“I had no idea how much I’d miss sleep until I became a mother, and nothing prepares you for those early months with a newborn until you’re in the thick of it. Days on end with everything and nothing to do all at the same time,” a refreshingly honest account of first-time motherhood from interior decorator, lifestyle blogger and mum of two Briar Stanley, who not only has a swoon-worthy design-aesthetic, but also an honest and relatable account of some of the challenges motherhood can present…
Briar’s popular blog and Instagram account, both titled Sunday Collector, are a collection of images, ideas and inspiration all taken from her own home and family life, with a hefty dose of Pinterest-worthy detail shots that pay homage to her alternate gig as a prop and lifestyle stylist (she’s worked on films such as The Great Gatsby). Her recent home renovation, which was progressed in detail under the #sundaycollectorrenovation hashtag, shows her knack for sourcing products with the right mix of function and form (just take one look at her pink front door and gingham bathroom tiles for the right idea), all whilst being mum to cherubic five-year-old daughter Sunday (Sunny) and one-year-old son Rafferty.
We’re endlessly inspired by any mum that combines work, home and family with the level of style and grace that Briar displays, so read on for some seriously noteworthy tips on tackling everything from non-sleeping babies to how colour and good lighting can instantly transform a home.
Photography: Julie Adams | Words: Marisa Remond | Hair and makeup: Sarina Zoe | Go to www.sundaycollector.com.au
What has motherhood taught you so far?
I have come to realise I’m a big believer in trusting my instinct as a mother. I’m also a believer in good and restful sleep, and without it, I realised I pretty much go crazy. I found motherhood the second time around so much easier – I’ll touch on the reasons later. Motherhood has also made me realise that I’d love to live my life more like a five-year-old does. My daughter Sunday sees what is around her for what it is – there is no complexity to it. She doesn’t worry about a to-do list or the time on the clock. Kids are masters at slowing down and living in the moment, and I find it disappointing I’ve lost that ability somewhere along the way. Like all mothers, my mind is often racing and I’m always thinking/worrying about the next turn of events. For example, right this second; my mind is drifting to remembering to book in Raff’s chiropractic appointment for next week, then to defrosting the soup in the freezer for our dinner tonight. I assume this kind of rapid thinking slows down once your children get more independent, or does it get worse with the teenage years? I guess I still have a lot to learn when it comes to motherhood.
What has been the most challenging part of motherhood and how have you overcome any challenges?
Hands down I’ve never been challenged more than those first few months of Sunday’s life back in 2012. I had a pretty traumatic labour (in summary – I was induced, she got stuck and then vacuumed, I then had a retained placenta and haemorrhaged). The aftermath of that difficult birth was a blur of being really anaemic and not sleeping with a screaming baby who just wanted to nurse around the clock. I remember feeling comforted by my mum who said to me one day ‘Briar, I’ve been around a lot of babies over the years and this isn’t what it’s always like, you are honestly dealing with a tough baby here’. It wasn’t until Sunday was four-months-old (in which time I’d had to go back into the hospital for a failed curette), that she was diagnosed by a Paediatrician with severe silent reflux. All the dots were joined, our poor bubba was in pain and nursing was the only thing that was soothing her. Medication certainly helped, but by that stage, we had developed a pretty shocking sleep routine so I called in the big guns (Jo Ryan from Babybliss) to help us get some sort of normality back into our lives. Slowly but surely, Sunday learnt how to enjoy sleep. Our bright little spark still challenges us on a daily basis, but her strong will is matched by an inquisitive and thoughtful nature – we couldn’t have wished for a sweeter big sister for Rafferty, she’s truly obsessed with her baby brother.
How do you combat any sleep deprivation?
I wish I knew the magic answer. It’s a vicious cycle, as I know how great exercise makes me feel when I’m tired, but when I’m tired exercise is the last thing I want to be doing. I have developed a good habit with slow meditative breathing to help me get back to sleep at night if I’ve been woken by the kids, and I also find a warm bath before bed really relaxes me for a deeper sleep. Caffeine after lunch for me is the complete enemy, I’ll literally be staring at the ceiling until 2am if I forget and drink something caffeinated. I’ve found magnesium tablets are also a really good sleeping aid, which was also amazing for nightly leg cramps during both pregnancies.
What’s your approach to health and wellbeing?
