Alison Rentoul is the CEO & Founder of Aquamarine Home and has been a devotee of interior styling for as long as she can remember. Passionate about ethics and sustainability in all facets of life, Alison is an active campaigner for equality, human rights, animal rights, and the environment.
In this video interview, Molly from MFARAI talks with Alison about Aquamarine Home, where relaxed, coastal design meets ethically sourced and environmentally friendly décor. Alison also talks about why she started this unique venture, as well as her plans and vision for the future of Aquamarine Home.
Watch the full video interview:
Read the full transcript below:
What prompted you to create Aquamarine Home?
It basically came out of a personal situation that we had when we moved back to Australia at the start of last year. My dad had passed away and I needed to sell our family home in Barwon Heads in Victoria. It’s a beautiful part of the world, a beautiful little coastal seaside town – but unfortunately, we weren't able to keep living there. I needed to take on the care of my mum because she has Parkinson's disease. My husband and I were going to be looking after her, but we couldn't all live in the family home in Barwon Heads because it just wasn't going to fit all of us in there. So, I needed to sell this house.
My dad was a massive reader. So, he had bookshelves absolutely everywhere. The whole place was encrusted with books, and I love books myself but we thought that potential buyers coming in wouldn't really want to look at all of that. It just it looked pretty small and pokey and dark. So, I set about stripping everything out. We repainted the whole place and then we restyled it – really just turning it into the beautiful, sunny, light-filled beach cottage that we thought the market would want.
While I was doing all of that, I really found that I couldn't find things to buy to put into the place that I knew the provenance of. I was really wanting to create this beautiful coastal look to the house and give it a good feeling, but I was doing that with pieces that I was buying from really cheap shops and they had no character. It seemed to me that the only places that I could find coastal or modern furnishings from were these really mass-market shops. With the price tag being so low on a lot of these items, you get this icky feeling of not really knowing, how can it be made for that money. You just know that the people behind it – the people are making it – they're either not being paid fairly or possibly working in slave labour conditions. So personally, I felt like there was just this nasty undercurrent or undertone to the finished effects. I could look at it and it looked beautiful, but it didn't feel beautiful to me. So that was really when I got the first inklings of an idea for Aquamarine Home. I just love coastal furnishings and that whole look, but I couldn't find anything that was ethical or sustainable that had that design aesthetic.
Where does your attraction to coastal inspired interiors come from?
Well, I think, like a lot of people, I just love the sea. My family were very adventurous when I was a little kid. They actually built a sailing yacht in their back garden in inner-city Brunswick, so not even anywhere near the ocean at that point. They lived beside a railway line and it was quite funny, all the people on the train on the commute to work would look out the window and shout things out to dad like, “How's it coming along with the boat?!” because they would see him every day. So, he launched this little boat – it was a 24-foot sailboat.
They were teachers, so we used to sail every weekend, and every school holiday we spent sailing from our mooring in Hastings down on the Mornington Peninsula and I just grew up absolutely loving the sea. We used to sail to Tasmania every Christmas, as well, in this tiny little boat. We would stop at all the islands along the way. Believe me, it was sometimes a very rough sea on the way to Tasmania. It was quite a good grounding for me to not get seasick. I've got an iron stomach these days. I do a lot of sailing now that we're back in Australia. I just love it.
Coastal design is very relaxing. It's very peaceful. It gives people a real feeling of calm and harmony and tranquillity. Those colours are so soft – calming blues and aquas and turquoise and white. I've just always, always loved it. I think a lot of other people do too.
Is that your big picture vision for Aquamarine Home? Do you want to create a sense of tranquillity in people's homes?
Absolutely. I think there are two sides to that. On the one hand, I want people like myself, who care about fairness and equality in the world, to be able to find beautiful things for their home that not only look good but that feel good, as well, so that they can create that kind of tranquil haven – that beautiful coastal aesthetic in their home – and have that that beautiful peaceful feeling. Also, because fairness and equality is such a huge part of who I am – I feel the people who are making the beautiful things that we're putting in our homes deserve as well to live in beautiful, tranquil, peaceful surroundings – to live in harmony and peace.
Not just the people but the whole earth. I'm really quite passionate about animal rights and animal liberation as well and making sure that everything that we are doing, as co-inhabitants of this earth, is contributing in a positive way to this planet. I can't sit comfortably in a space that has been designed and decorated with all of these things. If I look around and I see the damage and destruction that's being done on the back of that. I mean, maybe I'm just strange, but that's what I see when I look at those things. I wonder where did it come from? How was it made? What's the cost to our planet? What's the cost to the people that are making it? And to the animals that have been impacted as well – losing their natural habitat or even harmed in the making of those products. That’s really where I’m coming from.
Are there any businesses or people that have instilled this importance for you?
When I was in my teenage years, there was a somebody who really inspired me, and that was Anita Roddick. She was the original founder of The Body Shop. I know for a lot of younger people today, they probably look at The Body Shop and they're not really sure what was the big deal about The Body Shop back in the 90's when it was really in its heyday, but it was amazing.
The Body Shop was the first company to really bring to public awareness the idea of doing business for good – instilling Fairtrade culture into their business practices, going out and finding people to collaborate with in the developing world, to make products that they could then sell, to help raise awareness of what was going on for those people in those countries, and to improve their situation. So that's a really big part of the big picture and the overall future vision for Aquamarine – that we would be able to really create a big impact by going out and working directly with people in those kinds of countries and following in Anita’s wonderful footsteps.
What's next for Aquamarine Home? Where do you go from here?
It's such a steep learning curve. I don't have any background in retail or in interior design – not officially anyway, apart from it having been a lifelong passion and hobby of mine. So, there's lots and lots of learning.
We are just online at the moment and as you know we only just launched in December 2017, so we haven't been going for that long yet. So, at the moment, we're just really focusing on trying to spread the word, trying to reach as many people as we can, trying to build a following on Instagram and Facebook so people like me know that we are here, and that we provide a solution to that problem of not being able to find beautiful things for your home, that you know where they come from, in an in a coastal design aesthetic.
I guess the other side of it is just really building up our product range. That's something we're really focusing on at the moment. Building that and our connections and our partnerships with different people. That's the fun part, I love it so much! My husband's joking now that I've created a business where I get to shop for homewares from a living – what a great job!
In the future, we're also trying to develop our own product range as well so we can create this wonderful win-win economy where the people who are making things are really benefitting. We're working directly with them, we're helping them to develop their communities and to improve their personal and community situations, and at the same time our customers are benefiting from everything that we're doing as well, and finding through us more and more beautiful, gorgeous, lovely things that they can bring into their home and feel really good about.
If you are interested in knowing more about Aquamarine Home or if you represent an organisation or products you think would be a great fit for us, please don't hesitate to get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org and we will be delighted to hear from you!
Does Alison's story resonate with you at all? We would love to hear your thoughts and reflections on this in the comments below!