A nod to her signature aesthetic, Stephanie Conley is clad in a brightly printed Dolce & Gabbana dress that fits perfectly with the striking interiors of the Darling Point home she shares with her husband, Oskar Buhre, and two sons, Hugo, five, and Freddy, two. The former fashion designer (her eponymous label was worn by the likes of Kim Cattrall and Naomi Watts) is now a published author—her food and entertaining cookbook At Home With The Hostess recently hit shelves, and she also documents her favourite recipes and go-to restaurants on her chic website, The Hostess (thehostess.com.au). The transition from fashion to the food and lifestyle space wasn’t so much a deliberate career change for Conley as a sort of natural progression. “I have always loved cooking,” she explains of her decision to attend Le Cordon Bleu Sydney Culinary Institute back in 2002, which trained her in “all of the basics”. “It taught me the fundamentals of cooking—how to make stocks and sauces—but also how to be organised and have all of your preparation done.”
While she maintained a hand in fashion design, a move to Italy in 2008 cemented her burgeoning passion for food and entertaining. “You could say [my career] evolved from there,” she says of her five years spent immersed in the country’s language, culture and renowned cuisine. “One of the things I took away from my time in Italy was the sheer simplicity of the food, and the love they put into their cooking. Italians [don’t] necessarily use many ingredients, but what they do include is fresh and beautiful. The way that they bring friends and family around the table for even just a simple pasta makes you realise that entertaining and cooking doesn’t have to be complicated.”
Conley has mirrored this approach to dining in her own culinary creations, designing recipes that are as effortless as possible. It was in 2009 that she launched The Hostess, which began as a basic Wordpress blog. “Every night I would cook, write a recipe and then upload photos, but it wasn’t until a few years later, when everything appeared more professional and beautifully presented in the blog space, that I decided to do a redesign.” Her book came later still, though Conley says it has been in the works for 10 years. “It was just a labour of love,” she explains. “Last year I said that I still wanted to do this book, but I think there’s always a reason why you’re too busy or you can’t [find the time]. Together with photographer Amanda Prior—who also shoots for my website—we made it happen. We persevered, and I couldn’t be happier,” she says of her new entertaining tome. Conley’s first foray into the interior design world happened when she and her husband relocated to Italy in their first year of marriage. She put her keen eye for style to good use, renovating an apartment in the popular Trastevere district of Rome, and designing the interiors herself. On returning to Sydney, another large-scale renovation beckoned. Before moving into their current Darling Point residence in 2016, the couple spent two years knee-deep in building works. “It’s my childhood home,” says Conley. “I [grew up] here with my parents, and my dad lived here until he passed away 11 years ago. We didn’t know what to do with the house [at first], so it was left for a while. After I had my first son Hugo, I became interested in renovating it and making it my family home.” The impressive three-storey, five-bedroom property opens from the street onto a mezzanine level—the bedrooms occupy the upstairs level, including the couple’s master suite, the boys’ rooms, and the guestroom, while downstairs there are “both formal and informal living areas”, says Conley.
From the spacious, open-plan kitchen to the manicured terraced garden that also features a sizeable swimming pool, there is no shortage of beautiful spaces in which to unwind, or simply soak up the breathtaking water views. Conley describes the style as “contemporary but classic”, inspired by the glamour of Los Angeles—which is fitting as the property has a distinct Hollywood Regency mood. Much of the furnishings and design features were sourced in California, to further enhance that LA vibe.
When I entertain, I always
suggest that we go and sit
in the living room, but noone
ever wants to do that!
I think the kitchen should
get bigger and bigger—it’s the
place everyone wants to be”
And, yes, a shipping container was required! “I have always purchased items from overseas [on] my travels, and love buying bits and pieces and having them sent home,” she explains of her stateside sourcing trip. “There is so much choice and accessibility there; it was so exciting.” With a versatile monochrome colour palette as the foundation, Conley added an array of vibrant colours and mismatched prints throughout the home. Inviting shades of yellow and green feature in the living areas and bedrooms, where floral soft furnishings collide with mirrored furniture—the odd leopard-print chair or cushion adding further personality. Bold metals—such as the gold triptych artwork by artist Dorryce Rock—serve as highlights against sophisticated marble and stone surfaces, imbuing the formal living areas with a sense of unabashed opulence. You would think it might be difficult to balance the photo shoot-worthy feel of the home with the requirements of a young family, but Conley insists it works. “Everyone asks me the same thing—they want to know how I keep the formal areas so tidy! It’s not that I tell [the children] that they can’t go in there...it’s all open and I can’t close it off,” she laughs. However the boys spend most of their time in the more laidback living spaces—where Conley’s use of deep navy on bookshelves and upholstery ensures a cosy, inviting feel. The library nook, with its prettily printed Roman blind and cushions, is also a welcoming space for spending those rare quiet moments with one of the many fashion and design books that have been collected over time. Not surprisingly, though, the kitchen is Conley’s favourite spot. Dominated by an elegant island bench accessorised with beachy bar stools, it’s the perfect setting for gathering friends. “Apart from the fact that I obviously love cooking, people seem to gravitate there,” says Conley of the light-filled space. “When I entertain, I always suggest that we go and sit in the living room, but no-one ever wants to do that! I think the kitchen should get bigger and bigger—it’s the place everyone wants to be.”
6 TIPS FOR THROWING THE PERFECT SOIREE
STICK WITH WHAT YOU KNOW “Now is not the time to experiment with new recipes—your menu should be tried and true.”
KEEP YOUR COOL “Have a few bags of ice on hand—they’re essential for any party. Chilled drinks are very important—there’s nothing worse than warm champagne.”
SET UP A BAR “Your guests can always help themselves to a drink. Have a selection of spirits and mixers, with cut lemons and limes, champagne and wine on ice.”
GET READY “Be well prepared and do any food prep and cooking before your guests arrive.”
SWEET DREAMS “Choose a dessert you can make ahead of time, like a crème brûlée or crème caramel, so you can just take it out of the fridge and serve.”
ASK IN ADVANCE “Check with guests ahead of time if they have any food intolerances so that you can create a menu that will suit everyone, without having to make a separate dish.”