I’m such an all or nothing kind of girl, which is a shame, as I know how good exercise is for my headspace. I also get obsessed with different forms of exercise…there was my Bikram yoga phase (until I was getting so dehydrated my eyes were blacking out at night – yup, that was fun), the Barre classes (also an amazing workout which I only stopped because I moved too far away from the studio). Lately, I’ve been getting really into Spin classes (I know, 1998 called and asked for their workout back), but I’d never tried a cycle class before this year. I LOVE the 45-minute classes, and these combined with some yoga and Pilates at a great new studio that has opened up near me is proving to be perfect. When it comes to my diet I have such a love affair with good food (I was raised by a family of cooks with a big focus placed on decadent meals), I can’t imagine ever being on a restricted ‘diet’. Everything and anything in moderation, except when I’m breastfeeding my babies… I’ll eat you out of house and home.
What inspires your work and keeps you motivated?
I was raised by really driven parents (step-parents included), and I remember I couldn’t wait to get my first job – having my own cash to burn on logo T-shirts from Sportsgirl like my big sisters wore was so alluring. My first job was at 13-years-old working in the kitchen of a local retirement village for the dinner shift – I ended up working there for five years throughout high school. I think it gave me some good foundations for a strong work ethic, a master hand with an industrial dishwasher and also a really sensitive rapport with the elderly, I adore sweet grandmas and could talk to them for hours.
Tell us how you got started as an interior decorator and some significant career highlights since you started your business. When did you create Sunday Collector and what do you love about running your blog as well as your interior design business?
After completing Year 12, I studied graphic design for three years at Enmore Design Centre. My first job was working for the advertising agency Singleton Ogilvy + Mather, followed by J. Walter Thompson. I was on set for a Harpic television commercial and had a light bulb moment when I saw a crew member (the art director) setting up the living room set. I’d never considered this as a job, but realised it was clearly my calling – I was enchanted by the concept of it. I was 24 at the time, soon quit my day job, and got a job waitressing at night. This freed me up to start working for next to nothing on film sets during the day. My graphic design skills helped me get a foot in the door to gain work on a mix of television commercials, followed by six months on a Channel 10 movie. My big break came about two years later when I landed a job as a buyer in the set decorating department of Baz Luhrmann’s ‘Australia’. The set decorator, Bev Dunn really took me under her wing and she became very much a mentor to me. The film industry in Sydney is a small one, so I was lucky to find a small crew that liked working together and moved around from film to film. I worked on ads in between longer film contracts, also assisting Megan Morton on editorial shoots and sometimes dabbled as an editorial stylist for Real Living magazine. I started my blog, Sunday Collector in mid-2010 as a way to document my travels a props buyer while decorating sets. My last big film was a senior buyer on The Great Gatsby, which was an incredible experience. I gave birth to Sunday a few months later, which is when my blog transitioned to have more of a focus on motherhood, also on residential interiors – which soon became my focus while Sunday was still young. Taking on my own projects allowed me to work my own hours (parttime work on a film rarely works out, unfortunately). Jump forward a few more years and we were renovating our first home, which I really enjoyed. Timings worked out while Raff was still young, I was working less and was able to spend time blogging the renovation process – you can see some of the journey on Instagram under the hashtag #sundaycollectorrenovation. We moved in after a whirlwind eight-week renovation, and still have some major plans for the front garden and old pool (the job list is never-ending, but I like to have a project). On the work front this year, I’ve worked on six television commercials in between working on residential projects, and I can’t tell you how much I’ve enjoyed getting back to my film roots. I find the crossover really easy from residential interiors to a film set – at the end of the day, I get a brief that I have to resolve whether it be from a client living in a new home in Balgowlah or a director working on a 30-second commercial. It’s safe to say I like to mix things up, and no two working days are the same for me.
Talk us through your morning routine?
I wake up earlier than I’d like, it’s usually at about 5am when I hear Raff stir in his room across the hall. On a good morning, we fall back to sleep until 7am when my husband Mark returns from the gym. Our morning routine involves coffees from our kitchen machine (I can barely string a sentence together before my caffeine hit, and I’m lucky in that Mark makes a really good coffee). Sunday likes to have morning cuddles in bed. Raff has just started the cuddle routine too, which is adorable. It’s then straight on to breakfast for us all which Mark also usually takes care of (basic Vegemite on toast or Weetabix). On the three pre-school days we have per week, Sunday’s clothes and backpack are always placed out the night before for her to get dressed with no fuss. I’m a big fan of planning the night before, mine and Raff’s outfit is usually always ready too, preventing a morning rush. Sunday’s incentive to get ready quickly is that she gets around 10 minutes of TV before we have to leave the house if her teeth are brushed and her hair is done (a trick my mum used when I was growing up). It works every time.
