In conversation with Melissa Harris (Maj)

"I love wearing pretty dresses and I won't ever change that just because people think it's too fancy." ~ Maj

Artist, baker & creator of the glorious Those We Fancy & Maj And The Half Done House, Maj joins us for a conversation about how her work made it to the cover of Country Style, starting before you're ready & her heartfelt collections. 

Tell us a little bit about your story and what has led you to the work you do now.

Mama of two little humans and Harry's girl (aka the beard or the naked barista), I'm a baker, bowerbird and photo taker. I'm definitely a visual person. I love looking at old buildings, art and people for inspiration. I love to be creative in everything I do and have been that way since I was little. 

Growing up my father would take us out driving on the weekends just to look at houses in various neighbourhoods, followed by afternoons spent in book stores devouring house magazines and books. He's a building designer and growing up watching him work and helping as I got older, inspired my love of architecture and old homes.

I studied Visual Arts at Uni in Adelaide where I majored in Photography, Textile Design and Printmaking (Intaglio etchings being my all time face). After Uni, I dabbled in the art world with a few exhibitions here and there but soon realised I wasn't quite cut out for the art world. I decided to study Floristry. Unfortunately, during my apprenticeship I had a bad car accident and I could no longer continue due to the injuries.

From there I moved into makeup and worked as a makeup artist for the next 9 years until I had my little people. I chose motherhood for the next few years which where my love of cooking and painting continued, I made various baked goods at home, friends and family. I stumbled into the cake business after a friend asked me to make a vegan cake for her sister's engagement. I've always loved cooking but had never thought about making a business from it. The cake was a huge success and the business grew from there.

A big highlight was when Lynda Gardener booked me for a soiree and she told me I needed a website, business cards etc. It really made me jump in the deep end and start my business without having the time for any doubts. The biggest pinch-me moment was seeing one of my cake creations on the cover of the 30th Anniversary edition of Country Style and getting to watch Lynda work alongside Marnie Hawson and Belle Bright.

Instagram weaved its wonderful web into my life amongst all the baking after my friend encouraged me to change my private account to public and share my photography with everyone not just close friends and family. From here, it just kinda grew as I documented our home renovation and everyday shenanigans. It was during this time that I was approached by Sarah Andrews for a magazine feature. I thought she was crazy because we were still in the midst of the renovations but she eventually convinced me to say yes and a lovely feature followed in Home Beautiful.

Meeting Sarah and miss Marnie Hawson was also a game changer. They are so wonderfully talented and so lovely we immediately hit it off. Oh and this is where Sarah discovered my penchant for dresses and raided my wardrobe for a sneaky side shoot of her own. Various shopping trips and afternoons followed as I helped her add to her wardrobe. Unbeknownst to Sarah and Marnie around the same time I had entered our little Half Done House into Home Beautiful's Most Beautiful Room competition which got into the Top 50 and followed with another feature in the magazine.

Not long after that we were featured on The Design Files. It all still feels so surreal. So Instagram has most definitely become a big part of the work that I do now and I'm beginning to expand as I start to style and work with various brands and their gorgeous products. I'm really looking forward to exploring this side of things further in the future.  

How do you express yourself creatively in your daily life?

Gosh, in so many ways! From doing my makeup (I still love to create and play with new looks) and creating crazy Halloween costumes for my little people, to styling my outfits and helping friends with their own wardrobes, baking beautiful cakes and other baked goods and various meals for the fam bam, playing with flowers (my love for floristry has never stopped) and of course, creating content for my Instagram through photography and styling and one of my all time favourites; faffing and styling the Half Done House. 

I'm also an avid reader and typically read 3-4 books a week. Expanding my imagination through books is one of my all favourite past times and one that definitely leads to all sorts of creativity. 

What words would you use to describe your own sense of style?

I think it's safe to say its quite an eclectic mix of vintage with layers of new here and there with a dash of floral prettiness thrown in for good measure. I'm most definitely not a minimalist!

Having had your home featured in Home Beautiful & Design Files, what do you think has contributed to your styling sensibility?

