Updated: Aug 26, 2021
Get to know Michele Cook
Michele Cook is the proud owner of a very unique Utopia in Wauchope - Utopian Living which is located on the corner of High and Cameron Street in Wauchope.
Michele grew up in Port Macquarie and she later moved to Sydney on the Gold Coast and to Brisbane. It was a typical life growing up and moving away from home to a big city.
Her careers have not been so typical though. For a bit of background, Michele used to do a bit of surfing in the late 70s and 80s so she is one to have a go at anything. She worked for IBM and she also tried her luck as a blackjack dealer on the Gold Coast. She has been an assistant accountant for some of the big developments on the Gold Coast. Michele taught art for a number of years as well in Brisbane. She taught abstract, portraiture and life drawing to students from five to seventy-five.
After the whirlwind of careers, she came back to Port Macquarie eight years ago.
It was tough deciding where the family wanted to settle down. She finally moved back to the Hastings region with her family, drawn by life in a smaller community where there was a closer connection with people around her.
The Birth of Utopian Living
Utopian Living is located on the corner of High and Cameron Street in Wauchope.
When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, Michele lost her job, and getting another at her age (50+) was not easy. With both children and most of her family in Brisbane, she was on her own due to border closures. This was a dire situation many found themselves in, and for Michele who had a meditation background, she was well aware soon enough that her mental health was sinking fast.
Painting became her place of solace. She had not painted for 16 years and her mental health situation brought her to seek some stability and peace among her canvases and brushes. The more she painted, the more the art stoked the creative fire inside her. She started making handcrafted jewellery and was letting her creativity lead.
This sparked off the idea in her to try selling some of her artwork at the local markets. Unfortunately, the markets were also affected by the pandemic.
Having one setback after another can take a toll on one's spirits. Call it a twist of fate, a stroke of luck, or the magical forces of the universe at work, Michele had been driving past a shopfront in Wauchope on a daily basis, and it had a "For Lease" sign on the window. It made Michele stop and wonder and she took the vital step of calling the landlord about the shop space.
And again, the planets were in alignment as the landlord turned out to be wonderfully understanding and kind and did not lock her into a long lease. Michele was given the leeway to see how her business would develop during this difficult time in retail.
And that was how Utopian Living was magically and miraculously born.
The Power of Words
Michele is a firm believer in the power of words and how they affect the way we feel and think. She is clearly one to walk the talk, as she has taken herself through the dire period of the pandemic to where she is now by not speaking negatively to herself.
The name of her shop came from her idea of a community or lifestyle that is ideal, relaxed and with zero stress. Michele is living her very own Utopia now and is sharing her Utopian Living with everyone.
Utopian Living opened its peaceful ambience and friendly atmosphere to the world. People have been delighted by the handcrafted, locally made artworks and jewellery. It stands out as a niche market with its organic artworks - each piece is individual and made with care, attention and a big dose of Michele's tranquility and gentleness.
This has truly turned out to be an amazing Utopia for Michele, because she was booked out one week after opening the doors of Utopian Living in October. She has now had to close her books for her commissioned artworks.
A point to note for us to be mindful of the power of words and naming - Michele's careful choice of her shop and her respect for the power of language has brought her a very joyous and beautiful life.
The Utopian Process
Michele uses the style Dutch Pour in her artworks. This involves mixing her own colours and layering them onto the canvas and then blowing them out with a hairdryer or an airbrush or a straw.
Each painting comes to life with its own body, texture and tone. Every piece is different and unique. It is in fact, impossible to create the same piece even if she wanted to, because the way the colors interact take on their own life force, and you never quite know what you could create. Nothing is forced or controlled, everything flows and there is a feeling of the essence of life when each molecule, each bubble, each wave, each fold take on their own form, shaped by its external conditions. Each piece is like how a human is born - unique, special and perfect in its own way.
Michele delights in her creative process and while it brings her tranquility and emotional healing, she is also very lifted by the people who enter her shop, see her works and fall in love with her creations. She has created things that delight people. That is a great source of joy and energy for Michele.