What about nightly routine?
I have to pick up Sunday at 4:30pm three days a week from preschool, and on two of those days, I have an amazing nanny to help with Raff. So, those two days are busy days consisting of getting work done, usually half from home – half on the road. For the moment, the kids have an earlier dinner together, but I’m really conscious of making the change to a sit-down family affair every night, especially once Sunday starts school next year. It’s something my Mum made happen every day when I was growing up, and I think a little nightly family ‘meeting’ to chat through the day is a really good foundation for healthy communication as the kids get older. When it comes to bedtime, baby Raff is down at 6.30pm every night with zero fuss (seriously, the dream baby literally waves and smiles at me when his head hits his little mattress). Sunday is like many five-year-olds – dragging out bedtime with extra books, trips to the toilet, urgent discussions on where unicorns live. I shouldn’t complain, as she’s usually fast asleep by 7:30pm and doesn’t stir until 7:00am the next morning. Thinking about this answer makes me realise we are in a pretty good routine these days, I can promise you it used to be a lot more hectic than this!
Outfits both from Seed Heritage
What are some vivid memories of your childhood?
I was born in Balmain, the youngest of three girls. My parents divorced when I was around 12-months-old, so ‘normal’ for me was always having a separate life with my mum and a life with my dad on the weekends. My mum remarried when I was five to my wonderful step-dad and my dad remarried when I was three. My dad and my lovely step-mum were always on the North Shore, so my time growing up was split up across two different areas of Sydney. I had a predominately happy childhood, my dad and step-mum went on to have three more kids, giving me a total of four sisters and one brother –we’re all independent people who love each other a lot. I can’t imagine life without my big, mad family.
My earliest memory would be sitting on a small blanket in the front yard of our house in Drummoyne, sucking on a big rainbow lollipop, with our family dog sitting next to me. I think I was pretty content doing my own thing as a kid. My mum tells me I would sit happily and play for hours with a hose and a bucket. Another strong memory is spending fun times with my siblings and two cousins at my nanny Enid’s house. My dad’s mum, Enid is still a huge influence on my life, at 92 she’s the most wonderful person I’ve ever encountered, and I’m really lucky that my two kids can also have her in their lives.
What’s your approach to interiors – how would you describe your style?
My style is always evolving, and my film background has made me appreciate many interior styles – I’d never pigeonhole myself with the one look as I couldn’t expect every client to live with the same style I dictate. When I take on a new residential project, I have to take into consideration the architecture and era of the dwelling, who lives there and how those people like to live. I also often try to rejuvenate pieces that my client’s already own. Something such as reframing an old artwork or photograph can transform it, and re-upholstering furniture and refreshing walls with paint can have that same effect for little cost.
What are your current favourite colours to work with?
I used to be all about sunny yellow, and tones of warm greys have always been my go-to. I also love pastels and you can never go wrong with a beautiful tone of blue. I believe Mother Nature is the true colour expert out there, so that is my greatest inspiration.
Chair from Thonet; Table from Fred International; Mirror from Urban Couture
What about interior items - what décor items do you love to add to a room to make it look fresh?
Good lighting is so important; it’s good to consider floor lamps and table lamps early on when decorating a space. Soft furnishings (that are also easy and somewhat inexpensive to update) play a really important role in finishing off a room, as do decorative accessories – everything from a few good coffee table books, a gorgeous candle, to a lovely timer box to hide remote controls. It’s that final decorative layer I believe really brings a home together.
Tell us about your recent renovation...
Thanks to a very efficient builder and his team, our renovations on our original brick 1960’s home went completely and utterly smoothly over only eight weeks. Being our first home I know how lucky I am to be able to say that, as I hear horror stories all the time. Demolition at the back was completed in a few short days, which was hugely rewarding, as we could immediately see the extra space we were creating in our living and dining area, not to mention the insane light we gained. The new kitchen had its final measure up a week later, which meant all the cabinetry went into the manufacturing stage straight away. Being the first home for our young family, we were really careful not to over-capitalise, so instead of changing the house configuration around too much when it came to the layout, we kept the footprint of the home and simply gave every finish major facelifts – especially the bathrooms and laundry. The existing four bedrooms stayed put – but with new lighting, flooring, skirting boards and window treatments. The magic of a new deck off the back of a house and a professional paint job inside and out never ceases to amaze me either! We moved in just after Christmas this year, and the feeling of accomplishment now we are actually living here is hard to describe, I would never have imagined we’d be in this position five years ago, it really does feel like a brand new little home for my family. We have been plodding away with jobs since moving in, such as trucking in what seemed like 300 tonnes of landfill to level the backyard and getting a very cute shed built. We’ve managed to create a thriving vegetable garden, as my Aunt is an amazing landscape designer, which has also been really handy when it has come to designing our backyard and choosing the tropical plants I envisioned. The next big project is to tackle the front yard and somehow incorporate a double carport as we bulldozed the old garage which didn’t fit the width of a modern day car, but for now, I’m focused on updating our furniture in the living and dining areas.
