Discover Your Own Backyard

This article was first published by Onya Magazine on 6th April 2013


We often find ourselves travelling far and wide in search of the best places to shop and eat – but are we giving our own local area a chance? If the recent ‘Discover Your Own Backyard’ campaign is anything to go by, then we needn’t look much further than what’s just down our garden path.

Launched in 2011, the Discover Your Own Backyard (DYOB) campaign is a collaboration between Destination Melbourne and local councils, designed to educate both residents and visitors of all the great attractions in their local neighbourhood.

Stonnington is a city well regarded as one of Melbourne’s most fashionable. With Chapel Street, High Street and the Prahan market all in its boundaries, it’s no surprise that it’s home to many shopping and foodie gems. Inspired by a YouTube video in which local residents share their favourite haunts, I’m about to discover a few of them on a DYOB tour of Stonnington

Our adventure starts in Armadale, outside the Lisa Barron store, where we meet Sarah Kempson – Onya Magazine’s very own fashion editor – who will be taking us around today.

Once everyone has arrived, we head into Lisa Barron – to be greeted at the door by Lisa herself. The shop is long and narrow, each side lined with long rails filled with her designs. We’re lead upstairs through the workshop and office and into the beautifully open space of Lisa’s studio. Sketches and promotional posters from various past collections decorate the walls, all marks of the achievements of the label which this year celebrates its 30th anniversary. It’s no small achievement, Lisa points out – it’s rare in this industry for a label to remain independent for so long. She recounts the story of her young 21 year-old-self arriving in Melbourne from Perth with only $500 in her pocket and a portable sewing machine, in the hope of becoming a designer. Her aesthetics may have changed a bit since then – she started off making outfits for punk bands – partly due to trends, partly commercial pressures, but her latest collection goes back to these roots, rather than designing purely for the market. It’s been a hard couple of years, but the loyalty of her customers have sustained the label during the recent economic instability, Lisa says. Support for local businesses is vital for their survival.

Lisa and one of her interns are wearing the same dress – black with a graphic print of what looks like Paris in autumn. Both look equally fabulous, proof that her attention to cut and fit ensures her clothes flatter a variety of ages and sizes.

We’ve just missed seeing the next collection in the flesh – it was sent off to Queensland yesterday – but a sneak peek at the look-book lying on the table gets me excited. A mixture of striking black and white, bright colours, fifties floral patterns and marble galaxy prints suggest there is much to look forward to.

After saying our goodbyes to Lisa, we arrive at our next destination – House of Orange. It’s a welcoming space, filled with furniture with clean, strong lines and gorgeous homeware. If there was any doubt about what kind of style it is (if you haven’t already guessed from the name) the cute pair of clogs by the door give it away. Everything in the shop is in the distinct Dutch style – strong designs in neutral colours with unexpected bright features. This, the owner explains, is accordance with the way the Dutch like to decorate. By keeping things neutral with accents of colour from a pillow or vase, it’s easier to redecorate by changing accessories when you feel like a change. I take an immediate liking to a gorgeous wooden stool, the bottom of its feet painted a bright neon orange. There are two ranges stocked – the first House of Orange, which is all the big items of furniture, made to order and built in the store’s factory in Prahan. The other is a homeware range from Dutch label HK Living, for whom House of Orange are the only Australian agents. Further in the shop I squeal like a child when I discover a tree house style bunk-bed, and admire a wicker rocking chair in the window and bright coloured twig bird houses suspended from the ceiling. They’re created by a local artist who actually goes into the forest to forage for twigs, before cleaning, painting and shaping them.

Gorgeous homeware continues at Market Import, which is a kitschy kaleidoscope of colour. Plates, cups, crockery, tablecloths, lights and pillows are available in every colour of the rainbow, although my favourite thing are the cute children’s hot-air balloon shaped mobiles that hang from the ceiling.

We move into the Chapel Street Precinct just in time for lunch. From all the walking and shopping, we’ve certainly worked up an appetite, which is immediately increased when we see where we’ll be eating. One look at the menu at the Parlour Diner and seeing the huge burgers other customers are already tucking into, my mind can only concentrate on one thing – which burger to choose!? I end up going for the Dynamite burger – a beef patty topped with tomato, lettuce, cheese, pickles, chipotle and Asian slaw. It’s delicious. We’re told the curly fries are an institution and they certainly don’t disappoint, disappearing fast. One in our group opts for the spare ribs – I’ll have to make a return journey to give those a try.

Stomachs satisfied and almost bursting, it’s time to continue on the journey. We arrive at The Red Balloon and I feel like a kid walking into a candy store. Only this isn’t just any candy store – there are shelves upon shelves filled with sweet jars in all varying flavours and colours. You’re also able to see the sweets being made right in front of you. At the moment they’re making sweets for a baby shower, and it’s amazing to see the process from start to finish. It’s obviously an incredible art – simply by stretching and rolling the sweet they’ve created an image of a cartoon baby’s face inside the sweet, despite it being only a centimetre wide. Pascal, the owner and founder, challenges us to a blind taste testing – which I fail miserably at – but only because the flavours are ones I’ve never tasted before. Orange and chilli, natural honey as well as more traditional flavours melt in the mouth, as well as being incredibly designed. Some look almost too good to eat.

Sugar fix complete, we head to Greville Street to check out some hidden gems. One Point Seven Four has an amazing collection of designer sunglasses that we have fun trying on. I add a few to my wish list, never mind that summer is over! Lunar Store is packed with quirky goodies including a tooth-shaped toothbrush holder, Roald Dahl mugs and soft leather accessories.

A little further down the street, we enter Prahan Market where we are lead to Market Lane Coffee for a coffee demonstration. Their philosophy is simple – they only serve coffee, but put all their time, effort and love into ensuring that it’s the best coffee you’ll ever taste. We’re shown the easiest way to make coffee at home using a filter cone and taste their latest favourite, all the way from Bolivia. They travel far and wide to source the best coffee bean and bring them to Australia, and frequently visit their suppliers worldwide. Free coffee tastings run Fridays and Saturdays from 10am and for keen beans, they also do brewing and roasting classes.

After a quick peruse down Toorak Road in South Yarra, we pop into clothing store Cylk. As well as the gorgeous clothes, including their latest collection ‘Madagascar’, inspired by the formation of crystals and launched at last month’s L’Oreal Melbourne Fashion Festival, my eyes are immediately drawn to the brightly coloured origami art installation hanging round the shop. Part of ‘Art Town’, a public art project and exhibition, they’re designed and made by Maddie and Bec of Studio Two Can, and inspired by the Madagascar collection. The yellow, blue, green full-length jumpsuit immediately goes on my wish list.

We finish off the tour with some drinks and nibbles in luxury at the Lyall Hotel and Spa champagne bar. Everyone has a different favourite place we visited on our Stonnington adventure, as well as spotting a number of others we’re already planning to come back and visit. With such great offerings right on your doorstep, why even bother travelling further than your own backyard?

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