Friday, November 27, 2009

Interview - Max Kater of Murchison-Hume!

The beautiful, non-toxic, eco and kid-friendly, Australian-made Murchison-Hume product range!

Top - Max's vintage apothecary bottle collection which inspired Murchison-Hume's stunning amber-bottle packaging. Bottom - Details from Max's beautiful bright and very organised home!

Oh Max Kater's Sydney home is just stunning, isn't it? How about that blackboard wall in the kitchen? You might recognise these shots from Apartment Therapy a little while ago!)

Now listen. If there is one deliciously luxurious thing you can do for yourself, your home, your family AND our precious environment... it's switch your cleaning products. Murchison-Hume products are the most simple, natural, organic, eco and kid-friendly Australian-made cleaning products money can buy. (And they're not expensive!). They're grey-water friendly, they're packaged beautifully... they're truly the most glamourous and guilt-free way to clean your home!

Murchison-Hume is a small, Sydney-based Husband-and-wife business set to conquer the world. Truly! This inspiring young Australian business is the brainchild of LA-born Max Kater, whose 'light bulb moment' came initially as a response to her kids' allergies. She couldn't find any products on the market that were visually appealing, genuinely green and truly effective - so she made her own!

I find Max's story so inspiring - with no experience in this area, she has grown the Murchison-Hume product range and brand to global recognition and impressive international orders! (They just got their first order from Anthropologie in the US!! Hold onto your seats!). Max is a busy working Mum, and I truly have no idea how she finds the time to run her business from a home office (which double's as her eldest son's bedroom!), between the hours of 9.00am and 3.00pm!

As you'll see below, Max takes it all in her stride - she's unaffected, family-focussed and she has a wicked sense of humour... read on for a thoroughly entertaining insight into the clean, green and very inspiring world of Murchison-Hume!

Tell me a little about your background – what path led you to what you’re doing now?

If someone had told me 10 years ago that I would end up making organic house-cleaning products, I would have suggested a nice cup of tea and a lie-down in a darkened room.

Having said that, my years as a Fashion Editor certainly helped to sharpen my personal aesthetic and my inner Domestic Goddess really kicked into overdrive when I became a Mother. I like to think I’ve brought that mixed bag of skills together in Murchison-Hume. Sexy styling meets domestic practicality…why not?

Tell us about the genesis of Murchison Hume.

Well, imagine the shock of working with the most beautiful clothing, shoes and accessories in the world to using yellow plastic dish brushes and Pine O’Kleen on a daily basis. Ugh! I decided then and there that cleaning products needed a makeover.

How did the concept originally come about?

I guess my “light bulb moment” came soon after having my second son Charles. We discovered that he had inherited my perfect trifecta of allergies; eczema and asthma.

A stylish Parisian friend (aren’t they all?) sent me an article about toxicity in the home and how they can exacerbate allergies and eczema and the more I read, the more I learned that it’s fairly easy to keep a clean house without using products that can be harmful (not to mention downright dangerous!) to our families and the planet. Sadly, there was nothing out there that was appealing visually, genuinely green and truly effective…so I made my own!

Max's son Ben's beautiful blue bedroom

What challenges did you face in realising your ideas, and making your idea a commercial success?

Really the only barrier was time. I’m sure every working Mother can relate to this, but seriously, the real challenge to starting any venture is to be able carve out the necessary time to be creative (while still managing to keep you and your family fed, bathed and clothed). And you can forget about getting your hair done. Learn to embrace the ponytail!

How is it working in a husband-wife partnership!? Can you give us an insight into the structure of the company – do you have other employees, and which significant tasks do you outsource?

Everyone says: “Oh how can you work with your husband, don’t you drive each other crazy all day?!” And the short answer is: “of course!” But I think Husbands can drive you crazy whether or not you’re in business together, don’t you? On the plus-side, I get to sleep with the boss.

Seriously though, I think we have a very complimentary skill set: Peter manages the business end of things, including our small staff of six at the factory and I do the creative bits from my office at home…I live only for art and beauty darling!

Which creative minds did you collaborate with when developing the Murchison Hume range?

I am lucky because my friends happen to be a fairly productive and creative bunch. Susan Sheller from Cotton Love Home was my constant guinea-pig from the very beginning. Shannon Fricke taught me how to enhance the subtleties of colour; Charlotte Sherston encouraged me to write like I speak (a dangerous and controversial idea) and Samantha Wagner (from Sambag) gave me the inspiration and the courage to stick my neck out and take Murchison-Hume from “hobby” into business with gusto!

Did you enlist a designer to help with graphics or packaging? It is so beautifully presented!

