With art and design in its DNA, it’s little wonder Braidwood has more beautiful boutiques, eclectic antiques and gorgeous galleries than you can poke a stick at. With help from the QPRC Tourism team, we got the inside run on where smart shoppers are spending their money in this historical town just an hour’s drive from Canberra.
You are not going to dent the surface of Braidwood’s shopping opportunities in a single day (particularly if you’re expecting to fit in some gourmet tourism as well). If you’re fully committed to getting the most bang for your buck, prepare to spend a couple of days in town … or more.
Bedervale, a heritage-listed Georgian homestead a stone’s throw from the heart of the action, offers a choice of accommodation for those who are indecisive about whether they want an old-school stay or a thoroughly modern bolthole to use as their base.
The 1836 homestead is a true step into the past, with bedrooms, kitchen, drawing room and more still containing their original furniture, paintings, china, glassware and cutlery. Visitors can book tours around this fascinating property, a working cattle and sheep farm, or arrange overnight stays in one of three period guest rooms.
We’re in the ‘Nursery Wing’, a double room with a kitchenette, separate bathroom and balcony overlooking Bedervale’s beautiful gardens. It can be paired with another room with three single beds for groups.
As if out of central casting, a peacock strolls by, plumage on full display, while we lean on our balcony surveying the bucolic scene.
The property has been in the family of the current owner, Sonia Horan and her husband Mark, since 1972. The pair are committed custodians of these significant treasures, keeping the collection in perfect condition for generations to come.
“So little is taught about our colonial history, but here it is, right in this house,” says Mark, who adds that it’s incredibly rare for the contents of a heritage property that have been purchased by the National Trust of Australia to remain, in perpetuity, in their original setting. But as with any living treasure, Bedervale continues to move with the times. Through a stand of trees, we glimpse the top of a compact building. It’s a self-contained tiny house, newly added to Bedervale’s gardens, with magnificent views of the surrounding countryside. Perfect for two, this studio space has a queen bed, fully equipped kitchenette and bathroom.
Saloon Design House
I’m a sucker for statement fabrics. I spent much of a trip to Helsinki rummaging about in the Marimekko flagship store instead of visiting the city’s galleries and museums, and I have lost several days inside Liberty of London, with its signature designer fabrics adorning everything from chairs and lamps to women’s wear, handkerchiefs and brollies.
So when I see a Liberty sign in the window of a glam-looking boutique on Braidwood’s Wallace Street, I’m inside faster than I can mentally calculate how much is left in the bank account.
Jane Magnus is the second indication that the Saloon Design House is cooler than a Canberra winter. Wearing a fabulous dress in signature Liberty fabric and a scarf tied around her dark hair, she is the epitome of designer chic. She tells me Saloon is a creative collaboration between her and her friend Dena Pharaoh, who specialises in pattern making and couture dressmaking. Saloon’s aesthetic was “inspired by our surrounds and the people of Braidwood”.
“It’s our take on country girl, but vintage-inspired, not a Western country girl,” says Jane.
“There’s a lot of self-expression in what people wear in this town – there’s great personality and style, and we create the clothes they would wear.”
The pair mix Liberty fabrics with other global textiles in their designs – Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander prints, Indonesian batiks, and traditional fabrics from elsewhere in the Asia Pacific.
“We design, cut and make most of the pieces here with help from Sydney’s The Social Outfit, an ethical sewing group supporting new refugees,” says Jane.
Saloon is best known for its classic Liberty dresses and shirts and runs to pretty handprinted T-shirts and women’s trousers, and is starting to bring in new fabrics, including Liberty jersey.
“There’s probably no-one else in Australia doing the Liberty jerseys or corduroys,” says Jane.
What to do in a COVID-19 environment when you’ve made a point of sourcing the beautiful homewares for your shop from Morocco, India and Bali? Start looking for equally covetable items made in your own back yard.
Before the pandemic, Bec Sheriff and Fiona Putra Haya made regular trips to South East Asia and beyond to stock their store, Sandalwood Homewares, with new and vintage pieces, each ethically sourced and supporting the work of local artisans. Old chicken cages fashioned into light shades and fishermen’s baskets repurposed as rustic storage boxes mingle on the shop floor with mats made from cactus silk, exquisite Japanese ceramics, traditional Balinese wooden furniture and colourful Turkish towels.
While there are still many hand-picked items from the pair’s travels on display at Sandalwood, an increasing number of pieces from Australian artisans and jewellers – and a handful of food producers – are making an appearance.
