Category Archives: Inspiring Lives

An Artist’s Studio On A Greek Island

matthew usmar walkswithdogs, lesvos greece, artist studio greek island, carla coulson, wooden boat, greece, claire lloyd, rescue dogs

All photos taken on the island of Lesvos copyright Carla Coulson 

I had the pleasure of visiting the beautiful Greek Island of Lesvos last year to catch up with friends Matthew Usmar Lauder and Claire Lloyd.

This creative couple left London a couple of years ago to live on a Greek Island…. Just writing those words sends shivers to all sorts of weird places!

I had the luxury to peak into their lives and drool a little!  As a creative I have always dreamed of a beautiful space to work in so when I saw Matthew’s studio I was doing cartwheels.

Matthew has been an artist his whole life and he generously opened his studio to me to take some pics and poke around.  It was such a joyful, beautiful, creative space I wanted to share it with you.

Matthew has also generously shared a little of his life, art and loves for all of us to get inspired in 2015

matthew usmar walkswithdogs, lesvos greece, artist studio greek island, carla coulson, wooden boat, greece, claire lloyd, rescue dogs

Tell us a little about your background and life as an artist?

I grew up in a hippy artistic family, in fact for the first two years of my life my name was ‘Moonfrog’. I’m so pleased they decided to call me Matthew, otherwise the school playground would’ve been hell. I was encouraged to draw and paint as a child and was taken to radical art shows and 1970’s ‘happenings’. Of course I didn’t know what was happening but I was intensely interested in it all.

I got my BA and MA at art school and ended up becoming a ‘Scenic Artist’ at the Royal National theatre, eventually through hard work, enthusiasm and luck, becoming the head of department and running the place at the age of 24.

I went ‘freelance’ and after 20 years of working in commercial studios and around the world I yearned to have my own studio and be an artist like I always planned. I would find myself painting these huge backdrops and fantasise that the paint and canvas was mine to do with as I pleased…

I was picked up by a very cutting edge contemporary gallery called ‘Mobile Home’, had a one man show and got great reviews. I set up studio in Hackney and went almost everyday for eight years, getting much out of my system that had been backed up, following any idea or tangent I desired. It was beyond cathartic.

matthew usmar walkswithdogs, lesvos greece, artist studio greek island, carla coulson, wooden boat, greece, claire lloyd, rescue dogs

Were you visually attuned at a young age?

I only ever wanted to draw, I showed little sign of capability in any academic sense and had no interest in school except for art.  Every report card read, ‘easily distracted, could do better’. However I did have to work exceptionally hard to become technically proficient in both draughtsmanship and painting. I knew what I wanted, I saw what excited me and I realised that I had a terrific amount to learn.

matthew usmar walkswithdogs, lesvos greece, artist studio greek island, carla coulson, wooden boat, greece, claire lloyd, rescue dogs

Any mentors or favourite artists?

The list is endless, many, many, but two stand out…

One week before I was about to take my ‘O level’ art exam I suddenly panicked that I’d never really painted a ‘formal’ painting. My wonderful mother, and terrific painter, walked me round to the local railway station with a canvas and paints and we painted a picture together. In that hour she taught me about paint, tonal value, colour mixing and composition.

A year later, aged 15, I was determined to get my drawing skills up to speed. I turned up at the local ‘adult education centre’ to try ‘life drawing’. I was painfully shy in those days and was truly overwhelmed at the sight of a naked woman. I stood behind my easel my face glowing red with fear and awkwardness, scratching away with a stick of charcoal.

How has living on a Greek Island influenced your art?

Everything seems to play a role in influencing me it seems. The island initially gave me much needed escape from the city of London. It afforded me retrospective objectivity, especially about the commercial art world about which I had become pretty jaded and cynical.

Then it was the island beauty that inspired me. I used to visit southern Spain every year with my mate Marcus to find and paint the wild landscape I had always dreamed of, as the English countryside has always somehow disappointment me.

I’ve always had a fantasy dream job, to be a ‘Magnum’ photographer, like some might like to play the trumpet like Miles Davis, impossible but never the less a lovely thought… (I would also like to play the trumpet like Miles Davis…). Lesvos has encouraged me to peruse my passion for photography, presenting a literally endless amount of inspiration and subject matter.

This is a place to be creative, it is peaceful, beautiful and the television was left in London.

fish artwork, matthew usmar lauder, painting on found object, artist greek island, carla coulson

You are currently painting on found objects is this your preferred medium? 

I freely admit to being a tip-rat and scavenger, it comes, initially, from being quite poor as a child and having to make or find things we or I required.

With art materials it eventually became my choice, painting on an old characterful piece of wood is much more interesting, sometimes, than a sterile rectangle of white canvas.

You have opened a small studio in the heart of your local village, what has this brought to the village?

Most people in the village haven’t the faintest idea just what it is I do in my studio and indeed what my studio is… ( including me at times). Some think it a shop, others a museum to house the spoils of my obsessive digging through the village landfill or dustbins. Locals have actually started bringing me old things to add to my collection – (something I certainly encourage…).

When I first set it up one summer I left the doors open, I knew people were curious and I figured let them get it out of their system… And in they certainly came, one old guy, George, helpfully suggested I add a hand rail for the elderly to climb the steep stars to my painting room.

Later in the winter I had to fit a wood burning stove to keep away the cold and damp. As I was installing it I idly decided to take a head count of passers by who had decided to offer comment, suggestions or just plain watch. There was eight men, three dogs and two big local tomcats, all crammed into what really is a tiny room.

claire lloyd, matthew usmar lauder, lesvos, greek islands, artist studio greek island, blue,

When you and your partner Claire Lloyd moved to Lesvos you turned your hand to creating furniture for your home? Was this a challenge for you or just an extension of being an artist?

