Inside the Serene Sydney Home of Ayu Co-Founder Madeleine Whitter
Welcome to The Makers. Each week, we’re celebrating innovators, artisans and crafters of all types, taking you on a private tour of their creative spaces. For this instalment, we head to the serene Sydney home of Ayu founder Madeleine Whitter.
If you haven’t heard of Ayu, it’s time to acquaint yourself. The Vedic-inspired brand is a cult favourite thanks to their unique and utterly enchanting scents—no mean feat in the ever-crowded realm of beauty and body products. Born from a sensory pilgrimage to India, Madeleine Whitter and co-founder Alanna Quin launched Ayu with a single signature scented oil, Souq, back in 2015. Over the years, as their offering has grown (ten scents and counting!), so too has their following.
Sourced globally and hand blended locally, Ayu’s range of fragrances, body oils, face mists, candles, and incense is inspired by the ancient Indian healing system of Ayurveda (meaning ‘The Science of Life’ in Sanskrit) and the study of the revered Vedic scripts.
Working with her hands has always come naturally to Madeleine, with a Vedic astrologer once telling her that it was ‘her gift.’ Visiting her serene home in Frenchs Forest, it’s clear her creativity extends into the realm of interior design. A neutral palette of white, beige, and dusty rose drifts through the space, as branches and blossoms sprout from ceramic vessels and brass bud vases. Wood in all stains and styles feature prominently throughout, adding depth and texture to the relaxed contemporary aesthetic.
There’s a sparsity to the space that is both sleek and sophisticated, with each carefully curated corner or counter composed like a still life work of art. In the newly renovated kitchen—her favourite room in the house—a delicate crystal fruit bowl pairs perfectly with a rustic stone pestle and mortar amidst an array of treasured trinkets, highlighting Madeleine’s incredible eye for detail and love of mixing old with new.
From the sandstone-backed fireplace to the luxurious freestanding bath, every inch of Madeleine’s home is consciously considered. All this and we haven’t even mentioned Ayu aromas wafting through the space—if only these photos could carry scent, you’d know what heaven smells like.
Hi Madeleine! This series is called The Makers. What is it that you make?
I make hand-blended perfume oils and a Vedic inspired beauty range for our brand AYU.
How does the act of “making” relate to your personality and who you are?
I have always loved working with my hands. I was told by a Vedic astrologer once that ‘this was my gift’. At the time, I was practising massage and Ayurveda and have always had an interest in all healing modalities. I knew that this was very hands-on work so I was in complete agreement with her. I have always played around with blending different scents and making my own tinctures, so I guess you could say that it is a very natural process for me.
Tell us about your career journey to date. Did you always know you wanted to pursue this line of work?
I’ve always been passionate about Ayurveda and have worked in clinics and spas over the years and have always loved that line of work. Lanny, my business partner, had also studied Ayurveda so we had this in common and always shared different ideas, remedies or recipes with each other. But it was on one of our many trips to India that we discovered some beautiful perfume distilleries and fell in love with the whole scent making process. We knew that we could draw upon our Vedic knowledge and try to incorporate the two.
After blending different scents together we discovered our first scent, Souq. Every time each of us would wear this scent we were always stopped by complete strangers wanting to know what we were wearing. We knew we had to try to produce it to share with everyone. Organically, over time, our little brand grew and we now have ten scents, a range of Vedic body oils, face mists, a hair oil, candles, and our latest offering of fair-trade incense.
Talk us through the products—how do you use them in your everyday life
I use all of our products every day. I go through different phases of what scent I want to wear. At the moment I am wearing Sage, and I’m loving its warmth during the colder months. I always wear Souq if I feel like I need a little sunshine in my life—nothing beats Jasmine for feeling that summery warmth. At the moment I'm using our Kapha body oil to moisturise my skin because it’s perfect for winter, and I also use the rose face mist as a toner on my face. I’m also forever burning our candles and incense. I really have no favourites here, I'm totally in love with them all!
What’s been the single most crucial tool or strategy you’ve used to grow your creative business?
Lanny and I must agree on everything. If one of us is not feeling something, then we let it go and move on. We trust each other completely in the creative process.
What’s been the most challenging lesson learnt since you started your business?
The biggest challenge for me is learning to balance work life and home life. Running your own business is never the typical 9-5 Monday to Friday. It's late nights and weekends. Giving 150% of your energy all the time. My challenge is remembering to set aside time for my beautiful family and of course for myself. I'm always looking to achieve the perfect work-life balance.
What’s been the best thing that’s happened to you since you started your business?
There have been so many achievements that make me so proud of Lanny and myself, but perhaps the best thing that has happened was when Lanny and I were able to quit our jobs and work full time for ourselves. It was a really big dream come true and something we had imagined since the beginning.
Do you have a single piece of advice you’d give to your younger self/ someone looking to start their own business?
Go for it! Try to find something that you absolutely love doing, because starting your own business takes so much of your time and energy, and if you love what you are doing it won't feel like work.
Now, the home stuff. How long have you lived in your home?
We have lived in our home for six years now.
How did you initially know this was the space for you?
We were actually looking to go to an auction for another home. We had never been to an auction before so wanted to see other homes at our limit to see where to stop bidding. We had a quick look around the house—my partner Vaughan claims he never really looked at it but was just trying to find me as I was zipping around checking it out.
It seemed out of our range for sure, but as I walked out, the agent asked us if we wanted to put a bid in and I jokingly said ‘sure’ and rattled off a number. Later that day, the agent called me and said the owner had accepted our offer. We couldn't believe it, and for six weeks we waited for the rug to be pulled out from under our feet. But settlement day came and they handed us the keys and it was ours!
Did you do any renovations or make any big changes after moving in?
The balcony was falling apart so we had to fix it straight away. We also renovated the two bathrooms and recently our kitchen. Vaughan did most of the work. I think for the first four years he laboured on our house every weekend. A labour of love.
What was the thought process behind the way you’ve styled the interior?
We basically just pick pieces that we love. I do love mixing old and new.
What are your favourite pieces in the home?
I love our record player cabinet. It was the first piece of furniture I bought for the house and I still love it. We love playing old vinyl and dance in the living room. I also love my bed, Vaughan made it from the timber he reclaimed from the original deck that he milled himself.
Do you have any special décor pieces you’re looking to add?
I'm in love with everything from the Provider Store. They have an emphasis on slow living and the owner Tara sources from beautiful artisans all over the world. I’ve got my eye on some of her ceramic dinnerware pieces at the moment.
Which is your favourite room in the house?
The kitchen is my favourite. It’s filled with light and it’s all white, so when people fill it the colour pops in. It is the central hub for the family, and everyone hangs out there when we entertain.
What are your top tips for a well-styled bedroom, and home generally?
I like to have soft sheer curtains in the bedroom to filter the light and give a dreamy look to the room. Keep colours soft and subtle to help quiet the mind. Always make your bed. A freshly made bed is practically inviting you to jump in.
Do you have any projects coming up you want to talk about?
We have some new body oils coming out soon that Lanny and I sourced on our most recent trip to India that we can’t wait to launch. We are also collaborating with an incredible artist on an incense holder that will be launching soon.
For more from Madeleine, follow her @the_ayu
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