In partnership with our friends, House & Garden magazine and Clarins.

April 29, 2020

We should honour our mothers daily, but in case you’ve fallen off track—pay homage this Mother’s Day with a thoughtful gift she’ll actually appreciate. In a climate where status is increasingly cued by values and purpose in place of price and prestige, we’ve rounded up things that resonate with the modern mother, whatever her age, who is seeking experiences and ethics. From beauty must-haves to cookware, books and chic accessories that will put a pep in her step, check out favourite gift ideas for mum this year. It’s a treasure trove of wonderful gifts that will help spoil your mother.

After all, a mother’s superpowers of patience, comfort, and invaluable advice deserve your gratitude – and pure indulgence.

But first, Melissa and daughter, Isabella talk to House & Garden magazine in association with Clarins, about the secrets and dynamics of working together in ‘Motherhood Statements’. And share their ideas for this year’s Mother’s Day lunch at home.

A relaxed table setting at Melissa’s country house with a few favourite things including Portuguese handmade green cabbageware dinner plates, teapot and cakestand from Pigott’s Store, Photo by Kristina Šoljo

Melissa, you and Isabella work together on your fabulous website Tell us a little bit about your background, your love of interiors and how you ended up working together?

MP: At 20 – with an Arts degree majoring in Communications and Journalism – I commenced my career with a work experience stint at Australian House & Garden magazine. I was offered a job two weeks later and have been writing and raving about decorating, design, entertaining and gardens ever since.  At 25 I became Belle magazine’s interior design editor. In 1996 I was headhunted by The Sydney Morning Herald to help start its Domain section and launch my cult shopping columns, which I wrote for almost two decades. Two best-selling books and a mass-reaching digital platform, later – I still love what I do, every day.  

What excites me is great design creates great moods.

Of course you want your home to look good but the way it makes you feel is just as important. Everything that surrounds you affects you. Home is where the heart is and a beautiful home boosts your happiness and confidence. Isabella and I have always been close, share a great love of beauty, so it felt like a natural progression when my business started to grow for her to come on board. It’s been the best decision imaginable; especially since I come from a family business background – my father chaired and managed the renowned two century old Australian WC Penfold & Co stationery and retail business for 50 years. He thought it was an excellent idea Isabella and I worked together. 

IWS: It was always our dream to work together. I have a background in fashion, then about four years ago I left the fashion world to join Mum’s growing business and everything fell into place. I have been like a sponge since the cradle so I have an inherent understanding and appreciation of the interior world. Working for my Mum has been the best career move I have ever made, she is the ultimate encyclopedia for all things interior and style. I have learned so much.

Isabella and Melissa at home in the country. Photo by Kristina Šoljo; styling Kate Nixon.

Isabella, what’s the greatest piece of advice your mother has given you?

IWS: Show simple kindness and consideration to everyone. It really means having good manners, being easy in your own skin and making everyone else easy in theirs.

Oh, and a little bit of glamour never goes astray!

Do you influence each other’s style decisions in home and fashion?

MP: We have similar style ideas in the home and like effortlessly elegant spaces that encourage you to live in the moment which I think is what we are moving towards. In fashion, Isabella tells me when a dress is wrong, or I’ve gone overboard with my tan (or makeup).

IWS: Of course, my Mum totally influences me. I still wear all her clothes from the ’90s! She is also the only person I will seek advice from for interior queries and fashion advice. I don’t trust anyone else! 

Do you find working together easy and do you have separate roles and if so what are they?

MP: It’s a recipe that works. Nothing ever comes between us. I’m free to immerse myself in the creative side and build relationships while Isabella is the true business-builder – also providing support and protection for our vision. The market is going to continue to get younger – Isabella helps us keep them engaged. She is one of the best I’ve worked with; she has that rare combo of an impeccable design eye with high style expectations and makes decisions fast, so we remain agile. 

IWS: Yes. My Mum is definitely the best boss I have ever had. She is a hard taskmaster and doesn’t mind pulling the boss card at 7 pm on a Sunday either!

She is constantly ‘on’ and has more energy than anyone I know.

But we know how to differentiate between Mother and Daughter and employer and employee. I run everything behind the scenes, business wise from admin to the website to client relationships to styling. 

Lunch at Melissa’s country house with Portuguese handmade tableware from Pigott’s store,, Bowen Island apple pie from Harris Farm Market, hydrangeas and boston ivy from the garden. Photo by Kristina Šoljo

Your e-letters and website are such a great read and the distinctive Melissa Penfold voice and humour always shines through – do you have fun working collaboratively on story ideas?

MP: A LOT of fun…we are both naturally creative; so constantly bounce ideas together. No story runs without Isabella’s approval. She reads everything to make sure it strikes the right note. I can rate how good an idea is by the enthusiasm in her voice.

A piercing “yes” means it will be a success. A ‘no’ means we leave it.

We also build time for mind wandering into our daily routines which is when we come up with some of our best story ideas, fresh insights and incubate new approaches. These often come at off-peak times of day.

IWS: Yes we sure do. We are constantly sending each other ideas around the clock via DMs, emails, voice notes, and texts. We are fortunate the well never runs dry for story ideas. 

Isabella and Melissa pictured at their country house in Australia’s Southern Highlands. Photo by Kristina Šoljo; styling Kate Nixon.