A massive challenge I’ll admit… I only suggested I make the first one because some local carpenter had seen us coming, tried his luck and quoted a total fortune. Claire took me at my word.

I had failed even ‘woodwork’ at school, the class being literally a collection pen for hardened thugs and students regarded as ‘remedial’ (myself included).

I simply wasn’t interested at that point, I didn’t have the need or desire for a pine made train or tea tray… or how to make them.

So the first cupboard took me ages, (half a year to be precise). I eventually got a little better as the demand from Claire went into spectacular overdrive.

My woodwork suits the environment in that it could only really be described as ‘rustic’, but I am very happy with our bed and large table that I made, both of which I was utterly convinced I was not capable of completing.

matthew usmar lauder, original oil painting, aegean sea, blue, greece, greek island, artist

Aegean Sea by Matthew Usmar Lauder

What’s the best thing about being an artist?

I think creativity is one of humankind’s greatest achievements, (the other, I  feel, is compassion). I would say we are all creative in one way or another and could all be artists if we applied ourselves. I’m lucky that I have been able to work utilising my own skills and I’m very happy and fortunate that I now have a language in which I feel I can, at best, eloquently express myself and my ideas.

matthew usmar walkswithdogs, lesvos greece, artist studio greek island, carla coulson, wooden boat, greece, claire lloyd, rescue dogs

You and Claire rescue and re-home cats and dogs.. what has this brought to your life?

Rescuing, rehabilitating and re-homing dogs and cats has given me the greatest feeling of having done something worthwhile. I worked as a volunteer at the island’s wildlife sanctuary for a year and a half so I could contribute, but also because I could get to see and perhaps help some of the island’s beautiful animals. There is come catching up to do in many parts of the word regarding the treatment of our fellow creatures.

matthew usmar walkswithdogs, lesvos greece, artist studio greek island, carla coulson, wooden boat, greece, claire lloyd, rescue dogs

All photos taken on the island of Lesvos copyright Carla Coulson 

Tell us 5 great things about living on a Greek Island..

1. Finding a real community and understanding its worth.

2. The beauty and abundance of the landscape and wildlife.

3. My involvement with the wildlife, volunteering at the islands wildlife sanctuary, rescuing and finding homes and love for cats and dogs and trying to positively educate people with a sometimes old fashioned and negative view of their fellow creatures.

4. Being able to wander down the street with an extraordinary hat on and people accepting me or even going so far as to compliment me on my choice…

5. Peace and quiet… the place just makes you relax.

A huge thank-you to Matthew for sharing his beautiful studio and a little of his life with us.

Matthew has a beautiful piece of work available for sale here and you can check out his website and more of his art here.

The lovely Claire (who you want as your best buddy she is so cute) is also an inspiring photographer who wrote My Greek Island Home. There is a lovely interview with Claire here and if you fancy test driving ‘leaving your life ‘ for a Greek Island this gorgeous couple have a guesthouse to rent here.

For more Greek Island inspiration click here.

“The secret to so many artists living so long is that every painting is a new adventure. So, you see, they’re always looking ahead to something new and exciting. The secret is not to look back.” Norman Rockwell




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Inspiring Lives – Debra Cronin

Debra Cronin

Debra Cronin

A stylist friend of mine uncovered the fabulous house of Debra Cronin when I was searching for a special location for my Picture This Workshop. The house was everything and more I was looking for to create a unique shooting experience and the bonus was the lovely Debra.

Debra, I found out had an inspiring story and had done the reverse of me, given up Europe for Sydney.. She has kindly offered to share some of her thoughts on art, fashion, design and living an inspiring life.

Over to Deb..

 From makeup artist in London to interior designer in Sydney…….what prompted the location and career change?

I worked as a make up artist for 10 years from the mid ‘90s to the mid noughties, and although I was based in London my work took me all over the world, travelling with high profile clients as well as working at the fashion shows across Europe, including Milan and Paris.  I had a fabulous time during those years but I just got to a stage where I felt I’d been lucky enough to reach to the pinnacle of that industry and it was time both for a change and to return to Australia. I chose Sydney as my new home and took on the challenge of finding a new career.  Whilst in London I had bought several apartments to renovate and sell on, just for fun (!) and it was actually a friend of mine who had admired my flair for decorating and suggested I turn my hobbie into a business.

Debra Cronin David Woolley Elle Decoration

Elle Decoration Copyright David Woolley

Your eclectic style is extraordinary did you retrain as an interior designer, or has this been a life long passion and comes naturally?

My interest in interiors has definitely been a life long passion and I have always had a love of kooky, unusual pieces in unexpected places. Once back in Sydney I completed a couple of Diplomas in design and colour, but even then, my style was out of the ordinary and looked very different to the work my classmates were presenting!

Previously  working as a makeup artist with fashion on fabulous locations has this given you  a grounding to draw on for your interiors projects.

Working around Europe was truly inspirational; there is so much history and numerous different styles to draw on from the many different cultures located on that continent. Every modern city or quaint village had something exciting to see.

What is your interiors philosophy and how does this reflect your lifestyle?

Easy, relaxed, stylish, fun, kooky; that’s my lifestyle and my interiors philosophy in a nutshell.

Debra Cronin David Woolley Elle Decoration

Elle Decoration Copyright David Woolley

Who is your favourite design icon past or present?

