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A Designer’s Japanese-Inspired Melbourne Family Home

Homes

When designer Kim Kneipp’s partner Lou Weis asked what she would love in a house, she imagined somewhere with a north-facing garden, within walking distance of her son’s school, and already renovated. 

This Victorian home in Brunswick East ticked all the boxes, except for the renovation! After some quick cosmetic updates when they first moved in (while Kim was seven months pregnant!), the family embarked on a major renovation, including a prefab extension. 

The completed home combines Lou’s luxurious design aesthetic with Kim’s salvaged style, and fondness for Japanese design, resulting in what she calls ‘humble luxury!’

11th August, 2021

‘It is so lovely to close the sliding doors and close yourself into this dark room lined with books and the leather-lined box window seat,’ says Kim. Dining table by Dario Zoureff passed down from Lou’s grandparents. Chairs sourced on Gumtree. Armchair from Space Furniture. Tall kentia palms from Lygon Street Nursery. Photo – Eve Wilson for The Design Files. Styling – Annie Portelli.

Kim painstakingly removed the plaster and all of the clumps of glue to expose the original brick fireplace. Couch by Jardan. Log stool by Greg Hatton. Woven lampshade found in hard rubbish. Joinery designed by Kim and built by Woodcraft Mobiliar. Photo – Eve Wilson for The Design Files. Styling – Annie Portelli.

Originally trained in fashion design, many of the values and principles of my interior design practice, stem from my sustainable fashion practice. My personal style philosophy is about supporting independent, local designers and buying second hand, something I also do with all of my interiors,’ says Kim. Photo – Eve Wilson for The Design Files. Styling – Annie Portelli.

The best seat in the house! Joinery designed by Kim and built by Woodcraft Mobiliar. Log stool by Greg Hatton. Photo – Eve Wilson for The Design Files. Styling – Annie Portelli.

This artwork was a gift from friend Jodie Zutt. ‘In our twenties she lived in Brunswick and I lived in North Fitzroy and we had a daily practice of posting creative snail mail to each other, full of drawings, photos, ideas, sewing. I still have a suitcase full of the years of letters I received from her – each an artwork in its’ own right,’ says Kim. Photo – Eve Wilson for The Design Files. Styling – Annie Portelli.

Low storage is part of three piece stacked vintage kimono storage unit from Kazari + Ziguzagu. Tall shelf from The Junk Company. Fencing mask from Tarlo & Graham. Storage box on shelf from The Hub General Store. Woven bag from Camberwell Market used as planter. Vases from @tombo.co. Trent Jansen for Broached Commissions Pankalangu bowl on dining table. Photo – Eve Wilson for The Design Files. Styling – Annie Portelli.

Dining table passed down from Lou’s grandparents, custom made by Dario Zoureff. Italian 1950’s Stillnovo vintage pendant light sourced through @pamonodotcomStellar Works bar stools. Dining chairs sourced on Gumtree. Secondhand vintage frosted deco glass door found. Staircase painting by Laura Lancaster. Photo – Eve Wilson for The Design Files. Styling – Annie Portelli

Irving Penn photo taken in collaboration with Issey Miyake.  ‘Monoliths’ sculptural vases by Broached Commissions are Kim’s favourite piece in the house. The  vintage fan in the lounge room has travelled with Kim to every house she’s ever lived in, even overseas. Photo – Eve Wilson for The Design Files. Styling – Annie Portelli

The courtyard is planted with shady bamboo. Freestanding Smeg oven. Photo – Eve Wilson for The Design Files. Styling – Annie Portelli

Timber salvaged from St Kilda pier softens the luxe black granite splashback. The bamboo courtyard and crystal-filled benchtop stone are distinctly Kim, keeping me grounded to my tropical, esoteric roots. Freestanding Smeg oven. Copper pans from Phillip & Lea. Stellar Works bar stools. Photo – Eve Wilson for The Design Files. Styling – Annie Portelli

Old couch stuffed and re-upholstered after the renovation. Vintage art deco rug from 1stDibs. Broached Recall Monolith side table from Broached Commissions. Wall light by Apparatus studio Criteria Collection. Photo – Eve Wilson for The Design Files. Styling – Annie Portelli

Part of Kim’s ever-growing collection of English and French stoneware and mustard jars. ‘The skull was from the Coburg Trash and Treasure Market. We became so known to the regular traders as interested in ‘weird things’ that on seeing us they would have already put aside skulls, bones, tribal arrows and other such collectables for us,’ says Kim. Photo – Eve Wilson for The Design Files. Styling – Annie Portelli

The study nook under the stairs. ‘Circuit 1’ vertical light by Apparatus Studio available at Criteria Collection. Desk wall light found at Campberwell Markets. Tribal mask and wooden clamp from Rodwell and Astor. Vintage timber draws collected by Bhon Projects. Poliform extendable dining table. Vintage Japanese thread and spool Kazari + Ziguzagu. Blue tape dispenser The Hub General Store. Photo – Eve Wilson for The Design Files. Styling – Annie Portelli

‘Our 8-year-old is very curious about science and the natural world. He has spent the last few years thinking he wants to be a Frog Scientist and is an avid collector of bones, skeletons, stones and shells,’ says Kim. Photo – Eve Wilson for The Design Files. Styling – Annie Portelli

