They say that sisters are the best kind of friends and this is certainly the case with Melbourne-based Eliza Ashton – mother of two boys, Tiger, 6, and Axel, 4 - who runs her thriving interior design business In House Concepts with her Hong Kong-based sister Annabelle...
It’s really no surprise they ended up in business together. The pair have always had an entrepreneurial drive, even as children. “My sister and I would set up shops on the side of the road at our beach house and sell all sorts of things. One summer we had a booming business selling beaded jewellery!” recalls Ashton. The duo had previously had built a fashion label together called Sisnme, which was stocked in over 70 stores in Australia (including Myer) and in Hong Kong (they ended up selling the business after six years). Ashton is one of those women with huge creative drive and energy and In House Concepts isn’t the only business she runs. She’s also the c0-founder of Tiger & Coco – a collection of clear acrylic block frames which are held together by magnets – which she launched around five years ago with her longtime school friend Ineke Thomas (the brand was named after their children Tiger and Coco, who were born ten days apart). “A clever way to style them is to have a photo on each side so they can be displayed on a central table so that you are never looking at the back of an ugly frame. They look best grouped together and I am always adding to my collection…you can never have enough photos in your home,” says Ashton. We stepped into the chic mother’s Melbourne home to talk raising boys, interior tips and why friends and family are all that matters. Photography: Nikole Ramsay | Hair and makeup: Monica Gingold | Go to www.inhouseconcepts.com.au and www.tigerandcoco.com.au
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What can’t you start the day without?
Our boys jumping into bed with us in the morning. I’m out once the wrestling starts!
What is the best advice you’ve been given about motherhood?
Teaching my boys how to be resilient. When they get knocked down they need to get right back up again. I can honestly say this advice has been invaluable as not only does it make my life easier, but most importantly it makes the boys stronger and ultimately happier.
What has been the most challenging part of motherhood and how have you overcome any challenges?
Initially being pregnant was definitely the most challenging part. I had severe morning sickness all the way through both pregnancies. When I was pregnant with Axel, I was going in and out of the hospital while at the same time looking after Tiger. I didn’t have any paid help, but I had amazing support from friends and family (especially my mum). It was a very challenging time and it has really taught me to appreciate my health. Now my biggest challenges are raising strong, resilient, caring, happy, healthy boys.
How would you describe your approach to raising boys?
I am very loving, but also strict with my boys. I am very BIG on manners. If they can work an iPad, a ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ should roll off the tongue! My boys get a huge amount of love and affection from both myself and Rob. We want them to be raised knowing they can tell us anything and to talk to us about how they are feeling, this is so important. I often ask them what the best part of their day was and what the hardest part was. I am constantly explaining things to my boys so they understand. I don’t give one-word answers I always try my best if they ask a question to turn it into a conversation, I believe this is the best way they learn. My mum instilled in my brothers strong and traditional values. She taught them to stand up when someone older walked into a room, give a firm handshake, look someone in the eye and use their name, and open a door for a lady. I have already started instilling these values into my boys. For example, Tiger has always given Coco his best friend a rose on Valentine’s Day… chivalry is not dead in our home!
What does every mother need to get through some of the most trying stages of motherhood?
I think a mother needs to take time for herself and have other interests. For me, that’s my businesses, In House Concepts and Tiger & Coco. I get so much satisfaction from working and contributing in a business environment.
Can you tell us about your childhood?
I was born and bred in Melbourne. One of four children, I have two brothers (Mark and Nicholas) and a sister (Annabelle). My mum and dad gave us a very happy childhood all together as a family. When I think of my childhood the first thing that comes to mind is the court we lived in. We were surrounded by other children and families who are still close family friends to this day. We spent most of our time outside having the time of our lives together. We learnt a lot by making our own fun. Water fights, bike riding, Halloween, Christmas mornings, knick knocking, mud pies, running from house to house, swimming, dogs, rabbits, fish ponds, turtles, court parties, you name we did it. These are some of my most precious memories. We have a beach house on the Mornington Peninsula and have spent many happy summers down there. We spent endless days on the beach exploring, playing, boating, swimming, we had surf skis and would spend hours on the water paddling between piers. After a long day on the water, everyone would moor their boats together and fish and chips would be on the menu. I loved school, however more so for the friendships, I made rather than the grades I got. I have made lifelong friends from school and have experienced so much with them during and especially after our school days finished. From travelling, skiing, holidaying, business opportunities, weddings, babies and always supporting each other in the highs and lows. I have always been very close to my three siblings and it is now a joy seeing all the cousins growing up together and watching them experience similar opportunities we had growing up. Tiger, Axel, Oscar, India, Pearl, Araminta and Boston are all my favourite little humans!