Pretty early on, I had a clear idea that my cleaning products would resemble old-fashioned apothecary bottles (which I love and collect). And Geraldine Ward, who is my Graphic Designer and a genius mind-reader, was able to take my ideas and translate them into a logo, labels and a perfect website for us.

Which creative people are you inspired by?

Oh, how much time do you have? Beauty is everywhere. Good design is everywhere and I cast a wide net when it comes to looking for sources of ideas.

In Australia alone, I am inspired by stylists Kristen Bookallil; Glen Proebstel, Sibella Court and Megan Morton who like me, can find beauty in almost anything.

Fashion Designers like Carl Kapp and Josh Goot for their refined take on Australian style, shops like Becker-Minty, Space Furniture and davidmetnicole represent an eclectic mix of everything that good design has to offer and even the Coca-Cola sign in Kings Cross gives me a creative jolt every time I see it!

What does a typical day at work involve for you?

Typically, I try to be up and “dressed” by 7:30am. I put the quotes around dressed because working from home, getting dressed requires little more than a clean face, a neat bun and a T-shirt dress!

After the boys have left for school, I try and make sporadic attempts at exercise (on the Wii Fit). But mostly I spend the day at my eldest son’s desk (which doubles as my office during school hours). When I’m worried or trying to figure something out, I go and do a little tidy up somewhere… I know it sounds slightly OCD, but it calms me down to fold towels or re-organise my sock drawer. Sad, but true.

By 3:00pm the house is full of noisy boys and afterschool activities, snacks, etc. I try to snatch at least another hour or two of work before it’s time to make dinner and then it’s bath, pyjamas, bed and it starts all over again the next day. Clearly I need to get out more…

Refreshing and so inspiring to her that Max manages to run a business from a home office that doubles as her eldest son's bedroom!

What are you most proud of professionally?

Apart from the obvious fact that it’s keeping us in shoe leather, the fact that my quirky little idea is being embraced by people all over the world. Pinch me!

What would be your dream project?

Oh, easy! Re-fitting the Qantas First Class Lounge (and all of its lounges and planes) with Australian-made Murchison-Hume products!

What are you looking forward to?

Being able to entertain at home again, now that the weather in Sydney is warmer!

Max's serene outdoor entertaining area... so very gorgeously Sydney!

NSW Questions –

What/where was the last great meal you ate in Sydney?

My house: employee dinner, last Thursday. We have just employed an American, Peter Lyle, to help me manage things on the domestic front and he made a mustard béarnaise sauce to die for!

Where would we find you on a typical Saturday morning?

At the moment, Saturday morning entails trying to read the papers with my youngest son, Charles (he always hogs the Real Estate section) while his older brother is at cricket!

Sydney’s best kept secret?

I’ll tell you if you promise not to laugh…remember, I am an expatriate and we never really lose our tourist habits: I lovelovelove the Chinese Garden of Friendship at Darling Harbour. Not nearly as cheesy at it sounds (how could it be)? I have a bit of a Koi fetish and I adore sitting in the Lotus Pond Pavilion, drinking tea and throwing bits of Char Siu Bao to the fish. The boys scramble over the rocks and we can languish there all afternoon…heaven!

Max's own watergarden, Koi fish and brand new waterlilies!

Thanks so much for Max for this interview, and for sharing such beautiful photos of her glorious home! I feel I should say, also, that I use Murchison-Hume products everyday at home and I can honestly vouch for their incredible effectiveness! My absolute favourites are the Counter-Intelligence chemical-free food surface spray (truly as effective as Spray-n-wipe - minus the ticklish nose!), and the Everyday Furniture Spritzer, which effortlessly removes sticky marks and gives timber furniture a beautiful sleek sheen. You gotta try it!


  1. I have just finished renovating my kitchen and the first thing I did was head out and buy the Murchison Home dishwashing liquid and the handwash to sit right next to each other at the sink. Gorgeous! Fabulous that someone has finally produced something you actually want to display, and can afford! Great work Max.

  2. honey....please tell me they run a line of toilet cleaner that works; max is the mum of boys too, so surely she knows what i mean?!! i just need to get my hands on eco-toilet cleaner...i'm going out of my head looking for it!! gorgeous products. x

  3. I loved the glass jar with the corks inside of it:)

    And your interviews are so so good:) Congrats**

  4. oh yes!!!

    such a lovely interview.

    I also use ALL murchison-home products and I just LOVE them.

    I may even love them more just because of the packaging (and the box they came in) but seriously, the fact they don't burn me when I clean and my house doesn't smell like a "just cleaned" public toliet, (you know, that typical bleechy citris smell) is fantastic.

    Makes me happy they are also a small lovely little buiness, which I kinda figured.

    LOVE the house. SUPER jealous. Super.

    Renee xx