“I don’t believe in fads or anything remotely trendy, I do timeless.” Wise words to live by from interior designer Charlotte Coote, whose business Coote&Co. specialises in classic contemporary homes with an unmistakable elegance that transcends fleeting trends, a design aesthetic passed down by her late father, the legendary international interior designer John Coote...
“My first childhood room my father designed but was adapted by me aged five years old. I told Dad I hated the textile he had chosen for me, so he let me choose and choose I did! I chose a pink and green rose Pierre Frey chintz, which upholstered the walls, matching bedhead and bead spread (which my mother recently returned to me). It was the most glorious room.”
Based in Melbourne but having also grown up in Los Angeles and Ireland, the mother to three girls, Sybil, aged 4, Francesca, aged 2 and Daphne, aged 1, says following a routine and accepting help are the only way to blend motherhood with running a successful business, which is now in its 11th year of operation and pays homage to her father in name and style.
We caught up with the inspiring mother of three to talk homewares and interiors, how she juggles her own business with the demands of motherhood, and how her own childhood has influenced the sort of mother and designer she is today.
Words: Marisa Remond | Photography: Alison Mayfield | Go to www.cooteandco.com.au
What is the best advice you’ve been given about motherhood?
My mother told me that babies and young children love routine. Routine has been my saviour with my three little girls. However, I find sometimes this can all go out the window in one simple trip away for a weekend. For me, when all goes pear-shaped, I try to laugh, cry, or have a nip of Port – then try again tomorrow!
What has been the most surprising part of motherhood for you?
The extraordinary and unconditional love.
What does every mother need to get through some of the most trying stages of motherhood?
Dedication to sleep times; Surrender if routine goes out the window – try again tomorrow; Outsource areas you are struggling to get on top of. For me: ironing shirts, changing sheets, supermarket, ok and housework!
What excited you most about having baby number three?
The three Taylor girls! They are all true individual bombshells, and sometimes I pinch myself when I see my beautiful fleet of ladies lined up in their car seats behind me. I think they are lucky to be three sisters within three years of each other. I hope they have enormous fun together, support each other in life, and are great friends. I’m very proud of them, I feel lucky and I really don’t take a single second of it for granted – even when it’s difficult at times.
Can you tell us about your childhood...
I grew up in Melbourne, Los Angeles and Ireland and I am the youngest of three siblings. In February I will turn 38, my sister Amelia will be 39 and my brother Angus will be 40! Amelia is the head buyer at Le Louvre, and Angus started the phenomenal success that is Jamieson Coote Bonds in Melbourne’s finance sector. Both siblings are successful, supportive and definitely keep me on my toes professionally and as a person. We laugh a lot about our upbringing, as it definitely was not conventional. We are grateful for this, but share a lot of laughter about some of the extraordinary things our parents did as we grew up – they really were trailblazers in the 80’s and 90’s and we were there for the ride. My father John Coote was an eccentric and enormously talented international interior designer. He sadly died five years ago, but I was lucky enough to be trained by him during my 20’s. I lived at beautiful 18th Century Bellamont Forest, Ireland and worked for his interior design business, he was a tough teacher. However, in hindsight, I feel lucky, as he taught me skills and knowledge I couldn’t have gained elsewhere. My father made our lives less ordinary, introducing us to extraordinary people, ideas, travel and generally thinking big. This was all coupled with a very, very funny sense of humour and wild eccentricity.
My mother Andrea Coote was a Victorian Member of Parliament for 15 years and is now is on six Australian boards. Mum is a total bombshell, her personality lights up rooms, and her energy inspires greatness in everyone she meets. She is very stylish, full of life, a million miles an hour and I could only dream to be like her one day. She introduced me to the notion of dedication and how to never to give up. My mother later remarried Melbourne stockbroker Alan Naylor, who is the backbone of our family, the most solid person I know, and whose opinion and advice I pretty much value over all others. Alan keeps us all real, and all the big egos at bay. Life definitely got better when Alan came on the scene.
Tell us about a vivid memory from your childhood that always makes you smile?