Vivienne Westwood is fabulous. Her style is always contemporary and edgey, yet combined with exquisite, classic tailoring.

Moving to Australia what do you find inspires you most that you did not find in London?

The sun!

Quote that you live by?

Rules are made to be broken, as many times as possible in one day!

You have revamped a completely rundown 3 story Woollahra terrace into your home and business, what was your family/friends reaction when you told them about this ‘small’ project?

My family and friends thought I was absolutely bonkers to take on a project of this magnitude, and even more so to celebrate it’s state of deterioration by keeping the torn-away layers of various wallpapers, crumbling walls, exposed and uneven floor boards.  It all adds to the story of the house and it’s charm.

Apart from being used for Vogue fashion shoots, product launches and numerous other functions, you host with great success ‘Bite Club’ sounds fascinating, tell us a little about it and what could I expect being invited to a BC dinner?

The idea is to dine in a unique environment; with exceptional food, private staff, enveloped in an atmospheric and eclectic interior. From the moment you step in through the front door you’re greeted with drinks in the drawing room with its grand piano and wall of taxidermy and curios. Dinner is then served in the dining room at an oversized antique table seating 14, under a custom made ‘decantelier’, with the adjoining kitchen, from where the chef creates culinary magic, and garden room leading out to the courtyard herb garden, complete with antique, French fountain and it’s 5 golden inhabitants (Goldfish!).

Debra Cronin David Woolley Elle Decoration

Elle Decoration Copyright David Woolley

How would you describe the style of the terrace?

It has been described beautifully for me by a journalist as ‘Addams Family meets Alice In Wonderland’. I need say no more!

Your original vision for the terrace did it change along the way?

In essence, the uses for each room have remained the way I envisaged them. However, over the years the decor has evolved and developed in small ways as I’m constantly finding auction house treasures that I can’t help but bid for, which means I re-organise and restyle a room in order to fit the new pieces in!

If you were to do it all over again, is there anything you would change?


Debra Cronin David Woolley Elle Decoration

 Elle Decoration Copyright David Woolley

Was there a ‘Panic Button’ moment where you thought Debra, Debra, Debra what are you doing?

Yes! Right at the point of parting with a very large sum in order to install the industrial kitchen. However, it was only momentary and I’m not one for regrets so I pressed on and luckily it has all paid off tenfold!

What is the best lesson you have learnt from following your heart?

Making big decisions based on natural instincts can be scarey, but I’ve learned to trust them because they’ve always been right.

Knowing you are an avid collector (this could be a hard one) what is your favorite item in your home and why?

My gorgeous groodles

HOUSE_Sydney-7 Elle Decoration Copyright David Woolley

From where do you draw inspiration for your interiors projects?

Primarily from my clients’ personalities, aspirations and loves, then from my constant research, travel and previous experience.

What is the hardest lesson in business you’ve ever learned?

There’s so much more involved in business than I had anticipated.  Accounting, marketing, business generation, etc. I’ve been forced to learn every aspect of how to make a business successful but I’m not one to shy away from such a substantial challenge!

Is there something you miss about your former life/career?

It was fantastic whilst I was in the thick of it, particularly the travelling aspect, but I’m so content with my new challenging career that I don’t miss my former life at all.

Debra Cronin David Woolley Elle Decoration

 Elle Decoration Copyright David Woolley

Best advice anyone has ever given you?

The rebellious streak in me doesn’t normally allow me to follow advice (!) but a friend of mine once told me always to follow my heart, which I readily agreed to.

How do you switch off and relax?

Switch off and relax? What’s that?

What has your reward been for switching lives/career so dramatically?

A successful business that I’m so passionate about. I still love every minute of every day.


Elle Decoration Copyright David Woolley

Debra’s Sydney

Go To Design Store

I shop from here, there and everywhere, from ebay, car boot sales, markets, to expensive qntique shops and online stores based overseas.

Easy Eat

Nothing compares to the divine Spice I Am

Glamorous Dinner

Gastro Park

Drink With Style


Fashion Boutique

Belinda Boutiques

Links to Debra’s work

Debra Cronin Design

“I would rather trust a woman’s instinct than a man’s reason.” Stanley Baldwin





PS: This will be one of the fabulous locations where I will hold the Picture This Workshop in January 2014..

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Inspiring Lives – Sally May Mills

Sally May Mills Inspiring Lives

 All photos by Sally May Mills

I have stalked the life of Sally May Mills ever since I came across her beautiful blog on her island life, Remote and Raw and you can too!! I have long dreamed of living on an island so I live this dream vicariously through the beautiful Sally May’s photos..

Sally lives on a remote Indonesian island and generously recounts the joys and difficulties of following her dream.. She also shares at the end of this post a smorgasboard of divine addresses (I am saving these)… Big thanks and hugs to Sally..

Over to Sally..

You split time between Australia and Indonesia, where you have been working on a personal building project. Enlighten us a little on your tropical island paradise?

The island is near West Timor (in eastern Indonesia), and its southern tip is the closest Indonesian land to Australian waters. It has a climate and environment similar to northern Australia, with a short wet season and a long dry. The bush is scrubby and harsh, and grazed heavily by free-range pigs, goats and cattle – very different to the green tangle of foliage and terraced rice fields of Bali.

Getting here from Bali is a two day affair, involving a flight, ferry and bus. This means weekend shopping trips are out of the question, but affords the island a remoteness that we treasure.

