A Family Home That Pushes The Boundaries Between Art And Design

We’ve seen a lot of amazing homes, and one thing we’ve come to notice over the years, are those distinct hallmarks that make a home feel ‘quintessentially Australian’. This isn’t one of those homes.

This is a home with its own unique energy, a home that could easily be in London, Berlin or Paris. It’s a bold, and unapologetically creative space which blurs the distinction between art and design. It belongs to interior designer Kate Challis and her family.

Lucy Feagins

The Fitzroy home of interior designer Kate Challis and family. Photo mural by Melbourne artist Valerie Sparks. Photo – Sharyn Cairns.

Interior designer Kate Challis at home. Photo mural by Melbourne artist Valerie Sparks. Photo – Sharyn Cairns.

Incredible dining room, with custom pendant light by Christopher Boots. Photo – Sharyn Cairns.

Looking through to the formal lounge room. Frigerio Armchairs (1970) reupholstered in hot pink velvet! Photo – Sharyn Cairns.

Formal lounge room, with Frigerio Armchairs (1970) reupholstered in hot pink velvet, and 1970s Fratelli Toso Murano chandelier! The deep sea green paint on the walls was inspired by Margaret Preston’s work ‘Western Australian Gum Blossom’ (1928). Photo – Sharyn Cairns.

The Ora desk lamp by melbourne designer Ross Gardam. Photo – Sharyn Cairns.

Incredible attention to detail in this richly layered home! Photo – Sharyn Cairns.

Cole & Son cloud wallpaper at the end of the hall. Photo – Sharyn Cairns.

Photo – Sharyn Cairns.

Cole & Son cloud wallpaper in the stairwell. Photo – Sharyn Cairns.

Cole & Son cloud wallpaper. Photo – Sharyn Cairns.

The new rooftop terrace, created over the rear garage. Photo – Sharyn Cairns.

Laundry. Photo – Sharyn Cairns.

A dramatic bathroom, with hand-made Moroccan tiles by Popham. Photo – Sharyn Cairns.

Master bedroom. Photo – Sharyn Cairns.

Photo – Sharyn Cairns.

Lucy Feagins
22nd of April 2019

Behind an unassuming Victorian shopfront on Fitzroy’s Gertrude st, is this incredibly creative home, which brings together historic art references, local craftsmanship, and a truly incredible use of colour!

Interior Designer Kate Challis purchased the property over 15 years ago. ‘Gertrude street was quite different back then…’ she recalls ‘…no barista insight and a rough reputation, but we loved it’. What they purchased was a charming 19th-century shop front with an adjoining residence, and Kate and her family lived here for a number of years, before embarking on a proper renovation.

In collaboration with Ridolfi Architecture, Kate completely reworked the original floorplan, moving the kitchen and dining to the street-facing end of the home, and the formal lounge to the rear. The former shop window was blanketed in double-glazed frosted glass, ensured a sense of privacy, whilst remaining sympathetic to the neighbouring shopfronts. Finally, the family added an extra bedroom upstairs, and roof garden above the rear garage.

In a decorative sense, the project has been heavily influenced by Kate’s love for art (she has a PhD in art history) and is inspired specifically by two Australian female artists, Margaret Preston (1875 – 1963) and Valerie Sparks (b. 1961). The deep sea green paint in the formal lounge was inspired by Margaret Preston’s work ‘Western Australian Gum Blossom’ (1928) and painted in a distemper finish, popular in the nineteenth century. Meanwhile, the incredible photo mural on the walls in the kitchen/dining rooms was a collaboration with Valerie Sparks, a Melbourne artist, and is a customisation of her ‘Le Vol’ series’. Other bespoke details include a lighting commission above the dining table by Melbourne designer Christopher Boots, and custom pendants by local lighting studio Volker Haug.

‘I set out to see how far I could push the boundaries between art and design’ Kate explains. ‘As a family home it needed to be functional, but I also I wanted to create an immersive atmosphere in the tradition of grand homes of the past.’

Since launching her interior design practice in 2015, the home has also become a valuable example of Kate’s distinctive design aesthetic, including her love of brave colour, and her tendency towards bespoke details, often created in collaboration with local artists. Kate often brings her clients home to show them what can be achieved within a period home, and give them the courage to be bold!

Kate has relished the opportunity to design her own home without compromise, and to add a new layer to this building’s rich history.  ‘The property was originally a turn of the century shop front… and by the early 1970s was home to Melbourne’s first feminist bookshop, the ‘Shrew Women’s Bookshop’ Kate explains. ‘With such a strong and powerful history, I wanted it to feel otherworldly and be totally unexpected’.

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