Maybe not so much smile, but definitely laugh a lot! When we lived in Ireland, my father sometimes took tours of Bellamont Forest, the 18th-century house where we grew up. Usually, it was for The Irish Georgian Society. On one particular tour, the audience was mostly sweet little old ladies, except for one very camp, well-dressed, middle-aged architect. He was eccentric, portly and outspoken. As my father took the tour into the library, he spoke about the history of the room, elaborating on the Regency style windows and how they were a later addition. My father then asked if anyone had questions before moving the tour to the drawing room. One lovely old lady, then sweetly asked: “Mr Coote, could you please tell me about the windows… are they original?”. The architect then piped up “ARE YOU DEAF? HE JUST EXPLAINED ABOUT THE WINDOWS!” and then “Mr Coote could you tell me who painted these portraits of your three lovely daughters?” My brother was in the room, he was absolutely furious.
This sort of mad behaviour from the architect continued all through the tour, finishing in the dining room, where the dining table was groaning with cakes, scones and tea. The portly architect picked up a cake stand, with a large sponge on it, and asked my father, “would you like a piece of cake?”. When he declined, the architect said, “go on, you are already so fat, one more piece of cake won’t hurt you!”
Angus, Amelia and I weep with laughter about this story, since our father had a terrifically healthy opinion of his physical self. He even said he wanted to write a book called “People Fatter Than Me”. In reality, Dad’s portliness definitely rivalled that of the architect. He was so furious, he telephoned The Irish Georgian Society and had the architect removed from future tours.
Where did your love of interiors begin?
It sounds a cliché to say ‘growing up’ but it really did start from day one. We lived and breathed it. My mother and father were fast paced and change-making in the design and business sector. One minute we were living at The Beverly Hills Hotel scouting for schools and a family home, the next we were setting up a life in an 18th century Irish Georgian House attending the local school learning Gaelic, hunting with the County Fermanagh Harriers. Life was never dull. They entertained constantly, and being surrounded by creative, international and successful people was the norm. We were taught how to help arrange flowers and greenery, set tables, arrange parties, create beautiful interiors, collect antiques and art, read design biographies, listen to classical music, and how to travel.
My first childhood room my father designed but was adapted by me aged five-years-old. I told dad I hated the textile he had chosen for me, so he let me choose and choose I did! I chose a pink and green rose Pierre Frey chintz, which upholstered the walls, matching bedhead and bead spread (which my mother recently returned to me). It was the most glorious room.
What do you recall about launching your business? What are some of the biggest lessons you’ve learnt along the way?
It was 11 years ago, and I had no idea. Just naive big plans, lots of dedication but no idea how hard it would be. I started in 2007 with $3000 I had saved up and was staring down the barrel of 2008’s GFC. After making a loss for three years in a row, I told my parents I thought I should get a job to help support my business. They said no way – stick at it and make it work, if you get a job it will fizz out and goodbye business. Now 11 years on and I can proudly say that’s what I did! It definitely wasn’t easy to get here.
How would you describe your interior style?
Generous, comfortable, new classic, simplistic, relaxed yet sophisticated. I don’t believe in fads or anything remotely trendy, I do timeless.
Where is your favourite place in the world to shop for homewares?
Astier De Villatte in Rue St. Honore Paris.
How has social media impacted your brand and helped you to grow?
I do my own Instagraming for Coote&Co. I find it has given me enormous confidence. It has forced me to focus on what my brand stands for, who my target market is. Instagram shows me how important it is to aim to be authentic and bespoke in this age of mass production and “fast” design.
What has been one of your biggest career challenges? How did you overcome it?
Definitely starting up. Not giving up, and having faith that an expert today, was not an expert in their field when they were born.
What are your time management tips – how do you juggle it all? Do you ever feel overwhelmed?
I couldn’t do it all without my wonderful husband Geordie. Geordie has a big job, yet is incredibly hands-on and supportive with our three little girls and me. He cooks and I do the laundry! I have also learned if I want three children and an interior design business, I need help. Without the wonderful girls who help me with my children and my seriously talented assistant Jill Reesby, I would be a wreck. Jill is a genius and my husband and I are so grateful for everything she does for us and for Coote&Co.
