How Amanda Callan Converted An Old Church Into Her Dream Family Home
Welcome to The Makers. Each week, we celebrate innovators, artisans and crafters of all types by taking you on a private tour of their creative spaces. For this instalment, we head to northern New South Wales where Church Farm General Store's Amanda Callan and her family live in a lovingly restored old church.
Amanda Callan and her partner Andrew Morris knew as soon as they saw it. This was the one. Eight years ago, the couple drove up the driveway to an old church in the small town of Billinudgel in northern New South Wales. It was nothing but an empty hall with a tiny bathroom, but Callan had a feeling.
“When we first drove up… and saw the ‘for sale’ sign with a mobile number, I felt sick in my stomach because I knew it was ours,” Callan recalls. “Sounds weird, but true.”
After some much-needed renovations—raising the church from the ground to protect it from flooding, adding a deck, a mezzanine, more bathrooms and a bedroom space—the church became a home for their family of six. Callan kept the majority of the church’s interior open: a sprawling living, kitchen and dining area, with sections partitioned off for bedrooms for their four young sons. “We are very much deep in the family zone at the moment,” Callan says.
It’s here, in the open-plan kitchen and living area, that Callan and Morris work on making products for their business, Church Farm General Store. Handmade soaps, rich with essential oils, are on offer alongside a couple of killer hot sauces, curry pastes and a mouthwatering tomato passata. All products are made from homegrown and local produce, and Callan’s background in naturopathy inspires her soap-making practice. “We never intended it to be a real business, just a hobby, but we are so grateful for the way things turned out,” she says.
Despite her business success and the devoted fan base for her products, Callan says she isn’t “very creative.” For her, Church Farm General Store is about fulfilling a need within her own family, and making products that are useful in their own kitchen and bathroom first and foremost. “If I can’t find something that I want or need,” she explains, “I often just make it myself.”
Hi Amanda! This series is called The Makers. What is it that you make?
I make herbal bar soaps, and together with my partner Andrew and our crew at Church Farm General Store, we make a range of food products with homegrown and local produce including sauces and curry pastes.
How does the act of “making” relate to your personality and who you are?
I like to scrutinise every ingredient in anything I buy (just ask Andrew), so to have complete control over this habit and make things from scratch really gives me joy.
Tell us about your career journey to date. Did you always know you wanted to pursue this line of work?
My love for plants and herbs really grew when I began a degree in Naturopathy, which includes herbal medicine. Herbal manufacturing and botany subjects were my favourite and I love playing with fresh plants, drying plants, infusing oils, making balms and then eventually soaps.
What’s been the single most crucial tool or strategy you’ve used to grow your business?
Our strategy is... we just make things we like to use ourselves, and then cross our fingers and hope that other people are into them, too. Being a part of the local farmers markets has been great to connect with the local community and also the travellers that come by this way. I guess the wonderful world of the internet and social media has opened up some other great opportunities. Basically, we’re just winging it and learning along the way.
What’s been the most challenging lesson learnt since you started your business?
Balancing life, family and business is always a challenge. We want to keep everyone happy and provide a good service, however we also have four children (including newborn twins), love alone time and prioritise our lifestyle, so finding a way to weave that all together is sometimes tricky.
What’s been the best thing that’s happened to you since you started your business?
Connecting with our customers and being a part of their meal time and bathing rituals, growing our team and working with other great businesses.
Do you have a single piece of advice you’d give to your younger self or someone looking to start their own business?
Don’t be scared to take risks, everything always works out. And even if it doesn’t, that’s all good too.
Now, the home stuff. How long have you lived in your home?
Almost eight years.
Tell us about your renovation process.
It was just an empty hall with a tiny bathroom when we moved in, no kitchen, no bedrooms, full of mosquitos. We raised the church from the ground so it was safe from the flood waters, sectioned off some bedrooms, built a mezzanine and an ensuite, a deck, and a back patio. It has been a gradual and continual labour of love. Lucky one of our oldest friends is a great builder.
What was the thought process behind the way you’ve styled the interior?
It is just a collection of things that we have found over time. Most of our furniture is from second hand stores or Gumtree, we collect many cookbooks because we love food, and it turns out we really like the colour green.
What are your favourite pieces in the home?
Our kitchen stools by our beautiful friend Jeremy from JD Lee furniture and artwork by the wonderful Mia Taninaka. I love filling our home with our clever friend’s creations.
Do you have any special décor pieces you’re looking to add?
I’m swooning over Niah Mcleod’s paintings and one day we will get a giant Pampa rug, when these boys learn how to wash their feet.
Shop Amanda's look with Rust and Terracotta in our Build Your Own Bundle.
Which is your favourite room in the house?
It’s a close call between the kitchen and our sunny timber deck.
What are your top tips for a well-styled bedroom, and home generally?
I guess just buy things you love, and that you need, and don’t concern yourself with trends because there is already so much stuff in the world and we all don’t need to redecorate our house a million times because it’s wasteful and unlikely to be the source of happiness.
Do you have any projects coming up you want to talk about?
That’s all very top secret. No not really, we are very much deep in the family zone at the moment. We do have a few new things coming soon, but I don’t want to jinx them!
Shop Amanda's look with Olive and Sage in our Build Your Own Bundle.
For more from Amanda, follow her at @churchfarmgeneralstore.