The Sydney home of fashion designer Lee Mathews. Concrete top table made by a friend… ‘we can never move it, it is too heavy but very useful’ says Lee! Chairs and french school stools from Ici et La. Navajo blanket from South West Trader – ‘I have a few of these things, I LOVE THEM’ says Lee…. ‘and a Parker side board… I know, everyone has one!’. Photo - Sean Fennessy, production – Lucy Feagins / The Design Files.
Loungeroom detail. Anglepoise lamp from Ici et La, a favourite vintage girl guide blanket on the arm of the sofa. Poster from Lee’s ex-husband, vintage retailer Guy Mathews, and signage sourced over the years. Photo - Sean Fennessy, production – Lucy Feagins / The Design Files.
Another view of Lee’s amazing loungeroom – and that library! French school stools and anglepoise lamp from Ici et La. Navajo blanket from South West Trader. Photo - Sean Fennessy, production – Lucy Feagins / The Design Files.
Dining area. Metal cabinet from Doug up on Bourke. Chairs from Ici et la. The glass on all these first floor windows are louvres, so Lee had the ‘doors’ built to close over them and add an extra sound/ wind barrier. ’I like how they have domesticated the environment somehow’ says Lee. Photo - Sean Fennessy, production – Lucy Feagins / The Design Files.
If you’ve ever set foot in one of fashion designer Lee Mathews‘ magical stores in either Melbourne, Sydney or Brisbane, these shots of her incredible warehouse home in Sydney’s Balmain will delight but probably not surprise you! With a clear affection for all things vintage, antique or otherwise pre-loved, Lee’s eye for detail extends beyond her eponymous fashion label and eclectic retail stores, into the industrial open plan living space she shares with her partner, and teenage daughter Matilda.
Lee first launched her fashion label in Sydney in 2001, with a simple desire to make feminine, easy to wear clothing for women. Her timeless designs, constructed in high quality silks, linens and cotton, shy well away from fleeting fashion trends, and are instead characterised by a relaxed wearability and vintage inspired aesthetic. I can say with absolute hand-on-my-heart honesty that I have been a HUGE fan of Lee’s clothes for many years, having first been introduced to her label by my Mum not long after the label launched (hey, Mums know about these things). Despite her incredible success in the Australian fashion industry over the last 10+ years (she now has 6 retail stores and over 60 national stockists), there has always been something ‘different’ about the Lee Mathews aesthetic – its hard to pin point, but I think in very general terms there is an understatedness and relaxed sense of confidence about her work which really gives the whole brand a unique personality rarely seen in high street fashion stores. These are qualities which I now realise also very much describe Lee as a person, and in turn, explain something of the eclectic, hyper creative yet distinctly unselfconscious home she has created here.
In fact, its not entirely surprising that Lee’s home is so aesthetically in line with the look and feel of her brand and her stores – as it happens, this amazing space, the first floor of an old saw tooth factory, was once the headquarters for Lee’s fashion label. ’Having used the space as an office for 2 years, and having outgrown it, I was reluctant to move because it was such an unusual find’ explains Lee. Instead, she moved in. ’It was open plan when we moved in, so we built two bedrooms and created ‘living’ spaces with moveable walls to create separate areas for sitting, eating and a little office’ she explains. The flexibility of the space allows for Lee to bring her work home at least a day or two each week, and also accomodates her almost-grown-up kids, Matilda and Charlie, who divide their time between Sydney and Melbourne, where their Dad, vintage / industrial trader Guy Mathews is based.
Having moved here from Sydney’s Northern Beaches, Lee was originally a little concerned that she would have trouble adjusting to the inner city ‘no garden’ and ‘no beach’ environment here, but it didn’t take long to settle in. ’The space is so calm and light filled, it really has not been as traumatic as I imagined!’ she says. ’I don’t know if my daughter agrees, but I like it!’.
Of course, it’s not just the generous proportions and natural light that makes this place so special. Lee has collected what appears to be far more than a fair lifetimes’ worth of vintage and industrial furniture, antiques, artwork and textiles, all displayed to maximum effect in the most fabulous mish mash of colour, texture and detail! An avid collector of many things, Lee is particularly fond of her varied collection of soft furnishings. ’I love textiles old and new – blankets, rugs, quilts, and colour of any kind’ she says. ’We have rather alot of rugs, which I am very fond of’. All the stunning rugs pictured in Lee’s home have come from her good friends I+B Perryman in Sydney. ’I have learned much about the rugs of the world from them’ she says.
It was so lovely to have the opportunity to meet Lee and spend a morning photographing her amazing home – I do hope we’ve been able to convey some of its magic here! For Melbourne Lee Mathews fans, I just have to let you know that she has a stunning new store in Lygon street Carlton, opened just a couple of months ago – well worth a look if you haven’t already popped in!