Our house is on the beach, beneath coconut palms with uninterrupted views of the lagoon and waves. The three pavilions (living/kitchen, bedroom, shed/toilet) are a study in simple tropical design with an Australian shed aesthetic. The design is lightweight and open, and combines local natural materials (eg. coconut leaf thatch) with corrugated iron. The trade wind can be ferocious in the dry season, and we temper the force with shutters and bamboo blinds. We bathe under a cold water shower shaded by palms.

Sally May Mills Inspiring Lives

View From the House

We are among the founding members of a small expat community, predominantly Australian men over 50. There are only three other long-term female foreigners, and a couple of wives that visit for short stints.  There are no boutiques, no cafes, delis or bakeries; but there is a long left hand reef break, which is the main reason we are here.

Socializing is the central land activity, and tea breaks often span the entire morning. Unexpected visitors are common, as everyone is free from office hours and schedules. This can make it hard to get a few uninterrupted studio hours, however we never pass up the opportunity to put the kettle on. We occasionally meet friends for dinner at the resort, which also has a day spa for indulgent pleasures.

We live on the outskirts of the village and have been warmly welcomed into the community, despite the bewildering fact that we are vegan, voluntarily car free, tv free and, most shockingly child free. The islanders are predominantly Christian – a hangover from former Dutch colonization – and until recently, they were mainly subsistent farmers and fisherman. The introduction of seaweed farming brought an income opportunity for everyone, and consequently we have seen rapid changes. With the cash flow has come an increase in rubbish, proliferation of satellite dishes offering seductive television, and the disappearance of traditional houses – replaced by climatically inappropriate cement block boxes – as a flag of new wealth.

Locals are bilingual, speaking their regional dialect (of which there are seven on the island) and Bahasa Indonesia (the lingua franca throughout the archipelago). English is still a rarity. Even though we speak Bahasa Indonesiathe local language is an indecipherable jumble of vowels, and we miss the effect of being immersed in a culture through language.

beach lines.jpg commuting to the office.JPG garden sculpture in front of bedroom pavilion.JPG ikat drying beside hut.JPG lagoon reflections.JPG late afternoon on the road south.jpg

Ikat drying in the sun

What got you started in your photography career?

I am in awe of photographers who pick up a camera and two years later are shooting for Vogue, or signing their first book contract.  My path has been a quiet evolution, with no hero moment or big break; just many frames, little jobs, freebies and trades that edged me to a position of confidence where I could call myself a photographer.

Choosing voluntary simplicity and a goal free life is not conventional career advice, and despite over ten years behind the lens, I still question if my creative pursuits constitute a career; as measured by the western markers of success.

I received my first camera at the age of ten, and as Dad paid for the developing he would rigorously critique every shot. This judgment began to hone my eye and generate patience, as every frame was precious.  Growing up on a farm, I did not have any artistic role models, and photography was seen as no more than a hobby, consequently my path led to a science degree. Two days after graduation I set off with a backpack and my first SLR, and a wild notion that I could be a travel photographer.

Over many years, and unrelated jobs, photography endured as a passion. Eventually I was able to knit photography into a travel marketing position, and began to build a portfolio of published images. I shot weddings and portraiture for friends, and started a love affair with food photography through my own cooking and hospitality work. Determined to be forever office free and in control of my time, I went freelance in 2007, offering services in marketing, design, photography and writing.

Sally May Mills Inspiring Lives

Sally May Mills

What do you love about waking up each day as a photographer?

I don’t have to go to an air-conditioned box and spend my day ruled by someone else’s whims and schedule. Seeing the world as a photographer heightens awareness of my surroundings, and I am grateful that I am able to record and share simple moments of my life.

What would be your dream photographic job?

An editorial spread with Australian Gourmet Traveller, or an assignment for National Geographic. Please call.

If you could travel anywhere to photograph, where would you land?

A circuit of the Mediterranean coast would satiate my desires for food, architecture, landscape, colour, culture and beauty.

Who do you look to for inspiration for your photography?

I absorb images from Instagram, blogs, Pinterest, and magazines. Unfortunately these sources are severely hindered by our island’s painful internet speed and the absence of a postal system.  I love to see the freedom in children’s photos, and never tire of looking at food and lifestyle photography. My favourite shooters of the moment are Jen Causey, Chantelle Grady, Marte Marie Forsburg, Alice Gao, and of course, the inspiring Carla Coulson.

Sally May Mills Inspiring Lives


Taking time out last year to travel solo through Europe must have been a recharge for the photographic senses. Whilst there you took a photography course – where and how was the course?

My first trip to Italy was everything I had dreamt of, and provided creative injection with every espresso. The contrast from Indonesia to Sicily energized every cell, and I sprouted words and pictures furiously. Any new environment is fuel for the shutter finger, especially one as beguiling as Italy.

I attended the International Summer Academy of Fine Art in Venice for three weeks, completing master classes in photography, painting and sculpture.  It instilled renewed confidence in my photography, and I gained a stock of new artistic skills. The experience was marred only by a persistent heat wave, which I attempted to relieve with liberal scoops of gelato. The art school culminated in an exhibition and I was thrilled to have a friend from Australia present at the opening.

Sally May Mills Inspiring LIves

Reflection on the bay

What are some words that you live by?

I have a tendency to live in the future, absorbed by plans and ideas, so my mantra is “be here now.”  When I am questioning the purpose of it all, struggling with the reality of the moment, I have to remember that “peace is at every step” and “what other people think of me is none of my business.”

Memorable career moment?

Being an official photographer for the Ubud Writers and Readers Festival in Bali for the past two years.