Where did your love of interiors begin?
I have always had a general love of design both in fashion and interiors. I have always been artistically focused. My love of interiors really developed through my mum while growing up and the love continued to become stronger and evolved as I got older. As the old saying goes, you are a product of your environment and I seem to be a perfect example of this.
Talk us through your career path…
Selling something I have either created or are passionate about has always given me an enormous buzz. My career path has seen me go from a creative folio building course to owning and running three businesses thus far. What I have found is I learn so much from the actual experiences I have had rather than sitting in a classroom. As university did not appeal to me and with a creative background I jumped straight into owning my first business (in fashion) a few years out of school and have not looked back.
Did your mother influence your career/work ethic?
My mum owned a children’s fashion label called Giggles when she was younger, so I suppose you could say she did influence my career. She has an incredible eye and is a very creative and talented person which I know is what sparked my interest in being creative at a young age. She was a stay at home mum and looked after the four children with an endless amount of love and a huge amount of fun. She is an extraordinary mother and a day never goes by without a phone call offering to help me in some way (especially with the kids). I have often heard her say over the years that she has the most important job which is raising her four children and she has always been proud of that, and so she should be. She influences me every day to be the best mother I can be.
What do you recall about launching your interior business In House Concepts?
It was actually my sister Annabelle that came to me with the idea. The two of us previously had built a fashion label together called Sisnme. We started the business from decorating Bonds singlets in our bedrooms to becoming a sizeable business stocking to over 70 stores in Australia (including Myer) and expanding to stockists in Hong Kong. Sisnme also did a range for Sportsgirl that was stocked Australia wide. We regularly participated in Melbourne and Sydney fashion weeks including runway shows that allowed us to really let loose with our creativity. We were then approached by someone to buy our business and we decided to sell after running it for six years as we were still young and wanted to travel and see the world and have the opportunity to try new things. So when Annabelle came to me about starting In House Concepts I knew it was always an area I wanted to get involved in. The idea was exciting and having successfully worked together before it took me no time to jump on board. When we started our business Annabelle was living in Melbourne. She has now lived in Hong Kong for the last seven years which has given us the opportunity to expand the business overseas and she has experienced some fabulous projects with people from all over the world.
What are some of the biggest lessons you’ve learnt along the way?
Working with all different types of personalities has been a huge learning experience. Being able to develop relationships and communicate with a wide range of people has been a really valuable and constant lesson.
What services do you offer?
In House Concepts offer a variety of interior design services. Interior decorating consulting and individual room styling. We offer bespoke furniture solutions, styling accessories and custom designed artwork. We also offer very affordable complete turnkey furniture packages, which are suited for both owner occupiers and investors.
What inspired you to launch Tiger & Coco and how do you divide your time between the two businesses?
Tiger & Coco was launched together with my long time school friend Ineke Thomas around five years ago. At the time, we were living next door to each other and had both recently had our first babies. We developed our idea while discussing our own home interiors and what to do with all our precious baby photos. Our sales and exposure have grown considerably over the last five years, utilising social media as our main platform. Our pricing is very competitive in the market and being able to purchase online makes it very easy for our customer. Dividing time between the two businesses has been challenging a couple of times along the way, and being a mother at the same time but my amazing friend and business partner Ineke is very supportive and we are both always willing to help each other when times in both our lives become busy or stressful.
How do you style Tiger & Coco frames in your home?
Tiger & Coco frames are a clear acrylic block held together by magnets which makes them very versatile in any interior space whether it be modern or traditional. A clever way to style them is to have a photo on each side so they can be displayed on a central table so that you are never looking at the back of an ugly frame. They look best grouped together and I am always adding to my collection… you can never have enough photos in your home.
What are three things every home needs right now?
Tiger & Coco frames, a lot of laughter and loving vibes. Three very important things in our home!