How would you describe your home and can you talk us through some of your favourite pieces of furniture/artwork?
I inherited from my father this little navy and white geometric clock set which British interior designer David Hicks designed, and gave to my father, as they were friends. It’s pretty special. I also recently purchased a beautiful 8-foot Kathleen Ngale painting from Janet Holt from Delmore Downs Station, in the Northern Territory, which I love.
Which is your favourite room in your home?
My bedroom, as I love my monogrammed Irish Linen Sheets. They are delicious to sleep in!
How often do you mix up the interior?
Daily! I love the on going process of it all.
What are your tips for home organisation with children? How do you keep your home organised?
Toys seem to turn up everywhere – sometimes even under my pillow. Lego really hurts to step on. I now know why my mother used to vacuum it up when we were children! At the end of the day I do a reset – I put all the toys away into the playroom, it cleanses for the following day. I feel happy and organised for the following day if I can do this when the girls are asleep.
What is your approach to health and wellbeing?
I had three daughters in three years and three caesareans that were not all planned. In that time I also slipped a disc, had gestational diabetes with two babies and some high blood pressure issues. I will be brutally honest; I definitely didn’t do pregnancy elegantly or slip into ‘skinny jeans’ six weeks after each baby. In fact, I found the whole weight loss thing a massive challenge and definitely felt pressure to snap back. I’m proud to say I’m halfway to ‘snapping back’ and I’m feeling pretty good about it actually! I’m proud of what my body created, and I’m going to be gentle on dropping the last baby weight and looking fabulous again next year. But this is not negotiable! Especially with a history of diabetes in our family.
What is your definition of success?
Business: To become the best designer I can possibly be in my lifetime, and in this process, adapt and grow my design practice to a financial place where it can support the education of my three daughters. To be a positive working role model to my daughters in the process. Personal: To make the lives of the people who love and rely on me richer, better, more fun, happy, diverse and interesting.
What did your own mother teach you about life and motherhood?
Everything I know. A day without at least three calls to mum is not normal. Half the calls are business, the other half are for parenting advice. So pretty much in one day, it’s not unusual for Mum and I to cover potty training, the economy, nappy rash and interest rates!
What do you love most about raising children in Melbourne?
Actually, my wonderful husband Geordie and I last week purchased beautiful Marnanie in Mt.Macedon as our family home. It was built in 1890 and once home to the first Australian born Governor Sir Isaac Isaacs, and later famously brought to life by my dear friends John Graham and the late Kevin O’Neill. We look forward to waking up this sleeping beauty and her gardens! We will commute to our careers in Melbourne, and our little girls are going to the local kindergarten and primary school. We feel excited about giving our girls a country upbringing in the mountain air and strong connection to a local country community. Both Geordie and I had this growing up so it’s important to us. Marnanie has a beautiful garden so we look forward to raising our children outdoors, growing vegetables, having dogs, parties, gardening, friends, tennis, swimming and hopefully giving our girls a very grounded, wholesome country upbringing.
What makes you feel stressed?
Definitely feeling sick, tired or disorganised or when someone I love is sick, tired or stressed.
How do you unwind and relax?
Listen to classical music.
Charlotte's little list of loves
Listening to Maria Callas.
Fred’s in Sydney’s Paddington for dinner.
BRAE overnight and dinner as a treat with my husband Geordie.
The interior and garden project of Marnanie, our new home in Mt Macedon.
My crisp white monogrammed Irish Bed Linen by Coote&Co.
18th Century Irish Furniture because it is rare and whimsical.
Currently being at Decorex London and then Paris with my dear friend designer Adelaide Bragg.
Pale pink peonies and rhododendrons.
The Gucci trainers I just bought at Le Louvre (which I won’t be telling my husband about).
The beautiful smell of the curly sleeping heads of Daphne, Francesca and Sybil Taylor!