The storybook charm of a toy shop in France was so enchanting it inspired Kim Cotton to write a new chapter in her life.
“I was alone in this tiny village with my daughter in the French Alps and we came across a toy store with these sparkling lights and the most fantastic objects displayed in the window,” Kim said.
“It felt like we had been transported in time to a place that was traditional and simple and beautiful, and somewhere spoke of wonder and joy.”
This encounter eventually resulted in Kim opening a shop of her own, Little French Heart, in the seaside village of Bundeena in the Royal National Park.
The treasures she sells have a story and, as a writer, storytelling is important to Kim.
But let’s start this story at the beginning.
“I used to come to Bundeena as a child,” said Kim, who grew up in the Sutherland Shire. “That was more than 50 years ago – and my footprints are here – my metaphorical footprints – and I grew up with this deep love of the bush and the sea.”
Kim has lived and worked as a journalist in the Illawarra and Sydney.
Twelve years ago, she took her daughter Eaven, who was six years old at the time, to France. While in that tiny snow-laden French village, she began thinking of new ideas for her future.
“What can I do? What would Chanel do at this stage?” Kim draws inspiration from Coco Chanel’s independent style, her eye for beauty and her ability to meld it with the everyday.
“I returned to the toy store,” Kim said. “I went in the next day and they gave me brochures and contacts for the amazing toys and decor. Although I spoke little French, we muddled through, and that’s where the journey began.”
Kim started importing French toys and decor as a passion project, selling to other shops.
“I’d work on that at night on my own, because I was a solo parent, and it enabled me to explore my creativity and develop new skills – and to see if I could just make some extra money out of it in a romantic way because I think, at heart, I’m a romantic.”
Kim moved on to selling the products online and focused on kindness to counteract the digital world’s anonymity.
“It’s my mantra that I offer kind service,” she said. “Kindness in the terms of my business’s footprint; kindness in terms of how I interact with people.”
Kim moved into her Bundeena shop in January.
While she is learning to become a shop owner, the products’ stories are at the heart of what she does.
“It is about things that are artisanal, and the ways that these beautiful, creative people from all over the world have produced small batches of items, on the most part, that have a face, a poetry and a history behind them,” she explained.
“For example, the boats that I sell have been handmade in France since 1946 by one family. The boats all float and the wood is sourced from their local wood supplier 50 km away from their home in a tiny town in Brittany.
“What I have tried to do is to promote a sense of wonder and joy and connection with family, because most of the toys that you have here, you can interact with your child, which creates moments of quality time together.”
When children have outgrown the toys and clothes, they can be passed on. “So, nothing ends up in landfill,” Kim said.
There is a place in Kim’s heart for her first display cabinet.
“This is the genesis of Little French Heart because it’s where the vision intersected with reality,” she said. “It has trinkets in it from all over the world, some old, some new. All of them have a story that promotes wonder and curiosity.
“I can’t help myself. The parent and education journalist and the desire to see children learn and thrive is never far away.”
As the business grew, Kim’s heart connected with another, her partner Joe Meagher who has established the adjoining La Petite Maison des Arts Gallery, a showcase for Bundeena’s and Maianbar’s arts community.
“In a way, I’ve done a full circle, as a child spending my days of play in the bush in the national park,” Kim said.
“I’ve been all over the world and I’ve come back here with all of that knowledge and all of those experiences and I’ve created my story out of it – and that’s Little French Heart.”
The first exclusive art exhibition Bundeena a Moi by Tony Fragar opens on Friday 3 November. The Bundeena Maianbar Art Trail will be held on 5 November. For more information, check out the website.
Little French Heart, 42 Brighton St, Bundeena. Opening hours: Friday, Saturday and Sunday 10 am to 4 pm. For more information, visit the website.