The road to Palm Beach is a pretty uneventful strip of concrete. I am supposedly going to this incredible place in the Northern Beaches region, 41 kilometers north of Sydney, but so far the landscape is just getting a little bit greener going in-land and a little bit more winding going upward. Halfway into the trip I can make out a few lakes on either side of us, surrounded by thick bush and tall palm trees and I ask the driver if there’s any crocodiles, but he informs me that they only live in the salt waters of Northern Australia. That would explain the unguarded picnics on the grassy banks… Too bad. I don’t see any koalas either, nor kangaroos – I love my wildlife – so I wait patiently for the magic. And then out of nowhere, on my left, appears the ocean beneath us, a shimmering bay of the deepest blue you’ve ever seen, dotted with tiny white sail boats, reflected by an even bluer sky. The air is so crisp you can almost hear the waves. The high noon sun casts a spellbinding light on my view. I need not look further. I have found paradise.
We drive further up the hill until we find an unassuming narrow driveway with shared parking spaces. I’m happy to get out of the car. One hour isn’t long but I want to be in the sun! Heidi has set the table on the patio with a light lunch: goat cheese, olives, cured trout. Classical music is playing softly over the speakers. “The kids are at the beach,” she explains when I tell her how peaceful it is. “Would you like a glass of wine?” she inquires. I nod, taking in my new surroundings. It’s a hot day and I’m in blissful heavens: This is my dream house. Built in the 1940s and at one point occupied by a flamboyant gay fashion designer and a celebrated Australian painter, the house resembles an Italian terraced villa. The entire front of the house facing the bay is open, basking in sunlight throughout the day and displaying breathtaking sunsets at dusk. The walls are covered in smooth white stucco and the windows kept in their original floor to ceiling frames. “The house has a colorful history,” begins Heidi. “We have slowly been ‘chipping away at the diamond’ with small to medium sized renovations and now have plans at council to make some significant changes like adding another story to the top level. I have designed a large room/walk-in closet as part of the new floor.”
When her husband comes home with the two girls (India Grace is 6 and Elke Bay is 5) , 40-year old designer Heidi Middleton, lights up. They will only be staying a minute to change – they’ve gotten clear instructions not to disturb mommy while she’s working. Heidi is Creative Director and Head Designer at Sass & Bide, a position she’s held for the past 13 years. That the brand is doing well is an understatement. You may have heard about the 65% stake purchase by Myer for $42 million in 2011 and the company’s plans to open flagships in Los Angeles, London and New York. Heidi and her partner Sarah-Jane Clarke have appeared on every subsequent Young Rich List but have remained perfectly unaffected and modest – they are lovely, down-to-earth women with fulfilling, healthy lives and wonderful families. Despite a bout with cancer in 2007, Heidi is the picture of happiness and peace. She’s poised, soft-spoken, a little bit shy, curious, sexy, and in the best shape of her life. I may very well check off “dream body” on my list of marvels today too.
Heidi excuses herself for not having her entire wardrobe on hand. She packs and sends a new storage box of clothes to the garage every month. “Our entire garage is full of both vintage and archived Sass & Bide. My new bedroom cannot come fast enough!” Her outfits begin and ends with vintage. “It is what first fueled my love of fashion. I am at my happiest when I am clashing favorite vintage pieces with ‘fallen in love with’ new purchases. It is also what inspires me daily in the design room.” In a few words her style is “intuitive, nomadic, contradicted, spirited, modern and free”. She’s laid out what seems like a life time collection of Sass & Bides and vintage accessories on the bed and pulls out whatever vintage pieces she has in her bedroom this month. I am amazed at the ease and confidence with which she dresses. She has the natural ability to make any garment look cool – it’s a gift. We could have done this for a few more hours but the sun is setting and I have to snap back to reality. Maybe when Heidi itches to move abroad again – she lived in Europe for a few years – we can swap homes… Now wouldn’t that be a dream…