I feel my father and my aunty had the biggest influence on my style and love for old buildings and beautiful interiors. My father introduced me to architecture and interior design at such a young age and really showed me how amazingly beautiful design and interiors can really be. I loved watching him work. I guess you could say that side of things was just in my blood.

My love for old homes definitely started with my aunty's sandstone return verandah home. I loved sleeping over there as a child. It always just felt like home to me, from the high ornate ceilings to the creaky wooden floor boards it just really made my heart skip a beat. It had so much character. I still dream of owning an old home just like it.

As I get older the world around me always plays a big part in creating and adding to my aesthetic, the books I read, the places I visit, the people I meet, all draw inspiration. I definitely don't follow any rules as such and am quite appreciative of lots of vintage layers and hanging a crooked painting or two!

I’d like to share this piece you wrote about your work because I think it’s beautiful and important to note for those of us who question if we are enough or if we have done enough to begin our creative endeavours: “I’m no chef. I haven’t been professionally trained but what I do have is years of homemade recipes and hours of cooking with and for my loved ones. I cook with my heart and create with my hands.”  Have you always forged your own path?

I'm not sure if I would use the word forge as it's been more of a wandering journey. As life has its ups and downs so has my path twisted and turned in different directions leading me to new creative endeavours and create a life that I love. I've always been someone that needs to learn new skills (I get bored quickly) so I have jumped from one creative field to another and you could say I've been a jack of all trades!

I’m curious, is your beautiful home which we see in your images still half done? Or is she done for now?

Oh gosh, how the beard would love for me to say that it is indeed DONE but truthfully I think it will always be Half Done! I'm already planning a mini bathroom renovation for when we are out of lockdown and a new paint job for the kitchen cupboards.

How important has social media been in your business?

Instagram has literally changed my whole career path numerous times. It opened a world of possibilities to me and still is and I could not be more grateful for the amazing creative people I have met and for all the followers that create such a  wonderful, encouraging community to be part of. 

Give us a fun fact about you Maj. 

I don't eat any of my cakes!!! I'm not a cake lover but I love the process of baking and creating delicious cakes for others. 

You seem to have a glorious collection of beautiful dresses in your wardrobe, would you say this is true? And what else do you love to collect?

Yes, this is definitely true! Ever since I was a little girl I have always loved to wear dresses. It didn't matter if it was winter or spring or if I was playing in the sandpit with the neighbourhood boys, I would always be in a dress and pretty shoes. I remember having an argument with my mother when around 7 years old because she made me wear a purple tracksuit to a birthday party because it was in the middle of winter. I was mortified! I have hated the colour purple ever since and refuse to wear tracksuits unless I am exercising.

You will ALWAYS find me in a dress. It is what I have and always will be most comfortable in. The mums at school used to give me grief because I never rocked up in activewear for school pickup, always in a dress but its just me. I love wearing pretty dresses and I won't ever change that just because people think it's too fancy. I think it's so important to be comfortable in who you are and not worry about what other people think about you.

I also love collecting an array of other things from vintage trophies, to amber glass bottles and the love notes from the beard (my husband). I've even collected all the notes from flower deliveries that he has sent me over the years. I keep them in a glass bottle, I always thought it would be a love thing to read when we are old and grey. 

What does a slow day look like for you?

Waking to the sound of the birds chirping, the smell of freshly brewed coffee wafting down the hallway as the naked barista brings me my morning coffee bedside. Reading a few chapters (or ten) of a new book that I'm reading. Making my way out to the kitchen and whipping up a batch of waffles or apple fritters for the fam bam.

Going for a long walk with Pretzel and the beard before heading out for an afternoon of foraging for vintage amongst favourite little antique stores. Coming home with new found treasures and popping on the kettle for a nice hot cup of tea and serving freshly baked cake for the littles. Listening to them talk about the day and soaking up the fleeting moments of childhood that seem to vanish so quickly.

Ending the day with a lovely home-cooked dinner out in the garden amongst the fairy lights and watching a family movie together on the projector snuggled under the blankets and cushions. 

What’s your intention at this moment in your life?

To cherish the simple, ordinary moments, the little things because they are the most precious.

 

All images are Melissa Harris' own work.