Good taste and social influencer Melissa Penfold has always had the edge when it comes to polish and panache. In 2008 the respected journalist and author was dubbed the ‘Queen of Style’ by the Sydney Morning Herald, where she wrote a widely read design and smart shopper column for 20 years.
‘My mother and grandmothers were all over the top glamorous with houses to match, and I saw that when people bought something new for the house they had an extra pep in their step. It gave them elegance and confidence,’ she says.
Penfold grew up in a grand Georgian house decorated by Australia’s first interior designer, Marion Hall Best. ‘Marion’s fascination with colour led to one of her greatest achievements, the development with painter-decorator Fred Russell of translucent glazed finish on walls. These featured throughout our house, including my bright watermelon pink bedroom walls that, in retrospect, might have been a bit much for me.’
Today her 81,000 Insta followers love her preference for understated elegance (‘I think there’s no colour like no colour, and prefer its absence in interiors’) and her posts of everything from glass hurricane shades and cabbageware plates to cool, relaxed Hampton homes and mouthwatering French chateaus.
Penfold’s mass style appeal stems from making design accessible to all, and ‘democratising good taste’: ‘A top designer might not be an option, but the paint colour they used can be. I’ve always felt an affinity with designers like Jasper Conran and John Saladino, who says when you enter a room for the first time, your blood pressure should go up. He likes to create an emotional experience, so even at a party or restaurant, he’ll ask the owners to dim the lights or turn down the music. That’s ME.’
My name is… MELISSA PENFOLD
My life in five words is… Rich in work and fun.
I spend my time between Sydney and the Southern Highlands because… My husband and I fell in love with a house here. I love arriving, closing the door and not thinking about anything.
My favourite things here are… The greenery and quietness. There’s also a bunch of things to do with all kind of interesting folk if you want it, but not if you don’t.
Followers on Instagram see… My country pad, gardens, interiors, table settings, entertaining ideas and lots of no nonsense advice to get the designer look without spending a fortune. It’s all about comfort, quality and a dash of individuality.
When it comes to style… It’s something that can’t be influenced, and great style should show no sign of effort. Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication. Don’t make the mistake of thinking style is dependent on money. A really interesting room is rarely perfect.
You will never see me without… Jewellery. It’s essential. The older you get, the better quality your jewellery should be.
My style mantra is… Good taste doesn’t cost anything extra. It’s as easy to get things right as it is to get them wrong.
My top tip for good socialising… Be on time. I am a stickler for good manners. People talk about being ‘fashionably late’ but for a social engagement you really shouldn’t be more than 10 minutes late. And be generous with hostess gifts. Gifts are always IN.
I always take visitors to… The Burrawang Village Pub, and Harry’s on Green Lane or Cafe Rosso in Bowral. I’m also excited by new local shops Escape Map (for vintage, industrial and rustic) in Bowral, and Flower, Flower (for cyclamen, orchids and potted buxus) in Mittagong. For still warm brioche, we head to Robertson’s Petit Fleur.
My special place is… Our pad. There’s a big, open kitchen, insanely good food, open fireplaces. To gaze from our spacious, calm, bedroom at endless hedges, lawn and sky, well, it’s a fairytale. Our house is not so much a place to be seen as a place to disappear.
Don’t leave the Highlands without… A big bunch of leaves to remind you of your visit.
The lessons you hope to pass on… I work closely with my daughter Isabella in my media and consulting business. I want her to learn to be easy in her own skin and to make everyone else easy in theirs. Treat everyone with the same kindness and consideration. There’s no first or economy class when two people come together.
The one style accessory for this winter… White awnings that look very south of France for the terrace.
Insta @melissa_penfold / melissapenfold.com