She stands with arms outstretched and a welcoming smile, the sparkling waters of Noosa River reflecting delicately onto the high ceiling behind her.
For Claire Toone, this boutique Pilates and wellness studio in Noosaville has been a labour of love she’s consciously poured herself into for almost seven years.
Ms Toone, 39, hasn’t always called Noosa home – and she admits that Pilates wasn’t her first love.
She grew up in Badger Head, a small rural seaside community in northern Tasmania, and after school she studied fashion business at Sydney’s FBI Fashion College. Soon after, she was off to London to work for one of the most-respected fashion houses in the world, Christian Dior.
“It was such a full-on, stressful job and lifestyle as a whole that I started to get sick all the time, which ironically led me to take a Pilates class locally,” she says.
“I was so drawn to Pilates instantly and wondered if teaching it was something that I could pursue.
“I decided to study for my Pilates instructor certification on the weekends, while working at Dior through the week.”
When Ms Toone completed her training and found the confidence to leave her high-profile job at Dior, she rented a quaint hall in London and handed out flyers offering Pilates classes.
“It’s amazing what you can achieve when you have given yourself no other option,” she says. “I left Dior with no savings and no set plans for my future.
“Thankfully it turned out to be one of the best decisions I ever made.”
Ms Toone soon caught the attention of a high-end private client whom she travelled alongside worldwide, eventually settling in New York where she spent several years teaching at world-renowned studios New York Pilates and Karen Lord Pilates.
New York holds international acclaim as the birthplace of Pilates after Joseph Pilates and his wife Clara opened their first ‘body conditioning gym’ there in 1926. They taught the techniques and philosophy to their apprentices with a focus on resistance and the breath.
Inspired by the thriving wellness culture in New York, Ms Toone says it completely changed her own views on health and wellbeing.
“Being in that environment every day helped shape my views of the kind of space I wanted to create for my own studio one day,” she says.
Ms Toone then fell pregnant with her son Jack, and she and her then husband decided to leave the concrete jungle and return to the slower pace of Australia to raise him.
Now with thriving studios at Noosaville and Sunshine Beach, Ms Toone has curated a team of 17 instructors and specialists, spanning Pilates, barre, yoga, osteo, remedial massage and reiki.
“We have men and women from 18 to 80 years old – some who have been with me since I opened the doors almost seven years ago.
“I’m incredibly proud of this wellness community, and the inclusive environment we’ve created.”
Katie Robke is a student at the University of the Sunshine Coast.