Sally May Mills Inspiring LIves

The local well

Life on a remote tropical island sounds so cool…any (or many) hiccups along the way (or daily)?

There is a book’s worth of obstacles, challenges and mistakes we (and the other expats) have overcome, however they are part of the attraction of life in a remote area of the developing world.

In the early years we lived in family homestay, with three meals per day and no housework. There was little privacy and I struggled to find purpose in my day. Then we started building, and for three seasons, I had more purpose than I wanted, living like a pioneer woman in a bikini. We were without power, running water, a kitchen, or furniture. We pulled water from our well, cooked on an open fire and lit our nights with headlamps and candles. Vegetables wouldn’t stay fresh without refrigeration, and I longed for a cold drink. If I wanted a cup of tea, it meant I had to gather wood, light the fire and haul the water; and by then I would be hot and dirty and over the idea.

The most serious incident was Tom’s near death with cerebral malaria. Thanks to excellent medical support from our local doctor and the specialist tropical medicine, I was able to nurse him back to full strength without him leaving our bed.

Prior to 2007 there was no communication – no phone, email or post – and I felt very isolated.  The introduction of the phone tower was a revolutionary shift in our ability to connect with home, manage basic tasks such as banking, and to continue freelance work throughout the year. The internet speed is a daily frustration and it can take three hours to write one blog post or complete a simple online transaction. However, it enables me to stay for long periods without having a social breakdown.

Over three years of building we traced the evolution of society, from the cave to the present day. Every small step was monumental, and a gas stove, water tank, fridge, furniture and a flushing toilet now afford us relative luxury. Town electricity is provided at night, and we have a shared generator that we crank up for building projects and emergency smoothies.

These days, the struggles come mainly from within. Exempt from the usual stressors of western society, I am acutely aware that discontent arises within my own mind. Unhelpful thoughts still find their way to paradise and I have bouts of guilt, questions of purpose, and mild identity crises that overshadow the sheer joy of the moment.  The lack of stimulation and external structure can be very de-energizing, and while I have ample time for projects, I often lack the resources required to pursue them.

Sally May Mils Inspiring Lives

The local fresh food market

I am thinking palm trees, hammocks, crystal clear water and I am ready to pack my bags and move…what do you love most about this life?

You have the vision splendid, minus the hammock – they are overrated and make me seasick. I’m a sarong-on-the-sand kind of girl.

Other than the obvious passion I have for the sun, beach and ocean, I love spending every day with my husband, in a lifestyle congruent to our shared values. We treasure the simplicity and the freedom to create our days. Our situation evokes an awareness and appreciation for the basics, and I am grateful for the opportunity to tread lightly on the earth.

I cherish outdoor living and being in touch with nature – seeing the changing phase of the moon, marking time by the tide, and sensing every change of wind direction and temperature on my skin.

I love being part of a community where relationships are paramount, where no one asks – or cares – if you are busy, and there are no external expectations.

And I love never having to wear much more than a bikini.

Sally May Mills Inspiring Lives

Sally’s gorgeous hubby

Island food?

It is certainly not a gourmet destination. The local cuisine is bland and uninspiring, based on boiled rice, chilli and MSG. We are vegans that follow a mainly raw, high fruit diet. The weekly market is our source of fresh produce, with a selection of organic vegetables, rice, tofu, tempeh and pulses from the island. There is one main shop in the village that stocks processed packaged items like instant noodles and biscuits.

Fruit is limited to bananas and papaya, with mangoes making a thrilling addition come October. All of our fruit is organic and home delivered on foot from the village gardens. I have a small patch where I attempt to grow herbs and salad greens, against the forces of hermit crabs, ants, salt and heat. We picked our first papaya this season, but otherwise I am doing a fine line in bonsai mizuna and rocket. Despite living in a coconut grove, we don’t utilize many, as we can’t climb the damn trees. We requires the agile skill of a passing local to climb up on our behalf.

Our inbound luggage is a finely measured stock of goodies. Our main imports are rolled oats, dates and almonds, with a few packets of chickpeas, lentils and blocks of Lindt dark chocolate rationed for special occasions.  Our idea of an indulgence is “fruit with bits”, where the rudimentary island two-fruits are spunked up with chopped dates and a sprinkle of oats.

I love to bake, but don’t have an oven, so I have learnt to make steamed cakes and stove top treats, with the occasional camp oven bread in a beach bonfire. There is a pizza oven in the making, which will expand my repertoire.

Sunday is the gustatory highlight of the week, as the power continues through to 2pm for church activities, and we can indulge in spontaneous smoothies.

Sally May Mills Inspiring Lives

Where do you call home in Australia? What inspires you to return?

We hang on through the humid build-up to the wet season, then when the onshore winds begin to batter our beach and turn the wave to slop, we return to the hot, dry summer in Busselton. Located near Margaret River, in the south-west of Western Australia, it is picturesque, has great beaches, and is home to both our families. After eight months I welcome the change of environment and an increase in external stimuli; my senses are charged by the grey-green Aussie bush, warbling magpies, soy lattes, and stone-fruit. We go out daily for coffee, visit friends, and celebrate Christmas, then stay until early autumn, when I delight in cool mornings and new season apples.

Sally May Mills Inspiring Lives  Coffee Bali

What was the moment of clarity to you wanting to purchase your tropical island land?

Tom first visited the island in 1996 and was smitten. We got together in 1999 and it was clear that the surf lifestyle and Indonesia were part of the package. In 2003, when the first foreigner built a house and moved out of the homestay environment, I knew that having our own place was a way to manage longer stays; but the exact process was obscure.

