The idea of ‘manifestation’ is pretty simple. Rhonda Byrne, the author of the international best-selling book The Secret, famously espoused the notion that if you think long and hard about something you want, it will eventually appear in your life. Unfortunately, The Secret didn’t work for me when I wished to have a boyfriend with one blue eye, one green eye by my 18th birthday. But for others, manifestation has yielded impressive results.
Take Tracey Lester, the owner of today’s ‘Good Room’, for instance. She knew her Fitzroy dream home was her dream home before she even stepped inside. ‘I always wanted to buy this house,’ she says. ‘I lived in the area and always walked past waiting for a for sale sign to go up, and it never did, so I just waited for years.’ Tracey loved the square shape of this warehouse building, and the fact that it was positioned right next to a park… but she especially loved that it was in Fitzroy – the suburb she’s lived in since 1990.
I ask her if she’ll ever leave the neighbourhood. ‘This community is part of my life now, it’s right on my door step.’ She describes Fitzroy as being ‘rough as’ in the early ‘90s. ‘You’d see all kinds of things, like people selling stolen goods out of their car boots,’ she says. ‘These days there’s more leisure wear but in the 1990s you wouldn’t be caught dead leaving the house in your yoga pants.’
It was also the social hub for Melbourne arts scene. Tracey was a fine art photographer, and she and her mates would spend much of their time along Gertrude and Johnston streets. ‘There weren’t many places to go, so everyone would end up at the same places at night and see each other the next morning eating eggs.’
Tracey in time ended up becoming Fitzroy hospitality royalty in her own right, emerging as one of Melbourne’s most successful pub and bar owners. Returning to Melbourne after working in hospitality in London, she ran her father’s restaurant, before co-running The Builder’s Arms and eventually opening her own pub, Yelza. ‘The original plan was to run the bar as an art practice and change the interiors every month… I was dreaming!’ She quickly learned running a business was ‘not as glamorous’ as she imagined. ‘I didn’t realise I had to vacuum the floor and clean the toilets every night,’ she laughs. But she persevered, opening The Windsor Castle Hotel in 2001, then The Carlton Club in 2006, and is currently renovating her latest pub – The Gertrude Hotel.
But back in 2005, two weeks before taking over the iconic Swanston Street building which would become The Carlton Club, Tracey finally became the owner of the Fitzroy warehouse she had been manifesting for years. It was no surprise to her. ‘I was willing to wait as long as it took,’ she laughs. There were a few tests of fate before she got the keys! ‘I remember a couple coming into Yelza once, celebrating the sale of their home, and when I asked where they lived they told me it was the warehouse!’ Another time a friend took on the lease and when it was time to move out, she thought she’d be able to swoop in, but the owners were moving back in. A few years later, she was flicking through the newspaper and ‘saw the tiniest ad for the house’. She wasted no time.
Tracey finally bought the dream house (woo!) and got to work on her good room straight away. ‘I feel this room is a representation of me: it’s bright and shiny and quirky and colourful and loud and hot pink,’ she says. ‘It’s my place to recharge.’
Not just anything makes it into Tracey Lester’s good room, though, only things that she feels connected to. Over the last decade, she’s only added things to it that meet a ‘100% joy’ policy. Art from people she knows, furniture she yearned for while still at uni, and ephemera she’s collected on her travels.
Some of her most treasured items are glass sculptures by Mark Douglass (the silver family on her dining table and blue beauty on her TV unit), Rhys Lee painting and Anne-Marie May Perspex wall sculpture. She also informally calls herself a ‘patron’ of Brendan Huntley’s work and has an extensive collection of his art, that covers his journey from emerging to established artist. ‘He had one of his first shows at The Carlton Club years ago,’ she recalls. ‘The pubs are designed with purpose and to serve people, but my good room serves me – it has everything I love and need.’