to be a little inventive, not to mention patient, when it comes to creating a home you adore.
Alexandra Ganipeau credits those beginnings with giving her a passion for interiors and a knack for finding pieces she loves without a huge price tag.
“When you start with nothing, you have to be creative,” she said. “I would find things on the street or in op-shops and paint them, and when I put them together they just worked.”
Ms Ganipeau, who is from France, moved here in 1996 with her now husband, Matthew Crook, who is from Melbourne, settling in a flat in South Yarra.
“We slept on the floor on a camping mattress for almost a year,” she recalled.
Fast forward to today and Ms Ganipeau’s beautiful heritage home in Elsternwick has no signs of camp mattresses, but she admitted to still having a passion for old pieces that had been preloved.
“I don’t know if it’s the French in me or just my taste, but I love things that are old and used,” she said. “They make me feel comfortable and safe and I love all the scratches and marks.”
Ms Ganipeau and her husband found their home just after having their first child, Elliot, who is now 14 (their other son, Hector, is nine).
“When we started looking, I was happy with just a courtyard because I’m from Europe, but Matt is Aussie so he wanted a house with a backyard,” she said.
When they found their house, the yard was big but the structure itself was just a shell. “That first winter in the house was freezing,” she recalled.
Starting out on a tight budget, the couple has made changes slowly over time.
Heating and insulation were first, followed by a big project eight years ago, extending the rear of the house to add a living area, new laundry and bathroom.
With a love of all things old, Ms Ganipeau knew she wanted the new extension to look like it had always been there, so she went to great lengths to ensure the architraves and skirting boards matched the original parts of the house.
A new kitchen was put in four years ago and, with a curved barn door leading outside and a farmhouse-style kitchen table, this room has become her favourite spot.
“The kitchen is my baby and I still smile every time I walk in,” she said. “There is absolutely nothing I would change.”
The final stage was just recently completed when they added one more room to the front of the house, creating a formal living area.
With nothing urgent left to do, Ms Ganipeau feels like her house is now the ideal space for her family.
“It took 12 years but the good thing is that because we took our time, there isn’t much we would change,” she said.
Now Ms Ganipeau is focusing on other people’s homes.
A French teacher for 20 years, she felt like a change and has turned her love for interiors into a business, starting with a blog and successfully moving on to styling homes.
With The Roaming Atelier, Ms Ganipeau helps people style their homes with what they have, adding, subtracting and moving pieces to better create spaces that are in tune with them (and she also helps sellers style their homes with their own pieces rather than hire items).
“I find a lot of people in Australia tend to buy what is trendy at the time, and they add and add but they don’t necessarily like it,” she said. “For me, it is important that a home feels right for the person who lives there.”
What do people comment on the most when they visit?
Pretty much everyone who comes to my house comments on how French my place looks and feels. I also hear a lot that the house is very welcoming and comfortable, which is the best compliment.
How do you enjoy entertaining?
Our entertainment happens at home. I love having people come for dinner or summer lunches in the back garden. I love to cook. I used to be surprised when people asked, “What can I bring?” If you come to my place for dinner, you don’t bring a thing.
Best time of day in your home?
The kitchen gets a lovely light in the morning and I like to sit outside in the late afternoon if it has been a hot day.
Any sentimental pieces?
I could never part with Elliot’s artwork or Hector’s first big-boy bed, which is now in storage. I’m keeping it for my grandchildren. It is antique white cast iron and I had to have the mattress tailor-made.
Favourite local shops?
It is very important to me to support our gorgeous local community. I buy my bread either from Firebrand Sourdough Bakery, in Ripponlea, or Baker Bleu, in Elsternwick. Also, Mim and Friends, in Ripponlea, is a gorgeous shop where you can not only find the cutest things, but you are sure to always end up having a chat with the owners or bump into people there.
What does home mean to you?
My home is my heaven. It’s my family, my comfort place, my entertainment place and my workplace. It has grown with our family. I am very proud of how we have created a place that suits us all and caters for everyone who lives here.