Paddington's Happiness Place has been like a ray of sunshine on Brisbane's retail scene since Stephanie Rooke and Lorilie Cunningham opened their doors back in 2012. Home to some of the brightest, most cheerful furniture, homewares, gifts, stationery you'll ever find, it is actually is hard to feel glum in amongst all their hyper-bright wares.
Stephanie generously invited us into her Paddington home that she shares with husband Julian and golden retriever Honey, where we talked Christmas, Vogue Living, and the joys of colour.
TUL: Where did Happiness Palace come from? Tell us how it all began…
It's something that my mum and I started together. The idea originally came from America, because we used to live there and my parents had another business there. The shopping over there is just a whole other world in terms of the retail experience. It's completely different to Australia in that it's much more theatrical, everything from the packaging to the windows. The whole experience is kind of on steroids!
Plus there are just so many gorgeous products that we didn't have over here. I guess that's where the idea sort of sparked, because it was such a marked difference to shopping in Australia. The idea was always burning away at the back of my mum's head.
Then about six years ago I moved to London and the retail, again, is both a similar and a different kind of beast to America and Australia. It's a lot more quirky and "boutiquey" and independent in London. So really Happiness Place, is a marriage of the best of America and the UK and bringing it out to Australia so we could create something completely different.
We used shops like Anthropolgie and Liberty as our inspiration. Not that I am comparing us to those stores just yet! But that's ultimately the benchmark. I don't want to rubbish Australian shopping or retail, as it's got it's own qualities, but it was something we noticed that wasn't really here. So we wanted to bring it.
We want people to come to Happiness Place and it be a memorable, lovely, gorgeous experience and what they want to come back for, so we make sure everything is right, from the displays, all of our packaging, generally everything about it. Happiness Place is unique.
TUL: Tell us what a typical day looks like for you?
I get up as early as I can drag myself out of bed and take Honey the dog for a walk with my husband, Julian, which is quite nice! Then I come back and attack my emails. Most come overnight as they're from overseas suppliers, so I usually have a lot of emails to crunch through in the morning. Then, I will run upstairs and open the shop at 10am.
In the morning we can have anything on; you can have ten customers waiting at the door or you could have 1,000 boxes waiting to unpack. Then throughout the day it's a mixture of customers through the door and helping them with their purchases. On top of that, I look after our website, social media and advertising, and I do a lot of our ordering as well.
And there's our design room. We're getting lots of project-based work coming through, so Mum is handling that mostly. Plus we've got a lot of exciting new opportunities with Happiness Place coming through next year we're starting to work on, like party planning and stationary, so it's getting those things off the ground. Everyday is different, which sounds like a cliché, but it's true! I normally start with a list of what I have to do and rarely ever get it done because you get so distracted and side tracked, it's just the way it goes. But I love it!
When we close up normally mum and I will stay back for about an hour or so clearing up from the day, making lists, working out what's on the following day; it's lovely.
It's busy, but I compare it to when I used to work in advertising agencies and would be so stressed—almost a different person—and the stress of this is so different. It's not without challenges, but I love it.
TUL: Did you grow up in Brisbane?
Yes, I was born here and then we moved around a lot, but I was predominately here. We lived in Nashville for 3 or so years, and we've lived in Melbourne, the Gold Coast, and then London. But we've always come back to Brisbane. It's called me back.
TUL: Why did you choose Paddington for Happiness Place?
I love Paddington! My parents have lived here forever, and with the nature of the shop being independent and quirky, it very much fits in with the Paddington vibe, more so than some other pockets of Brisbane.
We have a lot of character, which is the overwhelming quality of Paddington. You've got everything from beautiful little cottages, to hippies, to well-to-do people walking the street, and it just felt like the right home. We wouldn't dismiss going elsewhere, but Paddington felt right.
TUL: Favourite spots in Paddington?
We often go to Marinara's down the road; it's so good! It's a gorgeous spot, with cute, red-and-white chequered placemats and they're lovely people. We go to Java Lounge for breakfast, or any of the cafes around here really. We're so spoilt! You can go anywhere and grab a great coffee or cake. What I love, too, are all these little licensed places popping up, like the Rogue Rennard. I love walking past, it reminds me of the UK with people sitting on the foot path. That's a new development. I love the new places popping up!
TUL: How would you describe your design aesthetic?
Colour! It's never been a choice, it's something I've grown up with. Mum has always loved colour and when you're born into something like that you either embrace it or reject it, and it's never been a question, I've just gravitated towards it naturally. It makes me happy, which might sound 'cringie' considering the name of the shop, but if I'm in a neutral space, I get a bit twitchy and edgy. I love a big, bright burst all around me. It goes from my clothing, to my stationary, to how I decorate my home, to the presents I give people. Some of them are so bright they might want to vomit, but I can't help myself! It's what I do! It all comes from mum's influence, and that fact that she's very much the same.
TUL: Where do you source your products from?
We do two buying trips a year to the states, primarily NYC, and then we also go to the UK and Europe. We very much source and focus our buy from companies located there, and we bring in the products we used to buy while living away.
TUL: Any special pieces around in your home that you particularly love?
We have an artist from the UK called Mary Rose Young and she does beautiful quirky handmade cermaics, and we have a flower lamp that I just adore, and have adored from the second I saw it years and years ago. So that's very special.
I love my birdy chair, that's covered in all old vintage tea towels. Lots of the things in my house come from the shop, and I'm a bit of a hoarder so many things here are from my travels, and my old house in London, that I've bought back. It's a real mish-mash of the shop and everything I've acquired over the years. I probably need to chill out with that! But I've got so many sentimental things I just can't throw away because they've got a special meaning to me.
TUL: What are your favourite websites or magazines? What inspires you?
I try not to be too persuaded by trends and what editors say is 'in'. I like things that speak to me; that I connect with. I don't find myself being a slave to magazine, because I think everything becomes 'samey', which I think is one of the issues with Australia retail. So as much as love to sit down with a cup of coffee and Vogue Living (which I do love. It's my favourite magazine!) I try not to be too rail-roaded by that.
But I love The Design Files. Their daily send out is interesting and good for finding new and local designers, and it's a great place for some leads which in the past have been really good, and we now stock them in the shop. Living ETC is a British homewares magazine I love that is a bit different to other magazines. The Brits have a much quirkier style to us here in Australia, so going through Living ETC is good for finding new and up-coming designers that will work well in store.
But you've got to get the balance right, and understand what will work for our houses and lifestyles — while a beautiful mounted stag head looks good in the UK cottage that doesn't mean it will over here! You've got to make sure your barometer is on track… or you'll have a shop full of stock!
TUL: What's up next for Happiness Place?
Christmas! Which I am so excited about, I'm frothing at the thought! We have the best things coming in for Christmas. We recently came back from NYC and have gone mental with Christmas. We are transforming the store into a Christmas wonderland from about mid November.
And then of course, there's the new Design Room. That's continuing to gain momentum through word of mouth. As for next year… we've been blown away by how well our stationary has gone. We didn't think it would be a big thing for us, but it has been. So I think we'll look into expanding that side of the business next year, as well as doing party theming, and looking at gift registries. So lots of exciting projects coming up!
Image Credit: Daniel Maddock