Now, Michele has customers from Germany, various places in America, and Canada. While her website is being set up, people have already got wind of Utopian Living and want more than a few pieces of it.
Michele has every right to feel proud of what she has achieved. This all started from a small spare room in her home and now it is being shared around the world and very much loved by the locals of her community in the Greater Port Macquarie-Hastings region.
Bringing People Together
The real sense of community and care in Wauchope was a deciding factor when Michele was considering moving her shopfront to Port Macquarie to bigger premises.
The community did not want her to leave and so Michele stayed.
Simply put, the community has embraced Utopian Living and Michele. They are now very much a part of their landscape and life. She has regular customers who lovingly wear her handcrafted necklaces, earrings and rings and enjoy feeling good dressing up in her creations.
Michele's handcrafted rings are a special favourite with many. She uses raw gemstones, diamonds and rubies set in silver in an organic and creative process. These are creations that make one want to wear them always and to pass them on for years to come.
Michele even has 100% Italian merino wool scarves. These are of course handmade by Michele.
She is not one to sit back and get comfortable. Michele researched clothes to see if there was an avenue for a niche. She found an American company offering a range of funky but not over-the-top pieces. It has a beautiful bohemian charm and ease, and every piece has its unique spunk and identity. This has since become a hot favourite with the community and Michele is eager for new arrivals.
One reason why Michele's Utopian Living is growing so beautifully is her ability to stretch out and explore. She likes supporting others who handcraft, reuse or who create beautiful pieces as a way to meet their own living needs.
Michele's exquisite silk bangle wraps sourced from India are an example of this. Her son travelled there a few years ago and met some ladies working in sari making factories. These women worked long hours for a meagre pay. At the end of the day, they collected their scraps of silk ribbon to sell on the side to support their families. Michele researched and found these ladies. After making contact with them, she now purchases from them and creates bangles from the silk. Michele's sense of community is clearly not limited by geography.
Michele values pieces that are lovingly made by hand and which have been created with the gift of time, skill and effort. Products mass produced in an assembly line is not her cup of tea.
She loves looking out for the simple beauty of all kinds of common objects we often take for granted - handcrafted perfume bottles, leather belts, elegant light shades, candle holders and stands. She has sourced for these from around the world from artisans. As an artist and creator herself, she understands the value of a pair of hands of a skilled craftsman.
Michele's travels to Turkey in the past have inspired her to infuse some of her pieces with their style at Utopian Living. What you will find here are organic, handcrafted items with minimal processing - Michele wants people to connect with her works at a natural level.
Find Your Tribe
Michele loves her shopfront in Wauchope. It has helped her through some of her darkest moments and is now bringing her so much joy.
Every moment spent in the shop, whether she is creating or attending to a customer or simply having a chat with someone who popped in to say hello are all moments that give her a sense of life and connection. Since opening the shop, many of her customers have become friends.
The ladies from the Lighthouse Beach area in Port Macquarie are an example of this. One of them purchased a painting from Michele, displayed it in her home and her friends who saw it all wanted one too! This was just the start of these ladies bringing visitors to Utopian Living and Michele's artwork has been brought to all parts of Australia.
Utopian Living has taken on this magical connection because of Michele's belief in the value of human connection. How people treat each other is key to living a fulfilling life and growing a business. People who step out of Utopian Living are not the same person they were when they entered the shop. It is a place that has a warm and empowering vibe. The way Michele interacts with every single person is key to this magic.
Michele's Utopian Living is not a separate entity for her. It is a part of her life and it is her therapy. She loves what she does and it brings her peace. This is where she is in her element, doing what she loves, creating and sourcing for beautiful things and meeting beautiful people. Her shop has taken on a life of its own. Michele greets her shop every morning when she enters, like an old friend, to a place where she feels safe and loving.
This is her Utopia. Her Happy Place. And she created it with her own hands.
The best part is, Michele gets to share this with her community, and the rest of the world. Utopia is not a mythical place. You can create it right here.
Welcome to Utopian Living. On Earth. In Wauchope.
Contact Utopian Living
m/ 0413 764 129
Shop 5, 7 High Street, Wauchope, NSW 2446, Australia
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