The opportunity came while surfing with an Indonesian friend. She asked if I could help – she had bought land on behalf of another Australian and the deal had fallen through – would we be interested?

It was the fastest paddle back to shore in my life.

Any words of wisdom to people reading and wanting to make a similar move?

Be brave, live with intention, and don’t listen to anyone that says it isn’t the “real world.”

Sally May Mills Inspiring Lives

All Photos by Sally May Mills

Bali Bonus

Vegan/Healthy eats :

Zula Vegetarian Paradise Jl Dhyana Pura, Legian

Bali Buddha, Jl Jembawan, Ubud

Kafe, Jl Hanoman, Ubud

Café Zucchini, Jl Laksmana, Seminyak

Sari Organic, Ubud

Coffee :

Sea Circus, Jl Laksmana, Seminyak

Revolver, Jl Laksmana, Seminyak

Biku, Jl Petitenget (also offer the best tea selection)

Seniman Coffee Studio, Jl Sri Wedari, Ubud

Sunset Aperitivo :

The Rock Bar, Ayana Resort, Jimbaran

Potato Head Beach Club, Seminyak

Breeze at Samaya Hotel, Seminyak

House Shopping :

Jengalla Ceramics, outlet on Sunset Road or main showroom in Jimbaran

Bali Zen, JL Raya Seminyak, Seminyak

Geneva Handicrafts, JL Raya Kerobokan

Along Jl Batu Belig, Jl  Basangkasa and Jl Petitenget in the Seminyak/Umalas area

Mountain Retreats :

Como Shambhala Estate, Ubud

Bambu Indah, Sayan, Ubud

Sarinbuana Eco Lodge, Mount Batukaru

Alam Indah, Ubud

A giant island hug to Sally May for living a life away from the rat race. If you would like to stay in touch with Sally May you can follow her on Remote and Raw,  Facebook or Pinterest..

“Love what you do and do what you love. Don’t listen to anyone else who tells you not to do it. You do what you want, what you love. Imagination should be the center of your life.” Ray Bradbury




If you know someone who would love this inspiring life please share.

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Inspiring Lives – Felicity Menadue + Venice

“You desire to embrace it, to caress it, to possess it; and finally a soft sense of possession grows up and your visit becomes a perpetual love affair.” Henry James

I met the gorgeous Felicity Menadue by chance. Her name came out of the hat for a portrait competition I held in Paris and I had the chance to meet a wonderful women living her dream in one of the world’s most romantic cities, Venice. Even I who had lived 5 years in Florence was hanging on her every word.

Felicity is a generous soul and is sharing her inspiring life and her move from Melbourne Australia to Venice. 

What inspired you to move to Venice? 

I have always loved Italy and have travelled back and forth since I was quite young. I could never really get enough of the place and whenever I returned to Australia it was always with a sense of melancholy. When I was in my late thirties I suddenly thought that maybe it was time to settle, to put some roots down in Australia. I really put my heart into creating a life there and was beginning to think that I had gotten Italy out of my system. I was so wrong. My heart sang when a dear friend invited me to be maid of honour at her wedding…in Venice…at Locanda Cipriani on the beautiful island of Torcello. The fire I had tried to extinguish was reignited in an instant. Venice was it.

Describe where you live in Venice and what you love about your area? 

I live on Giudecca, which is a long narrow island that faces onto the Madonna della Salute Church and St Marks Square. I love it here because, while it is very much a part of Venice, and is home to many Venetian families, it is more peaceful and spacious with many less tourists. I really feel like I’m living in a little village here, which I love.

What do you have more of living in Venice than in Melbourne? 

I am surrounded by so much beauty here in Venice – ancient, crumbling beauty that really nourishes the soul. It’s another world here and I often feel like I am living in an enchanted dream. Apart from the aesthetics, there are the stories – the colourful history that seeps from every corner of the place. I find it fascinating learning about this ancient civilization and how it has both flourished and survived over the centuries.

How has your move changed your lifestyle? 

I slip very easily into the Italian lifestyle. I love the fact that meal times are important, life is celebrated and pretty much everything is flexible. Nothing is black and white and rules are not always adhered to. Whilst there is no doubt this can be a little frustrating at times, in general I feel more relaxed in this kind of environment.

 Tell us 3 cool things about Venice that we don’t know? 

1. Venice consists of 118 small islands and is secured by millions of wooden piles that are deeply submerged into the muddy seabed. 

2. On the whole, Venetians are big drinkers, and they get started early in the day. It is quite common to see people drinking Spritz (the local aperitif) well before midday. 

3. The word ciao is derived from the Venetian phrase s-ciào vostro or s-ciào su literally meaning “I am your slave”. It was a greeting among     friends which implied a willingness to help if ever they were in need.

How do you feel waking up in Venice every day? (Sounds amazing when you live in a big city)

It’s amazing living in a city with no cars. Waking up to the sound of boats or children walking to school is a very pleasant way to begin the day. As I leave my apartment each morning I know the view will be uplifitng, regardless of the weather. 

What would you say to your friends thinking of taking the leap and moving countries? Should they do it?

I would encourage everyone to follow their heart and believe in the power of their dreams. We owe it to ourselves to explore the things and the places we love. Packing up and moving countries certainly takes some courage and you will invariably have to face many challenges, but if you stay true to yourself and quietly persevere, miraculous things can happen.

How was your Italian before you arrived? 

I spoke a little Italian when I first arrived here and it has slowly improved with time but, I must say, I still have a long way to go. I still make so many mistakes! Thankfully, Italians are very forgiving and easy going

One ‘get me out of here’ moment? 

