After a difficult retail year in 2020, Chela Edmunds of Takeawei Ceramics was exhausted. ‘I thought, why am I paying all this rent for a retail space when we are mainly selling online now?’ she recalls. The lease was up on her Brunswick Street store, and Torquay-based Chela thought it might be easier to pack it in and move the business 100% online. But, with so many shuttered stores due to COVID, Melbourne was feeling like a bit of a ghost town, and Chela didn’t want to give up just yet. ‘I felt a sense of responsibility to not just be another empty shop front if I could help it’, she says. ‘I took a walk on Gertrude Street and it really inspired me to be involved in the street, and Melbourne’.
Chela secured a new lease on a double-story corner building, with a narrow downstairs retail area and a little apartment upstairs, overlooking Gertrude Street. The building itself has quite an important history – it was once the Koori Information Centre, established in the early 1980s to meet a rising groundswell of community interest in Indigenous issues. Later, Aboriginal artist Lin Onus produced a popular series of comic books and t-shirts with distinctive artistic designs here!
For Chela, the narrow space with its sweet little upstairs apartment was the perfect place for new beginnings – both for her ceramics business and for the broader Melbourne community. ‘The apartment upstairs seemed like the perfect opportunity to give people a space to get out for a night or two, go see a gig, have dinner, and just enjoy themselves while supporting the area and businesses’, she says.
She’s added the Chela Edmunds creative stamp to the place, and transformed the modest spaces into a bright, colourful creative haven!
What was the process of fitting out the shop and apartment spaces like?
Necessity really is the mother of all invention. I went in with big ideas for downstairs [shop] shelving, but was quickly brought back to earth due to cost. I ended up using paint and changing necessary things like lighting, electrical, the floor, and reusing shelving from the previous shop.
We have a great corner spot on Young and Gertrude Streets. To make the most of passing traffic we commissioned artist Rowena Martinich to paint a mural on the outside wall. It is everything I hoped for – vibrant, joyful, just what we all need right now.
Upstairs, I wanted a space that was simple, functional and vibrant, showcasing some designers I love [including artworks by Rowena Martinich, furniture by Dowel Jones and Jack Edward Fearon for Curated Spaces]. We gutted the shower but left everything else as-is, so this was what informed the furnishings. I wanted to lighten the space and, true to my style, add a mix of colour pops, texture and some natural materials. My sister Kalu Edmunds of Mood Objects was a great sounding board for styling and I also worked with her to source second-hand furniture, including the original lime green Featherston. It’s a real focal point!
Did you have any key references or inspirations for the apartment?
I wanted a warm welcoming space and imagined this was an artist’s apartment. Simple, but filled with interest and energy invested into the pieces.
I thought about a flow from the kitchen to the bedroom going from stronger colours in the kitchen to vibrant in the lounge area and softer in the bedroom.
In terms of an overall look, I just go with what I like and try to keep paring back to a smaller palette as I can get carried away with colour! There were also functional considerations, the small space and comfort for guests. I think working with great designers and objects makes it really easy!
How did all the upheavals of 2020 affect your work?
We were lucky that for most of it we could work remotely and send online orders. I feel like our customers really rallied around and supported us during that time and I am really grateful for that.
I found it really stressful at first having staff and that responsibility, but I also found that it brought our team closer together because that’s what tough times do. We talked about what was going on, and we adapted. I’m really glad that as a business we had a strong web presence.
We are now focusing more on lighting which has been really popular this past year, and I’m looking forward to introducing more homewares to the shop. I’m getting back to my textile roots and I recently designed a blanket with Geelong Textiles that will be launching this winter.
Book a stay at Chela’s Gertrude st Apartment here!
Monday – Saturday, 11am – 5pm
Sunday 11am – 4pm
Closed public holidays
120 Gertrude Street