Another corner of Max’s room. Photo – Eve Wilson for The Design Files. Styling – Annie Portelli

Vintage scallop edged mirror sourced on Gumtree. Taps by CB Ideal. Stone benchtop from a local family business just down the road: Daniels Marble House. Photo – Eve Wilson for The Design Files. Styling – Annie Portelli

The green bathroom has onsen vibes! Small Japanese soaking tub from The Japanese Bath Company. Hanging planters from Mr Kitly sprayed with copper coloured paint. Metallic ceramic planter from Rodwell and Astor. Copper tiffins and planter from op shop and market rummages. Photo – Eve Wilson for The Design Files. Styling – Annie Portelli

Vintage 1960’s Japanese mosaic tiles that Kim found hidden out the back of a tile shop in Preston and bought before they closed their business. Brass tray by Fog Linen from The Hub General Store. Taps by CB Ideal. Timber stool @tombo.co. Photo – Eve Wilson for The Design Files. Styling – Annie Portelli

Painting by Emily Kame Kngwarreye passed down by Lou’s grandparents. Bed linen from Cultiver. Bed spread from Hale Mercantile. Photo – Eve Wilson for The Design Files. Styling – Annie Portelli

‘The stonetop credenza was commissioned by Lou’s grandparents in the late 1960’s by Hungarian Jewish immigrant Dario Zoureff, who is considered one of Melbourne’s important modernist furniture designers. Lou’s brother has the armchairs and coffee table that were part of their furniture commission,’ says Kim. Indigenous sculptures were gifts to the boys from a dear friend who was living and working in Yuendumu, NT. Vintage Japanese abacas from @tombo.co. Photo – Eve Wilson for The Design Files. Styling – Annie Portelli

The original Victorian arch in the hallway frames the ever-growing salon hang. The amazing credenza commissioned by Lou’s grandparents in the 60’s along with their dining table – both designed and made by Dario Zoureff. Vintage pendant light from Geoffrey Hatty. Photo – Eve Wilson for The Design Files. Styling – Annie Portelli.

The cedar-clad box addition to the back of our house has extra thick roof and eaves to offer protection from the sun. Photo – Eve Wilson for The Design Files. Styling – Annie Portelli

Collingwood colours in the 14-year-old’s bedroom!  The Turbo Brown magpie artwork was his birthday gift to him a few years ago -the ‘arts version’ of supporting the game he loves. Photo – Eve Wilson for The Design Files. Styling – Annie Portelli

Lucy Feagins
Wednesday 11th August 2021

‘Our home explores a wabi design philosophy, embracing a love for shadow play as described so beautifully by Jun’ichiro Tanizaki in his book In Praise of Shadows.’ – Kim Kneipp

It’s hard to imagine now, but back in 2013 when this Brunswick East property was for sale, nobody wanted it. Rumour has it the property once had established olive trees along the front, which were removed in the hopes the site would be seen as a worthwhile subdivision for a townhouse development. 

‘This was before Brunswick East real estate prices went crazy, and they didn’t succeed in selling the property for what they wanted. Lou stumbled across it when it was off market,’ says designer Kim Kneipp, who purchased the house with her partner Lou Weis, creative director of Broached Commissions.

A quick cosmetic renovation sustained them while Kim was pregnant, before a ‘proper’ renovation commencing in 2014. ‘We were in such a panic to nest that we essentially resigned ourselves to the quickest fabrication process imaginable, that being prefab. We added a new kitchen, dining, lounge room and upstairs parent retreat with an en suite’ says Kim. 

With Kim’s styling flair, the home has grown over time to reflect the creative family who live here, including sons Felix, 14, and Max, 8. 

Kim’s design explores the ‘wabi’ design philosophy, embracing elegant simplicity, and ‘a love for shadow play’, as described by Jun’ichiro Tanizaki in his book In Praise of Shadows. Rather than opening up the house to the bright northern light, large eaves and internal courtyards and zones have been created throughout, providing spaces with a softer, more diffused light, that gently track the sun’s movements throughout the day.

‘The house is mostly white with shadowy, dark zones, which creates a calm backdrop to frame our timber textures and bright green tropical garden,’ Kim says.

Also integrated into the home are details not obvious to the visitor that hold sentimental value. For example, Lou’s love of St Kilda, where he previously lived, is referenced in the salvaged kitchen timbers. 

‘I have a good friend who collects recycled timbers, and I knew he had the old St Kilda Pier in his collection, so when we renovated, I bought pieces from him that were then used to make our kitchen shelves and the front face of our kitchen island,’ says Kim. ‘It was the closest I could get to bringing St Kilda to East Brunswick.’

Once appearing as a ‘respectable Victorian dame invaded by a futuristic robot’ (in Kim’s words!), the use of dark exterior paint, combined with the gradual growth of a jungle-like garden all around have softened the edges of this home, and given it a relaxed, lived-in feel. The family have also created a lush nature corridor for birds and insects here, including a frog pond for nature loving Max! 

‘All of the vines and plants have softened the exterior relationship of the house and our front deck recreates my country Queensland childhood, encouraging so much conversation and interaction with neighbours and passersby,’ says Kim.

In keeping with Kim’s design philosophy, this home is humble by design, and luxurious by finish. Interiors are built to be perfectly imperfect, using materials that will age and patina over time, and textures intended to soften with wear.

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