Ljae Elwell is lucky enough to spend her working days doing something she loves, but it’s been a rocky evolution.
When Ljae’s son Hunter was born they faced a damning diagnosis – Dravet’s Syndrome. This rare disease is a form of epilepsy and described as a ‘catastrophic seizure disorder’ which is characteristically resistant to medications. Hunter’s condition and quality of life steadily deteriorated with constant seizures and resulting Cerebral Palsy. His condition and need for constant care and frequent hospitalisation also made it impossible for Ljae to hold down a nine to five job.
The facilities and organisations that provided Hunter’s medical care became the focus of life for both of them, with Hunter sometimes spending months at a time at the Children’s Hospital at Westmead and at Bear Cottage in Manly, the only children’s hospice in NSW dedicated to caring for children with life-limiting conditions.
It was five years ago, during one of Hunter’s longer stays in Westmead,that Ljae started to paint. At the time she was studying speech pathology, the long bedside hours suited study, if not regular employment. Grateful for the care the Children’s Hospital was providing her son but also stuck in a sterile and institutional environment, Ljae started decorating the walls of the hospital, bringing some life to the spaces where seriously ill children spend so much time. Ljae also started working on small canvasses, painting personalised scenes for children. She found it therapeutic as well as practical as she was able to carry the supplies with her easily and paint when the opportunity presented itself.
It was one of Hunter’s doctors, a recipient of one of Ljae’s canvasses, who asked the obvious question – why was she studying speech pathology when she had this talent and passion for painting? Lacking the confidence to pursue professionally something she only saw as a past time, Ljae continued with her course, but a year out from graduation the realisation hit her that she would never work as a speech therapist. She stopped studying and started her company Little Monkee Moo’s.
Little Monkee Moo’s is an interior decorating business with a particular slant. Inspired by the adventurous interior design of children’s rooms in other countries, Ljae is driven to bring our children’s spaces to life. She does beautiful wall murals for kids’ rooms, like those that now fill the Children’s Hospital, as well as personalised canvasses and delightfully revamped furnishings.
Ljae is a firm believer that kids’ spaces should be fun and generate happiness. They should also stimulate play and learning as well as provide a comforting haven. Filling a child’s room with things they love is such a simple yet powerful undertaking, creating a special place just for them. Obviously through Hunter’s condition Ljae is especially attuned to providing spaces for children with special needs or with sensory issues. And while any child would love a room decorated by Ljae, it’s these special kids that particularly see the benefit as they are often in those spaces more regularly. Ljae works with therapy teams to provide a result that is tailored to these children’s needs with options like wheelchair-friendly interiors, texture boards and sensory toys, safe storage options and more.
This sensitivity to how beneficial interior spaces can be has also seen Ljae’s skills sought in nursing homes and schools. When we visited Ljae she was working on a large-scale mural in a nursing home. She had obviously put a lot of thought into the space and how the residents would interact with it. They were clearly delighted with not only her work but with Ljae herself, many stopping for a chat and a progress update on their way to morning tea. I think she’ll be missed when the job is complete.
Ljae’s canvasses have been very successful, purchased for newborns, christenings, birthdays and Christmas. Canvasses can feature the child’s name and date of birth, a theme that is special to them, their favourite toy … endless options. Her furnishings have also become sought after, with lovely vintage pieces given a new lease of life, especially for children. Her website also stocks a small amount of other products – teepees, rugs and more.
Ljae has such a zest for life and an inherent kindness that goes into every project she does. So inspired is she to create unique spaces, particularly for children, that she is furthering her study and has embarked on a diploma course in Interior Design and Decorating, which she is loving.
Ljae’s beloved Hunter is still the focus of her life – despite his long term prognosis, there has happily been a recent improvement in his condition – and her tenacity in creating a flexible (and portable) source of income for them is admirable. They still rely heavily on the Children’s Hospital, Bear Cottage and organisations like Central Coast Kids In Need who help families with the financial costs of children with prolonged illness, which is why 20% of all Little Monkee Moo’s profits go to charity – 10% to Bear Cottage and 10% to Central Coast Kids In Need.
You can see more of Ljae’s beautiful work on her website and many of her furnishings and canvasses are available for sale on her Facebook page.