When I moved to Venice I had to learn once again the art of flat sharing, as rent and living costs are high. Thankfully I have been blessed with some wonderful flatmates, but on one occasion I did find myself in a less than ideal living arrangement. It was actually my good friend, an Italian angel named Mara, who said to me, “We’ve got to get you out of here!” She organised the boat (that’s how one moves in Venice) and I was out of there in no time. 

One ‘thank-god I live in Italy’ moment? 

I have these moments all the time! I just feel so blessed to be here and remind myself everyday as I cross the Accademia Bridge and take in the breathtaking view before me.

What influences your style and has Venice had an effect of it? 

I have always loved simple elegance, with just a hint of glamour.

Venice knows all about glamour, and sex appeal and sensuality are highly valued at any age in Italy (just ask Sofia Loren). I think living here has allowed me to really enjoy being a woman and dressing up. 

Style Icon?

Yasmina Rossi, a beautiful, creative and inspirational soul.

Has Venice been good for your creativity? 

Absolutely! I am constantly inspired here and my soul is really alive in the presence of such beauty. I love all aspects of creativity. I love to write, paint and take photographs and I am fueled with an endless supply of stimulus here in Venice. 

Is there something you miss about your former life? 

I do miss our family get-togethers and catching up with my friends back home. I’ve missed a couple of special celebrations in Australia lately and this pulls at the heartstrings. I feel a little sad at times that I am far away from some of the most loved, precious and supportive people in my life, but I still feel very strongly connected to them and perhaps appreciate them even more. I carry them around with me in my heart and I hope they feel that.

What’s on the menu today?

A simple meal at home: steak with crispy rosemary potatoes and salad, with a glass of Greco di Tufo white wine. 

What has your reward been for your courage to switch lives so dramatically? 

I feel so much richer and stronger for having this experience. I now truly believe in the power of dreams, I have faith in the universe and I live more in the moment. I never plan too far ahead. I now truly believe that life is a gift and that we are responsible for creating our own joy.

 All Photos Copyright Felicity Menadue

The Local’s Hotlist 

Café: Caffè Florian, Piazza San Marco

Eat: Osteria Santa Marina

Swim: Lido Beach

Aperitivo: il Refolo, via Garibaldi 1580, Castello

Stay: Hotel Flora

Shop: Chiarstella Cattana  for beautiful hand-made Italian linens and stylish YALI Murano glass tableware 

Sunset drink: Rooftop bar at the Hilton Hotel, Giudecca

Indulge in: a massage at the Bauer Palladio Hotel, Giudecca

Don’t leave without visiting: The Doges Palace 

Merci, grazie and a big thank-you to the divine Felicity Menadue…

“The mere use of one’s eyes in Venice is happiness enough, and generous observers find it hard to keep an account of their profits in this line”. Henry James




Please feel free to share if you know of someone dreams of living overseas.

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Inspiring Lives – Claire Lloyd My Greek Island Home

This summer I was lucky to meet the gorgeous Claire Lloyd (above) and her partner Matthew in Sydney. Over dinner with mutual friends on a little balcony overlooking Tamarama I tortured poor Claire about living on a Greek Island.

You see I have been in love with her life for years now ever since my publisher told me about a book she commissioned years earlier and I joked ‘that was the book I wanted to write and the life I want to live’!

Well gorgeous Claire did it and so beautifully and since I opened my copy of My Greek Island Home I haven’t stop dreaming of blue seas, fresh air and white painted floors.

Not only did she write My Greek Island Home but she photographed it too.

Who doesn’t dream of living on a Greek Island?

I certainly do in the midst of a cold winter, yearning for sunshine, the sea and a little garden. Claire has been kind enough to share her thoughts on her life, creativity, cats and living on a Greek Island and some of her favourite addresses on Lesvos.

What inspired you to move to Lesvos?

I definitely had a deep need somewhere inside me for a simpler life and a need to reconnect with my creativity. For many years I had been living a very full and hectic life in London, Art Directing and designing for brands, magazines and advertising agencies and I felt tired. It was a trip to my homeopath, Vicki, in London that encouraged me to change my direction. On that particular day I said to her I had lost my personal creativity and felt disconnected. Vicki held up her mobile phone with a photograph on it of, a basic stone house, in the middle of a field with a walnut tree. The house stood alone, solidly, under piercing blue skies. This visual image made an immediate impact on me. Vicki said, “perhaps this is your remedy, I have just bought a house in Lesvos, maybe you should go there and take a look.” I am impulsive, and so was there within a week.

How has your move enhanced your lifestyle? 

My lifestyle is much gentler and I have regained my personal creativity, I also have more time to observe and enjoy my surroundings.

I have many amusing anecdotes from my daily life to share.

What do you have more of living on an Island than living in a big city?

Cats and dogs………..I’ve never had a dog before and now we have as little as 2 or as many as 4 at one time. We try to re home strays. We always have lots of kitties to feed too.

You see more stars because there is little streetlight, in the village, and the skies are vast.

Being on an island the Aegean sea surrounds you and is nearly always in your sight.

We have more seasonal fruit and vegetables and, more time to speak to people and reflect on life.

How has photography allowed you to communicate with the locals? 

Photography has opened up communications big time. The Greeks are very social and generous people and they have welcomed my partner Matthew and I with open arms and with great warmth.