Gingham tiles and handmade glossy sky blue subway tiles, both sourced from Tiles By Kate
How do you juggle being a mother with work?
I was reluctant to get back to work so quickly when Raff was young but there was an on-going residential project that needed to carry on. Without either sets of the grandparents living in Sydney, I bit the bullet and decided to go to the expense of finding a nanny for the kids two days a week. We’ve been lucky enough to have a nanny named Pam since Raff was four-months-old. She’s a grandma herself and pretty much a baby whisperer. Pam is not only a genuinely lovely person, she also enthusiastically folds the neatest pile of washing I’ve ever seen. Because folding washing is one of my most loathed aspects of being an adult. Another tip is that we rely on a handy fresh fruit and veggie box delivered from Wild Greens every second week (I did the maths and it’s more economical than a shop at Woolies or Coles for the same things), and meals delivered from Dinner Ladies are also great, especially if I’m having a busy time with work – dishes like the delicious lentil curries are such a huge help mid-week when I’m too tired to cook. Other than that, it’s an absolute juggle – there is no magic answer I’m afraid.
What makes you feel stressed?
Like most people, I’m more stressed if I’ve not had enough sleep, and it’s silly/trivial things that will get my blood pressure rising – like not finding a hairbrush to do Sunday’s hair in the morning. On a more serious level, I’ve never felt stress like I have at times over the past six months. Losing my father last December to brain cancer honestly nearly broke me, along with many of my family members. I basically wasn’t prepared for the devastating and final feeling of loss, of him just never being ‘there’ again. I think the biggest problem was that I had convinced myself I would be at peace with it when the cancer did eventually beat him, but I was wrong. I’m only now feeling like I’m coming out of the fog, sleeping better and I think weaning Raff has been a positive turnaround for my headspace too, as my hormones have levelled out and I’m feeling more at peace with losing my dad, if that’s even possible.
Top three business lessons for mothers looking to launch an interior business…
- Do the hard yards before starting up a new business, work experience in the field is so important – put your self out there even if it’s making coffee and teas in an office, become a professional observer and consider it as a form of study, as you learn so much on the job.
- If you’re working from home, dress for work – I’m always more motivated when I’m at my desk if I’m ‘work ready’.
- I don’t believe anyone that says they can get work done while their kids are around. From my experience, I can get a good window during naptime when I charge up the laptop, but I find I get through most of the work when I’m away from the children. I’m lucky that Sunday loves going off to preschool, and Raff is really happy to spend the day with Pam. I also make the most of the nighttime hours once the kids are going to bed – luckily I’m not much of a TV watcher so happily use this time for work and catching up on emails.
What are your top home organisation tips?
I’m a big fan of the cull and will often fill a garbage bag to donate to charity, as I don’t like living with too much clutter. Sunday has reached the age where I’m not allowed to get rid of anything (she’ll honestly try and make art out of a ball of fluff that she finds on the carpet), so her room is often given a ‘cleanse’ while she’s at preschool, and she’s none the wiser. I’m also one of those people that simply clean up as I go throughout the day, so there is never really a catastrophic area of the house to tidy. I also always store the kids’ toys in an organised fashion, so at the end of the day when their rooms are a bit of a pigsty it’s a really quick job to pack everything away. I also can’t give up my little luxury of paying for a cleaner once a fortnight, I figure I don’t buy things like new shoes often – so a cleaner is my indulgence, and a sparkling clean floor after a mop makes me happy. Sounds lame, but it’s true!
Do you spend a lot of time on social media?
I used to spend a lot more time than I do now. I have always loved Instagram but am guilty of scrolling as a habit and not really taking much in unless something really catches my eye. Kind of an unhealthy habit I guess, but I have been loving Instagram stories purely for the entertainment factor of catching up on my new girl crushes; US business owner Jen Gotch and actress Busy Phillips.