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The Rural NSW Home of Elise Pioch Balzac and Pablo Chappell. Elise and Pablo’s outdoor setting and vintage car next to their home, a converted church. ‘The bell and black board both announced mass and celebrations, we love to use them often too’ says Elise. ‘The old MK1 Jaguar was purchased for Loulou when she was born, and suits the place so well,’ says Elise. Photography - Sean Fennessy. Production – Lucy Feagins / The Design Files.

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‘The cockatoo lamps with Edit lamp shades were a wedding gift. The log burner is an original NECTRE made in Australia – our only source of heat in Winter!’ says Elise. Photography – Sean Fennessy. Production – Lucy Feagins / The Design Files.

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Living room details. ‘The raised section is where the priest used to give mass, the charcoal velvet curtains were imported from Belgium,’ says Elise. Photography – Sean Fennessy. Production – Lucy Feagins / The Design Files.

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Original signs from the church alongside Chappelli bike which was custom built by Pablo especially to go fishing (spot the fishing rod holders!). Photography - Sean Fennessy. Production – Lucy Feagins / The Design Files.

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Elise Pioch Balzac at home. Photography - Sean Fennessy. Production – Lucy Feagins / The Design Files.

Please humour me me whilst I recount for you a sweet little love story.  It’s a romantic tale about a French fashion buyer (now creative entrepreneur), and an English industrial designer / inventor (now bicycle designer), who met in a bar in Bondi five years ago. It was love at first sight.  Just six months after that first fortuitous encounter, the pair had purchased this house, a disused weatherboard church in Lower Portland, NSW, about 2 hours from Sydney.

Recently Sean and I had the great pleasure of spending a morning with this lovely creative couple – Elise Pioch Balzac of Maison Balzac Candles and her husband, Pablo Chappell of Chappelli Cycles, at their beautiful country home.  I don’t know if it was the peaceful surroundings or Elise’s amazing French accent (!!), but being here really felt a world away from urban Sydney!

Elise and Pablo’s home is a converted weatherboard church, perched on a block of land near the Hawkesbury River.  The church dates back to 1880, and was operational until 10 years ago. ‘It has seen many floods and bush fires, and we hope it will brave Australia’s hazards for a few more centuries’ says Elise.  As outlined above, the pair purchased the church 5 years ago, but in Elise’s own words, it was ‘a derelict weekender’ until they decided to move here full time a year ago, just before the arrival of their daughter LouLou (now 10 months old).

When asked to outline the renovations they have undertaken here, Elise doesn’t quite know quite where to start! ‘Oh God, we’ve done so much to the church!’ she says. The first big job was to weatherboard the whole inside of the building, and paint throughout. The pair also demolished internal walls on the back veranda to create their big, bright kitchen which looks out to the garden and trees beyond. The most recent works were completed last year whilst Elise was nine months pregnant (!) – ‘my nesting instinct made us build the mezzanine bedroom!’ she says!

Elise and Pablo’s decorating approach is relaxed and refreshingly frugal. ‘We have added things slowly and carefully’ says Elise. The pair have a knack for finding hidden treasure at antique auctions, and during their travels. The antique kitchen bench was purchased at auction and refurbished by Elise’s parents during one of their stays here. The sweet sconce lights in the mezzanine bedroom are one of Elise’s favourite details, having been salvaged from a chateau near her hometown in France. ‘They make me feel like a princess when I turn them on in bed’ Elise says.

Of course, like any industrious creative couple, Elise and Pablo are always hungry for the next project.  Their next plans for the church include (in this order!): a black and white bathroom, a timber deck out the back and a plunge pool.  ‘We’re hoping the plunge pool will be done by next summer, as it gets awfully hot out here!’ says Elise.

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Light filled kitchen. All surfaces and walls in the kitchen have been tiled, inspired by French and Spanish homes. The gloss black glass cabinet is from 1940 and displays Elise’s collection of French plates, glasses, tea cups and wine decanters. Photography - Sean Fennessy. Production – Lucy Feagins / The Design Files.

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Kitchen details. The antique leather chair was purchased in Bowral. The kitchen was custom made and built by Elise and Pablo, then tiled with Spanish beveled ceramic tiles. Photography – Sean Fennessy. Production – Lucy Feagins / The Design Files.

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The dining table, with historic pew. Photography - Sean Fennessy. Production – Lucy Feagins / The Design Files.

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The master bedroom is a sweet open mezzanine above the main living area, designed and built by Elise and Pablo. Sconces purchased in an antique store in the south of France, and the bed head hides a walk-in wardrobe. The bright yellow linen pillow covers come from Merci in Paris, and the cross blanket is by Pia Wallen.  Photography – Sean Fennessy. Production – Lucy Feagins / The Design Files.

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The view from the stairs with original 1880′s floorboards made of Sydney blue gum. Photography – Sean Fennessy. Production – Lucy Feagins / The Design Files.

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Living room details. ‘The living room is the best place to appreciate the volume, light and acoustics of the church,’ says Elise. Framed photographed by Tobby Burrows, chaise longue by Crate & Barrell and most of the pillows and lamp shades by Edit. Photography - Sean Fennessy. Production – Lucy Feagins / The Design Files.

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A surprise bathroom! ‘The church had 3 double doors overlooking the garden and the river before the veranda was added in 1960. This is one of the double doors, now closing the bathroom and its surprising bath,’ says Elise.  Photography – Sean Fennessy. Production – Lucy Feagins / The Design Files

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Elise and Pablo’s latest addition – a hanging tree nest, picked up second hand, where friends can rest or sleep during balmy evenings. Photography – Sean Fennessy. Production – Lucy Feagins / The Design Files.