My camera has added another layer, it has given me more confidence to approach people and it has also given me something I can give back in my appreciation. Most people love getting an image of themselves and it’s also a lovely documentation of a village life. Last summer I hung up 250, A5 images that I printed out at home, on a bamboo fence outside one of the village café neas, the people loved it and they could take their photo away at the end of the evening.

It was Matthew who encouraged me to start taking photographs by buying me my first Cannon camera. It was a gift; a gift I never imagined would change my life so much.

What influences your style and how have you adapted this to creating your Greek Island home?

Light, simplicity and space influence me as well as an enormous amount of bright white paint.

These have always been my staples.

I had no difficultly adapting any of these elements to ‘My Greek Island Home’ as they are all part and parcel of Greece.

Style Icon? 

Georgia O’Keeffe, she was an original. Pure style in everything she did, her paintings, her living spaces and the way she dressed and looked. I admire her art, love of nature and her focus.

How do you feel waking up on a Greek Island every day? (Sounds amazing when you live in a big city)

I feel privileged, and really happy to be alive. 

What would you say to your friends thinking of swapping their lives in a big city for an island? Should we do it?

I am a great believer in change and I think any change is positive. I also believe people have dreams and life is short. So I think whatever your dream you owe it to yourself to explore it. I understand it’s easier for some of us to make changes and that circumstances can make it difficult. But I also believe any change small or large is worthwhile giving a go. So I’d say ‘go for it’.

Has Island life been good for your creativity?

Yes it has been amazing. It has given me so much. I feel I have just scratched the surface of my creativity and here I have found a place where it can evolve and develop. It’s great not knowing where it will take me.

Is there something you miss about your former life? 

I loved my former life and still get to dip in and out of both Sydney and London. I am lucky because I can visit the cinemas, my favorite restaurants and galleries when I’m there. I also love catching up with friends.

I miss my creative friends but they come and visit and there is the telephone and skype.

And it makes it even more special when I do get spend time with them.

Tell us 3 cool things about Lesvos that we don’t know?

Lesvos is the 3rd largest Greek Island and extremely close to Turkey, at one point there is only 5 kilometers of sea separating them.

The topography changes dramatically from one side of the island to the other. You can travel through deep green pine forests or be in the middle of a vast, arid, volcanic, and lunar like landscape.

This week we were told, by, the President of The Chamber of Commerce that Lesvos has been given a UNESCO listing.

I love that you look after all the local animals, how did this happen? 

I think we must have an invisible sign on the front gate that only animals can see. They all seem to know where to come instinctively. It started with Sweetie my special girl.

I was eating outside at a local taverna and this tiny kitten, way too young to be eating scraps appeared. She was begging. When she saw me she immediately, and with no encouragement, jumped on my knee and refused to get down. She was so pathetic looking and her eyes were gummy. It was suggested by the locals to take her home, so after my meal we headed off up the hill to the top of the village. She buried her head in the crookof my arm and shook. She must have known instinctively she was doing the right thing. Now she is big and has a gloriously, luxurious fur coat, better than any you would find in Fendi. Sweetie rules and yes, we love her big time.

What’s on the menu today?

Fish baked in the oven with lemon and a simple green salad, all bought from vans that pass through the village daily, selling fresh produce. In the summer I grow a small amount of salad in pots outside my kitchen door.

What has your reward been for your courage to switch lives so dramatically? 

My rewards have been many, warm friendships, serenity, creativity, unconditional love from animals, incredible beauty in the landscape that surrounds me and of course the opportunity to photograph, write and design my latest book “My Greek Island Home”. I am no doubt a very lucky girl! (woman) I have also been extremely lucky having Matthew to share it with.

The Local’s Hotlist 


Travel north to Sikaminias. There is a small harbor port Skala Sikaminias, which has some great little restaurants. You can watch the local fishing boats arrive with their daily catch. Above the port is the main village, Sikaminias and in its small square there are a couple of café’s that are really worth sitting in and soaking up the local life. It’s a beautiful village so take a wander.


Fish cooked by Yiannis at Cavo Di Oro in Sigri.

Yiannis loves the Beatle’s and if you are lucky enough he will play you some of his favorite tracks.


Find a way to the beach from the dirt coast road between Sigri and Eressos. The water is crystal clear and there is no one to be seen.

Taverna / restaurant

The Octapus in Molyvos  is right on the waters edge at the harbor, and you can see Molyvos Castle crowning the top of the town in the background.


Birds Bay This is a very quiet and beautiful spot, a place to forget the world and be at one with nature. It has superb sea views and a fabulous view of Molyvos at night, sparkling in the distance.


Shop at the Women’s co-op on the main road into Molyvos.

They make traditional and delicious home made preserves and biscuits.

My favorite thing, without a doubt, are the chocolate tarts. A tip, you must order them

Sunset drink

My terrace!!!!!!! 

Indulge in..

Just being there.

Don’t leave without

Visiting the monastery at Ipsilos. There are still monks living there, although you will only see one who sits in the little museum. It’s a fascinating little museum, with all sorts of religious items. The views from the monastery are superb.

All Photos Copyright Claire Lloyd

A huge thanks to the lovely Claire Lloyd for sharing a little of her inspiring life and for those of you who can’t get to a Greek Island soon I suggest you buy My Greek Island Home ,a beautiful book of  dreams and this is for anyone who has ever dreamt of changing their life and doing what they love.

You may also enjoy a look inside the Guesthouse created by Claire and partner Matthew’s beautiful artist studio in the heart of town. For more Greek island Inspiration go to this page.

“Just don’t give up trying to do what you really want to do. Where there is love and inspiration, I don’t think you can go wrong.” Ella Fitzgerald


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