What are your time management tips – how do you juggle it all?
I need to be super organised as my husband works in the Middle East a month at a time every second month so when he’s gone I need to make sure I stay on top of things and keep everything organised. I feed the kids and myself very early at 5pm, I love eating early, and I also think it’s beneficial for your health. Then getting them bathed straight after dinner means we can spend the rest of the night doing readers, having some downtime and getting organised for the following day. I must have the house organised before I leave for school drop off in the morning! I race around like a mad woman making the beds, cleaning up breakfast etc. I think the key to juggling is organisation and routine. I love being organised and I love routine and so do the kids. The beauty of In House Concepts is we were able to slow it down when we first had children and as Tiger and Axel are a bit older now I can invest more time into it. Tiger & Coco is a bit different in the sense that both Ineke and I threw ourselves into this business and the kids came along for the ride! Whether it’s having five kids running around during meetings, delivering frames with kids in tow, doing stock take while the kids are playing around us we have made it work. We do a lot of it with the kids alongside us, you could say we are good multitaskers! We all love spending time together, it’s hectic and at times hilarious but it works for us and we wouldn’t have it any other way!
How would you describe your home and can you talk us through some of your favourite pieces of furniture/artwork?
When we purchased our home it was pretty run down and tired. We have adored bringing life and personality back into the old girl. We lived in our home for five years before renovating it. When we renovated the house one thing I made sure of was that everything had to be on a large scale. The staircase needed to be extra wide, the bench tops as large as possible, I heightened all the original doors, windows needed to be big, big, big. This gives the house an overall spacious feeling when you walk in. I used every square inch of the house we had to its best potential. There is nothing more frustrating than seeing wasted space in a home. Our home is fresh, it has clean lines and white walls, and it has fabulous light throughout. I have brought life and colour into it through the interiors. Some of my favourite pieces in my home are my Graham Geddess Hollywood wall mirror that hangs in my living room, My Slim Aarons ‘Beverly Hills Hotel’ photography print that hangs in my kitchen, My chippendale bar stools upholstered in Michael Smith Templeton fabric, and my Ella Deague photography prints from the Earth Sky & Water Series that hang in my study.
Which is your favourite room in your home?
Definitely my study. It’s the only room in the house that is just for me. I am outnumbered by boys in my family so I designed this room to be very feminine and pink pink pink. What are your tips for home organisation with children? How do you keep your home organised? For me, no clutter is the key. Less is more and I’m not one to keep things. I love throwing things out or giving things away to charity.. both are very satisfying! The kids’ bedrooms and play area are upstairs so I have a rule that all toys stay upstairs. At times the floor cannot be seen upstairs as every toy has been pulled out and every game has been played with but the boys are happy and so am I because I don’t have to look at the mess! The boys also spend a lot of time in the back garden kicking the footy, they love being outside and I love them being outside!
What is your approach to health and wellbeing?
I’ve educated myself on organic food and minimising our sugar intake. We mostly eat organic food in our home but I am definitely not over the top about it and I don’t preach about it as I understand everyone has there own way of doing things. The supermarkets these days have a fantastic organic selection. Some weeks everything goes out the window and some weeks are all about homecooked organic meals. Life is busy and I’m far from perfect when it comes to being in the kitchen.
What makes you feel stressed?
Being late. I’m a stickler for being on time.
Favourite quick kids’ dinner to cook?
Omelette with cheese – you can’t go wrong on a Sunday night.
SHOP: Tiger & Coco frame
Eliza's little list of loves:
1. Tiger & Coco Frames so you can treasure all your special memories. 2. Tribe Hotel Perth. I recently visited Perth and stayed at Tribe it’s a must if you go to Perth. 3. Skiing with my family and friends. 4. Hawaii – we have just been on a family vacation to Hawaii and we loved it! 5. Two-piece matching outfit – I have always loved a two-piece matching outfit. They are a staple in my wardrobe (apart from my activewear leggings that I will confess I wear most days) 6. Point King Beach, my all-time favourite beach in the world. I grew up on this beach and now my kids are, it’s a very special place to me. 7. Our daily scoot to the park with my boys, especially in summer when we go after dinner, the weather is balmy and Rob is home. 8. Most importantly, my husband Rob.