What does a regular day at the office (if there is one) look like for you?

MP: The one thing that stays consistent is that lunch out is not part of our day. It slows down the pace and ruins the rhythm of the day. Lunch is eaten at the desk. First we go through priorities. I am list obsessed. Then I’ll check emails. I like to do things quickly. Writing is done early in the mornings between 9am and noon. We handpick and look at everything. I don’t write from press releases. We seek out exclusives, first looks, and insider information.

 We increasingly use Zoom video meetings to connect with people from New York to Sydney and Melbourne – where we will decide on directions for clients and brand collaborations; it’s a mixed bag, which keeps it lively. 

IWS: If we are working remotely we check in first thing in the morning and go over priorities for the day. Much like most creatives, no day is ever the same and we are constantly on the move. Running around to check in on clients, sourcing the latest furniture, homewares and materials and attending various photoshoots is usually on our to do list.  

What are your favourite decorative pieces for home and office?

IWS: Coffee table books, a pair of foo dogs and Jo Malone candles. 

MP: Foliage – it’s the cheapest and chicest décor accessory around. Books are central to any room – use them like works of art. 

Melissa pictured at her country house in Australia’s Southern Highlands. Photo by Kristina Šoljo; styling Kate Nixon.

What does 2020 have in store for you?

MP: Continuing to inspire people – this year it will be about slowing down, getting back to basics, being satisfied with less, entertaining among close friends or family, and learning to become increasingly self-sufficient and mindful.

Rejecting the commercial volcano of consumption to enjoy more humble aspirations. Shopping our homes for things. And striving to make our homes increasingly become places that encourage mindfulness and foster wellbeing.

IWS: We were off to South Africa for a fabulous collaborative trip with an exciting client however Covid-19 has put a temporary hold on that. So watch this space. 

Melissa’s country house. Photo by Kristina Šoljo

What will you be doing for Mother’s Day?

MP: I love Mother’s Day as it’s a chance to slow down, and celebrate with my beloved family for a leisurely day that starts with drinks and tea in the garden, followed by a relaxed, fireside lunch at our country house in the Southern Highlands.

IWS: A gorgeous lunch in the country. My Mum’s birthday falls around Mother’s Day too so it’s always a big celebration. And for such an iconic Mum we always celebrate in style! 

Melissa’s country house. Photo by Kristina Šoljo; styling Kate Nixon.

Fifteen things you would love to buy right now and would be perfect Mother’s Day gifts for the home and person:


IWS: ‘Inside Tangier Houses and Gardens’ By Nicolò Castellini Baldissera, (Vendome Press), $79.90,

MP:  ‘Near & Far: Interiors I love’ by Lisa Fine, photography by Miguel Flores-Vianna, (Vendome Press), $70.35,


IWS: A potted cyclamen, it’s our Mother’s Day tradition.  

MP:   Anything seasonal and abundant from the garden: such as a posy of rambling roses.


IWS: We always have our eye on Lawsons Auctioneers Fine Art Sales,

MP:  Camie Lyons, currently showing at Australian Galleries,


IWS: Anything from Wedgwood, classic pieces that never go out of style,

MP: Portuguese Cabbageware dinnerware from Pigotts Store. It’s been my everyday china for 15 years; and makes the ideal gift,


IWS: Bee glassware from The Bay Tree,

MP: Clear glass basics in classic shapes from Ikea,


IWS: An Antique Silk Kashmir Rug from Cadry’s,

MP: Cadrys anything,

Kitchen accoutrements:

IWS: Laguiole cutlery 24pc set $229.95,

MP: Le Crueset shallow casserole pan, $495. Great for late night omelettes and quick cook ups –  the French staple is used more than any other cookware item in our kitchen,


IWS: Ralph Lauren Westbury Table Lamp, $1990, from Palmer and Penn, 

MP:  Table lamps from Sue Riley Collection, 


IWS: I love all the baskets from Orient House because they are all so unique,

MP: Ditto. 


IWS: Balredo ‘Bal D’Afrique Eau De Parfum 50ml, $226, from

MP: Jo Malone London Myrrh and Tonka Cologne, 50ml, $175. Trust a British brand to understand the idea of restraint,


IWS: A tennis bracelet!

MP: Chanel costume pearls – the pieces that separate the women from the girls.  I have some that hang to my hips, bought in Rome by my husband many years ago – I wear them almost daily,


IWS: Clarin’s Extra firming neck and decollete, $112,

MP: My mother taught me from a young age to invest in a skincare regimen. One of my all-time favourite products is Clarin’s Double Serum which delivers a beautiful glow and works on top or under foundation, $149,


IWS: The latest AirPods Pro, $399,

MP: A new Macbook Pro Laptop in slate grey, $1999,

Fashion accessories:

IWS: Bottega Veneta gold and red aviators, $440,

MP: Women can look like the queen on corgi patrol with a scarf of any kind.  You won’t go wrong with  chic sunglasses by a top brand like Celine.


IWS: Panthere De Cartier Watch in Gold, $29,800. A girl can dream!

MP: I’m not a watch girl. If I was, I’d go for a man’s design – I can’t stand dainty little designs. Probably something decent by Jaeger Le Coutier,

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