When two interior designers with a passion for skincare open a shop, the results are glorious. Step foot inside Melbourne’s Saint Francis Place, and you will be met with the friendly faces of husband-and-wife duo Grace Lim and Martin Kwaskowski. They’ve combined their eye for aesthetics with their genuine love of products to create a shop that feels at once high-end and accessible. You won’t find any millennial pinks in this palette. They’ve purposefully crafted an environment that is unisex, which is a welcome departure from the gendered tropes too often found in the world of wellness. Instead, you will come across a subdued space housing a tightly-edited range of brands, all hand tried and tested, from North Carolina’s Everyday Oil to North Bondi’s Orchard St.
The idea to open a shop had been in the making for a year-and-a-half, the seeds first planted when Grace and Martin embarked on a journey of “trying to be healthier.” They were working long hours at their design firm Milligram Office (the primary business that they still maintain) and found that switching to organic food assisted with energy and mood. “We made the link pretty early on that when you go organic in terms of what you eat you start to question, ‘What am I putting on my skin? What am I using to clean with? And how does that impact the environment?’,” says Grace.
Naturally, they did an audit of the products they were using. Grace realised that the ‘sensitive skin’ solutions and steroid creams she had been prescribed for life-long eczema weren’t actually addressing the root cause. The couple fell into a rabbithole of research and were “pretty shocked” to learn about the abundance of silicone, parabens, and preservatives found in many skincare products and the damaging effects these had on both body and planet.
“We started going to health food shops. I guess we assumed, ‘Well, we are buying our organic food here…’. But the experience of purchasing something in a health food shop is very niche. You either have to be really committed to being that type of person—it’s a very demographic-driven space—or you have to know what you’re looking for,” Grace explains, which will ring true for anyone who has searched for an unscented face oil while surrounded by sacks of whole rye flour. “We felt like the experience wasn’t actually helping to educate people about natural skincare or organic skincare—and that the space could be a little bit more approachable.”
The idea for Saint Francis Place was born: a destination to showcase the best brands they discovered. “Everyone told us it was risky, and I was like, ‘That’s exactly why we’re doing it’,” says Martin of the decision to go bricks-and-mortar first over online. “We want people to come in, smell, touch, test. We want to give people a small sample, to go away, see how they go, and then come back. It was so important for us to have a space. That was really key to the whole thing.”
“Skincare and beauty,” adds Grace, “They’re the two categories in retail where texture, smell, and wearability is absolutely key for anyone’s experience. So going online just didn’t make sense to us.”
The result is the sort of intimate customer experience only available through a physical setting. Grace and Martin can tell a brand’s story and recommend products one-on-one, an important element of storytelling that is often lost in larger environments—especially when it comes to demystifying the breadth of information around skincare. “Each one of these products; we know where they come from, we know the producer, and that’s what we want the customer to understand,” says Martin.
The space itself celebrates the shared ethos of the brands who are stocked. Surfaces are uncluttered so that individual products have a platform in which to shine; bottles of fragrances are displayed with the same ceremony of sculptures; a shelving unit of powders, herbs, teas, and tonics begs for discovery. Even the window display challenges convention, opting for mystery and intrigue over visual merchandising. Instead of featuring eye-catching towers of products, Grace and Martin intend to use the window as a rotating gallery space rather than a selling tool.
“We didn’t want to go really trendy. We tried to keep it ageless,” says Martin of the shop’s look and feel. “When we were doing the fit-out, Grace described it as a Degas painting: when you look at it, it’s such a timeless piece in a gallery. I love that. The store feels like a Degas painting because it will remain relevant forever. That was really special when she said that.”