The Queanbeyan-Palerang region is home to a diverse set of distinctively unique towns and villages. To give you an insider’s look into the hidden gems the region has to offer, we’ve enlisted the help of our trusty locals who will share their stories and local loves from the towns they call home.
In this week’s feature of the series, Braidwood local Dena Pharaoh-Pezzano shares her treechange story and how she came to set up Saloon Design House together with business partner Jane Magnus.
Escape to the country
Originally from Sydney, Dena decided to take on the treechange six years ago, when her partner got a role at the National Museum of Australia in Canberra, about an hour’s drive from the country town of Braidwood. “We didn’t want to live in Canberra as we wanted to explore the countryside of the area. Six years ago, we were on a drive in the region and came through Braidwood and it just felt like the right place for us. I had two small children at the time as well, so it seemed like a good time for a treechange,” she explains.
“I met Jane within the first few weeks that I moved to Braidwood – we didn’t know each other before then. Jane’s lived in the area for quite a while, about 15 years, I think, and we met at a pre-school as we were both dropping our kids off for school,” Dena recalls when asked how she came to meet her friend and business partner, Jane Magnus.
Initially, Dena set up a little pop-up shop at the front of the store to experiment with ways to make a living in Braidwood without having to commute further afield. Having always worked in fashion and costumes, staying true to her roots of hands-on dress and pattern making seemed like the right course of action to take.
“After a while, Jane and I started casually collaborating and creating some skirts together. After stumbling along for a couple of months, we decided we should try to set up a proper business together. So, we fused both of our love of fashion and fabrics and started collecting fabrics. I even brought a lot of beautiful vintage fabrics out of my storage. And that was the beginning of Saloon Design House.”
City meets country
The creative collaboration begun with a few intense design weeks. “That’s when we came up with this ‘city meets country’ look and feel – that combination of cowboy boots with a beautiful dress. The idea was to make something beautiful and special, while still keeping it functional and using natural fibre, such as cotton,” Dena describes and adds, “They are meant for wear. You can dress them up or down and really get that wear out of them, and thanks to the natural fibre fabrics we use, they’re all machine washable”.
Not only was the overarching theme of their designs true to their name ‘Saloon’, but the shop in itself played a part in the naming of their business as well. “Saloon seemed to be the right name for us because the shop is quite reminiscent of an old saloon. We’re housed in this beautiful 1890s building and have these doors put up in the back of the shop that open up like saloon doors.”
“Ever since we first opened, we’ve had a lot of support locally for the shop and our designs. Whether it’s our dresses or our line of shirts, people seem to really relate to them, which has been fantastic,” Dena gushes about the warm welcome to town.
“I think what sets us apart is that you get that personal service here. I can hem things on the spot for our customers and make them feel special, and that keeps us different from the shopping malls you’d find in the city, but also keeps us small and manageable,” she contemplates.
Not only can you find Dena and Jane’s handiwork at Saloon, but there are many more treasures to discover in the shop. “We also have some t-shirts and jewellery by two local powerhouse sisters, Charleys Forest Silver’s designer and maker Sky and her sister Asha, who is the designer and artist for Tigreasha.”
“The main street in Braidwood houses a lot of jewellers, potters, artists, sewers – every shopkeeper is working on something really creative and I think having those types of small, bespoke retailers give the town that beautiful look and feel,” she continues.
Dena credits Braidwood’s surrounding landscape and wildlife as an important influence on the local artists and craftspeople. “I think a lot of the artists and businesses in town are definitely inspired by nature, whether that’s artists painting the beautiful landscape, or interesting takes on the animals, such as platypus rings or earrings with cockatoos. Those are beautiful things to see.”
When it comes to immersing yourself in the local arts, Braidwood certainly has plenty to choose from. “There are so many places where you can go to experience the local arts. Braidwood Regional Arts Gallery hosts local exhibitions by talented artists frequently, as does Studio Altenburg, which also boasts a gift shop at the front of the house. Out the back of Altenburg, you’ll also find Mingei Studio which features Japanese textiles and hosts workshops on the unique crafts movement. For something completely different, you could check out Braidwood Clayworks, who do beautiful pottery which they often sell at the local markets,” Dena recommends.
“There’s a really broad and eclectic range of people that live here. On one hand you have that wonderful farming community and on the other you have the big artist community. That mix of country with artsy has created a really unique feel for this town that works very well. The diversity of this town is number one, for sure,” Dena sums up.
But the heritage-listed country town’s offerings don’t stop there. “When I have visitors come to town, I always take them to the local coffee shops and the pub and walk down the main street. The museum, the farmers markets and the galleries are always great spots to visit. For a more outdoorsy experience, there’s a great hike up Mt Gillamatong, or you could go down to the Shoalhaven river. There’s also this great place I like to go hiking at called The Big Hole in Deua National Park. It’s a fantastic walk and really quite beautiful as well.”
“The food that’s served in Braidwood is really beautiful! We always go to the Smokey Horse for a night out of great Nepalese food, which is quite special to find in a country town like Braidwood. Casanovas make their own breads and cakes which are divine. And we have great little vintage shops, such as Born Vintage, which sells beautiful homewares, furniture and clothing, and it also has a fantastic collection of old vinyls – that’s always a big winner with my friends who come from Sydney!” Dena shares.
When asked why she thinks people should come and visit the town, Dena concludes, “Braidwood is worth a visit because of its unusual mix of things you can see and experience, and the people in the town are just really wonderful and welcoming”.