Stacey English had plenty of time to envisage a utopic work-life, during long, rush-hour commutes from the Mornington Peninsula to her office job in Port Melbourne.
Wanting to do something different after maternity leave, she left her product development role to study interior design. But a term into the online course, she realised it wasn’t for her.
“I didn’t want to pick paint colours and flooring forever,” she laughs, “I wanted to do more styling of products, and putting it all together. And to start my own business, rather than study.”
She got her business plan in order and waited for a lease to come up at the “Paris” end of Main Street, Mornington, opening SALTBOX’s doors last year.
A background in product development, buying and merchandising, has given her a clear advantage when it comes to setting up shop — and more recently her online store — which focuses on functional, modern Australian homewares, furniture and objects.
Whether physically — or digitally — visiting her store, you’ll find bespoke and sustainable inventory a-plenty: handcrafted wares from INARTISAN (their carved tree root serving bowls are a bestseller), organic cotton bath towels and homegoods by Auckland-based design house Citta, sculptural Ivy Muse planters, and Journey of Something puzzles. Kids and baby categories are well-served with Australian brands Mr Fly, Lily and George, Love Mae, Jellystone Designs, Susukoshi, Kenzi Living, and Ninch crochet toy-maker Freckles and Floss. The store has also branched out into dried flowers arrangements, which pair nicely with their expansive range of Marmoset Found vases.
But hitting the ”‘sweet spot” when it comes to design, purpose and accessibility, hasn’t always been easy for this Mornington retailer.
“It’s tough, isn’t it?” Stacey admits. “It’s the mix of getting the look, the design, and sustainability element, but then having it at the right price point — that’s the challenge.”
“Most of our products are made in Melbourne and, yes, they are more expensive. But the people that are buying them aren’t challenging the price because they understand the journey of that particular piece, and that they’re not going to get it anywhere else.
“For a lot of people the dialogue is, ‘I bought something similar in Kmart, but now it’s broken.’ People are going to have bad experiences with those types of products because they don’t last. They look great when you buy them, until you use them, they break, and end up in landfill somewhere.”
“I think that’s why we believe in functional pieces; and people will save up for things if they really want them enough.”
Has the concept of “home”, and spending habits, changed in pandemic-heavy 2020?
“I think people have rediscovered what the balance should be,” Stacey says. “People are maximising what they can do within their homes; they’re spending a lot more time there, and they want a nice, comfortable environment to enjoy with their family.
“They’re saying, ‘maybe we’ll buy that lovely piece of artwork we always wanted to buy’, or they’re buying better quality products, or exploring their local community, and generally nesting.
“Your home should be a reflection of who you are, and what you love — it shouldn't just be somewhere to go home to, eat food and go to bed, which for most people working 9-5 in their normal day-to-day is what it is, you know.
“We all spend a lot of money to live in homes to not enjoy the environment that we're in, and making the most out of it.”