Store manager Joanna Webber points out the gorgeous felt hats from Tasmanian maker Fossick & Dream, which have proved incredibly popular with shoppers, and the recycled wine bottle candles made with soy wax from another Aussie company, UnWined Candle Co. A display of handcrafted bamboo animal brooches made by Melbourne’s Selatan, and chocolates from Canberra’s Jasper & Myrtle add a further local flourish.
“Bec and Fiona focus on sourcing products from people doing wonderful things,” says Joanna, pointing to a bucket containing cute stuffed toys and colourful ribbon alongside balls of handmade banana silk from Nepal.
“The beauty of the store is that it’s affordable. A teenager could come in and pick up a great little gift for $10, or you can come and buy gorgeous items for the home.”
Len Mutton & Co
For a second, I’m transported back to the days when my nana took my two younger sisters and me out to spend our pocket money at the general stores and knick-knack shops near her Melbourne home.
It’s not just the comforting scent of wooden floors and cabinetry mixed with leathergoods and haberdashery, but the vast collection of kitchenware and clothing, children’s board games, beauty products and books, hats, scarves and jewellery packed into every nook and cranny of this capacious store.
Len Mutton & Co has had time to work on its inventory. Established in 1913 by Edward Norman Mutton as a country general store, it is now run by Len’s great-granddaughter Fiona Putra Haya (nee Mutton), who took it over in 1998.
The store’s motto is “Something for everyone at Len Mutton & Co”, and you can’t argue with that.
Whether you’re after a merino wool jumper, a pair of jeans, a new doormat, a set of dinner plates or some charming old-style wooden toys, you’re certain to find it in this wonderful old shop, equal parts historical record and community lifeline.
Born Vintage Collectables & Oldwares
There’s a ghostly apparition wearing a Santa hat in a dormer window, a mannequin draped in a nightgown and other random bric-a-brac scattered on the front lawn. Dangling from the heritage ironwork on the porch of this characterful cottage is a wooden sign reading The Old Maternity Hospital.
First impressions are that whoever owns the place might have a bit of a hoarding problem. It turns out I’m half right.
Julia Billington and her husband John are definitely collectors, but not to the extent that the council is likely to come calling with a bulldozer any time soon.
What comes in must eventually go out, and the demand for Julia and John’s lovingly sourced second hand and vintage goods means nothing hangs around too long at Born Vintage Collectables and Oldwares.
Georgia-born Julia is responsible for the downstairs space – ‘the old room’ with antiques ranging up to the 1950s, a 60s and 70s retro room, and a men’s ‘rust room’ containing vintage tools and other things worth tinkering with. There’s also a room filled with vintage and second-hand modern clothes.
Upstairs, it’s a different kettle of Hootie and the Blowfish. John has been an avid record collector for 40 years and sells the fruits of his labour to others who share his passion.
“People are expecting Kamahl in a milk crate when they come here, but then they see John’s collection and they’re amazed. Everything is cleaned, graded and ordered. The covers and contents are immaculate,” Julia says in her wonderful Southern American accent.
The pair has operated the vintage store for 13 years inside the former Braidwood maternity hospital, run by the sister of one of the infamous Clarke brothers bushrangers in the 1850s.
“There’s a bit of everything here,” says Georgia. “I get to love and enjoy all of this. I collect things, then pass them on to others who will love them more.”
The Original Lamp Shop
I wonder if I’ve accidentally made a wrong turn as I walk up what appears to be a private driveway searching for the lamp shop signposted on the street. But as I tentatively open the front door, there’s no mistaking I’ve arrived at the right place.
There’s barely an inch of space in this workshop and showroom that is not taken up by an old oil or kerosene lamp of some sort. Hanging from the ceilings, jostling for space on a series of tables, crammed side by side on shelves lining every wall are lamps – in some instances dating back centuries.
The Original Lamp Shop owner Robert Aernout ran an antiques shop for years before a bloke came in with something that intrigued him.
“He had an English 1880s wall lamp that he wanted to sell. It was expensive at that time – it was 28 years ago – and I sold it. I should never have sold that lamp,” says Robert.
He began studying lamps and his interest grew, so much so that the lamps eventually edged out all the other antiques and became Robert’s sole focus.
“But they have to be original,” Robert explains.
“I don’t sell reproductions. I’m the only one in the country who sells original oil lamps.”
Robert has antique lamps from France, Japan, America and England. While he once travelled and sourced them himself, he now relies on an antique collector friend to spot rare gems while overseas. He sends Robert a photo and information on a potential purchase, and Robert gives a yes or no.
Alongside hanging lamps featuring multiple burners, colourful glass shades and table and banquet lamps with ornate bases and etched glass tops are some incredibly rare items that Robert will never part with, including crudely fashioned specimens dating back to Roman times.
