French tastemaker Elise Pioch Chappell has brought her stylish eye to a converted church.
LOVINGLY CONVERTING A CHURCH
from the 1880s into a sweet family space that’s both warm and stylish is no mean feat. But that’s what French-born Elise Pioch Chappell, her husband Pablo and daughter Loulou did with this unique home, located on the banks of the Hawkesbury River, just an hour out of Sydney. The family spent nearly a decade turning the compact country chapel into their perfect oasis in the bush, with a bathtub that sits behind a huge dining table and giant windows overlooking the gumtrees and rolling hills outside. “The green of the surrounding nature is my favourite colour,” Elise says. “It’s why we chose to paint the entire inside of the church a very pale grey – it’s a colour that’s similar to the bark of the eucalyptus trees outside.”
Elise, who founded candle and homewares line Maison Balzac, utilised her regular business jaunts to the northern hemisphere to source an ever-growing collection of objects, each jam-packed with a history of their own. “I travel to France for work a lot and love bringing back small antique pieces such as religious paintings, glassware, plates, cutlery and tablecloths,”
she says. “It’s all so utterly personal. Every single item in the house has a story linked to a moment in time.”
The family added a greenhouse and an additional timber outbuilding to host visiting relatives (or guests keen to check it out – you can find the entire house on Airbnb), which make the setting even more charming. “I particularly love the St John’s Anglican Church sign that was originally displayed on the outside of the building,” Elise says. “We brought it inside and hung it on the kitchen wall, where we could look at it every day.”
The history of the building isn’t just confined to the house. It has a meaningful and romantic association for the people who live around it, too – a neighbour once proudly presented his wedding picture, captured decades earlier in what was the doorway to a bedroom. It only added to the responsibility that Elise felt in restoring the place. For their next trick, this creative family are turning their hands to a 1900s manor house in Elise’s old stomping ground in the south of France.
Of all the covetable corners in this delicate conversion, Elise’s favourite is the one that’s filled most with the history of her family. “We put in the upstairs bedroom when I was nine months pregnant,” she says. “We finished it just in time to welcome baby Loulou. It’s a space that feels so serene – like a treehouse – with the sound of rain dropping on the roof above the bed making it even more perfect.”
“We painted the inside a very pale grey – similar to the bark of the surrounding eucalyptus trees”
HOMEMADE HEROES: When the family couldn’t find a dining table long enough for the space, Pablo, an industrial designer, made this one out of merbau wood
NEAR AND FAR: Made in Morocco, the kitchen island was discovered in an antiques store in Bowral, NSW Hooks, from $50 each, POP & SCOTT, popandscott.com Chair, $195, clickonfurniture.com.au SKETCH, Light, $908, ORIGINAL BTC, originalbtc.com.au
HOUSE BOAT: A small wooden boat – bought from a man who taught his children how to fish on it – pays tribute to the house’s riverside location PHOTOGRAPHY BY
HIDDEN GEM: The three arches that used to open out onto the church’s garden have been maintained, with one leading to an ultra-chic bathroom