“People get a bit of a surprise when they come in,” Dutch Indonesian-born Robert says. “They’re not expecting this many lamps. It’s the largest collection in the country and I also sell the spare parts – everything you need for oil lamps, more or less. I have customers who come here from all around Australia. One man from Perth came in a rental car. He left with three hanging lamps, and made my income shoot right up. It was fantastic.”
Vetro e Metallo (V+M)
Wendy Hoy is the perfect ambassador for the exquisite metal jewellery and glassware. She and her husband Anthony fashion in the workshop behind their store, Vetro e Metallo (V+M), on Wallace Street.
A tumble of dramatic pieces – beads and chains featuring handcrafted miniature hands, hearts and discs – hangs around her neck, blending to create a seamless look. On her wrists are bangles and bracelets made of copper and other metals, all recycled and repurposed for a second life.
Taped to the front desk at V+M is a sign that reads “Intentionally understated salvage-sourced adornment” and while I’m not so sure about the understated, what can’t be disputed is that the metals and Murano glassware used in the pieces at V+M have been rescued and repurposed. The V&M collection is handcrafted on the premises and every item comes with a certificate of authenticity and a lifetime guarantee.
Last month, the Hoys moved customer sales out of their workshop and into this airy space fronting Wallace Street, where bangles and bracelets, pendants, rings, cufflinks, and cuffs and scarf ties are arranged across a series of tables.
V&M also does custom pieces, and copper bracelets said to ease ailments, including arthritic pain.
I watch as Wendy arranges some distinctive copper and brass pendants on the front desk. The copper was salvaged from the roof of the Church of St Mary Magdalene in Rose Bay, Sydney.
“There’s 110 years of patina on it,” she tells me. “All the copper and brass we use in our jewellery once had an industrial purpose. It’s all about recycling and making things locally. People want that more. They want quality and things that tell a story.”
Jane Kendall is quietly knitting at the front desk in her vintage store just off Wallace Street.
It’s near the end of the day and she’s making French linen string bags to add to the homewares, decorative items and furniture that attract customers from Canberra and beyond.
Had COVID-19 not ruined everybody’s plans, Jane might well be in France now, either sourcing pieces for the Braidwood shop (and her outlets in Dirty Janes in Bowral and Canberra) or operating one of her Stringalong France tours in which she and her husband Gary introduce small groups to the delights of Toulouse, where they own a second home.
“We normally spend time in France at the small markets to buy things for the shop and ship them back to Australia, but we’ve had to pivot,” she explains.
“We’re buying more at auctions, through private buyers and some importers.”
Jane says there is no particular period or genre that pieces in her store must fit into. She and Gary look for items that are versatile, well designed and well made. French linens, antique scales, vases and European furniture share space with old-style mixing bowls and candle holders, mirrors, soaps and antique books at Gravitas.
A year ago, the Kendalls moved into this space after 12 years running their antiques and vintage French linen business, Longbarn and String, from a heritage property in nearby Ryrie Street.
“We downsized and opened the new shop, and then the bushfires happened. It was awful,” says Jane. “We were cut off from everywhere, and the skies were orange. But we’re still here, and we’ll remain here … we’re just evolving.”
Altenburg & Co
Cecile Galiazzo doesn’t have a lengthy history in retail, but that didn’t stop her jumping at the chance to take over Altenburg & Co giftware store in a grand historic building on Braidwood’s main street when it came on the market. What she loved about the space was that it had been run as a gallery for many years.
“I’m an artist, and I wanted to keep the gallery going because it has been the heart of Braidwood for a long time,” says Cecile. Former gallery owner Christophe Altenburg was a friend and mentor, Cecile adds, so it was partially an emotional purchase, but “the beauty of the building was a natural drawcard”.
True to her word, Cecile has kept the gallery going, with two rooms to the rear of the gift store displaying works from local artists.
“I’m always looking for local makers and want to support artisans in the area,” she says.
Cecile’s exhibition program is fully booked for 2021, but there’s still room for more local pieces in the gift shop, which stocks items including pretty purses made by Braidwood’s Bursaria Workshop, tea towels and cards featuring Australian birdlife by Victorian printmaker Bridget Farmer, and miniature glass wombats from Canberra based glassmaker Luna Ryan.
RedPeg Eco Studio, a custom jeweller from the NSW South Coast, also has rings and earrings on display. The appealing inventory is rounded out with children’s books and art and craft supplies (to encourage those young up and comers, presumably), as well as a lovely selection of clothing.
For more ideas to explore the Treasure Trail – Braidwood, Bungendore & Queanbeyan – see visitqueanbeyanpalerang.com.au.