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The Eclectic + Cosy Collingwood 'Ma House'

Homes

Ben Mooney has always wanted to live above a shop. After years of scouring real estate listings, he signed a three-year commercial lease to finally make his dream a reality. 

He now lives in the upper level of an 1880s Collingwood shop, which he also rents out as a photoshoot and small events space known as Ma House. The large and flexible property is the perfect canvas for Ben’s many, many furniture pieces and design objects, collected locally and abroad – including enough chairs to seat 40 people!

2nd March, 2022

From left: Atollo lamp. Green face vase from Waverley Bazaar. Bust sculpture from Facebook Marketplace. Collection of bugs in resin from Facebook Marketplace. Coffee table from Alke. Floor lamp by Noguchi. Leather lounger from Curated Spaces. Photography – Amelia Stanwix. Editorial styling – Annie Portelli

Lounger from Facebook Marketplace. Print by Annika Kafcaloudis. Cabinet from Waverley Antique Bazaar. Lamp above by Noguchi. Inside cabinet: a ceramic Japanese lunchbox, paper mache vases and marble bookends from an op shop in Cairns. Roly Poly Chair by Faye Toogood. Light fitting from Marketplace. Photography – Amelia Stanwix. Editorial styling – Annie Portelli

Ben Mooney. Photography – Amelia Stanwix. Editorial styling – Annie Portelli

‘You can see the city from this window and the hustle and bustle of Smith Street below. I’m a bit of a homebody these days, but it really gives me a sense of belonging and community having this on my doorstep,’ Ben says.

Glass vases by Iittala. Marble table from Alke. Burl table from Jolie Lade. Photography – Amelia Stanwix. Editorial styling – Annie Portelli

Couch from Itsniceinsde. Burl table from Jolie Lade. Coffee table above from Objects of Yesterday. Painting by Emma Creasey. Lamp on right from Jolie Lade. Lamp on right vintage Ikea. Photography – Amelia Stanwix. Editorial styling – Annie Portelli

Blinds by Ikea. Sofa by Driade from Facebook Marketplace. Photography – Amelia Stanwix. Editorial styling – Annie Portelli

Vintage objects on mantle: Nissan car ashtrays. Nagel candle holder carousel. A collection of glass ashtrays. Brass candlestick holders. Photography – Amelia Stanwix. Editorial styling – Annie Portelli

Nude painting from Found.  Table Lamp #1 by Nicole Lawrence Studio. Photography – Amelia Stanwix. Editorial styling – Annie Portelli

Artwork by Alexandra Nemarič. Photography – Amelia Stanwix. Editorial styling – Annie Portelli

Spiral light by Noguchi. Antique bentwoods chairs restored from eBay. A lipstick mirror from the Tyabb Packing Shed. Second hand Chinese screen and table. Chest of drawers from Facebook Marketplace. Candlesticks from @stilllifesouvenir. Photography – Amelia Stanwix. Editorial styling – Annie Portelli

‘I love this funny door, I’m not sure why it’s this shape but it’s a really great architectural remnant from a funny ’70s renovation,’ Ben says. Lamp from CCSS, which Ben painted. Photography – Amelia Stanwix. Editorial styling – Annie Portelli

‘The house is from around 1880 and did not always have the current floor plan. My bedroom used to be a hallway and the arch behind my bed used to cover the plastered arch that blocked out this room,’ Ben says. Print from Camberwell Market. Below artwork by Alex Johnstone. Vessel by Lightly Fitting. Linen by The Sheet Society. Photography – Amelia Stanwix. Editorial styling – Annie Portelli

Light fitting from Hub General Store. Shelf from Facebook Marketplace. Objects on shelf: Candlesticks from @stilllifesouvenir.  Vase by Maison Balzac, planter from Coming Soon NYC. Vases by Georg Jensen. Antique foot sculpture. Matin Small Table Lamp from Hay Design. Photography – Amelia Stanwix. Editorial styling – Annie Portelli

Apollo bust from Facebook Marketplace. Stool from Thonet. Daybed from Nordmodern. Sheets and pillows by The Sheet Society, Muji and Ikea. CHUB stool by Curated Spaces. Antique chairs from Thonet. Vintage Italian painting from the ’30s by an unknown artist. Photography – Amelia Stanwix. Editorial styling – Annie Portelli

Sumo sculpture from Chapel Street Bazaar. Mirror from Facebook Marketplace. Photography – Amelia Stanwix. Editorial styling – Annie Portelli

Collection of coffee pots by Alessi. Crockery sourced from Ben’s trips to Japan. Coat stand from eBay. Desk from Nordmodern. Antique fibreglass light-fitting overhead. Mushwani rug. Photography – Amelia Stanwix. Editorial styling – Annie Portelli

‘You don’t have to be a designer to love designing your home. We get so much nourishment from our homes…Surrounding yourself with things you love and that speak to you makes for a happy life,’ Ben says. Photography – Amelia Stanwix. Editorial styling – Annie Portelli

‘The deck was the other big deciding factor in signing the lease. It’s very important for me to have outdoor space and plants to care for. I think in a way maintenance is my relaxation, so the garden gives that. My friend Gus is a landscaper and he helped me select plants that would last in a very hot and windy spot. The birdbaths double as drinking bowls for my puppy Goody,’ Ben says. Photography – Amelia Stanwix. Editorial styling – Annie Portelli

‘The house has the most beautiful light at most times of the day, it’s part of the reason I started Ma House. I was working full time in another job then and thought it was so ridiculous for this beautiful space to be sitting empty all day with no one enjoying it. I love that people love the space enough to shoot here, its given me so much confidence and energy and trust in myself to do what i want to do for work,’ Ben says.

Lucy Feagins
Wednesday 2nd March 2022

‘Signing a three year lease on commercial terms was terrifying, but the best decision I’ve ever made.’ 

Ben Mooney signed the lease on this 1880s home above a Collingwood shop in early 2020. Nicknamed Ma House, the property is both Ben’s home, and a space rented out for photoshoots and events.

‘Signing a three year lease on commercial terms was terrifying, but the best decision I’ve ever made,’ he says. 

Ben was attracted to this space for its high ceilings, flexible layout, outdoor area, and quirky archways. ‘There is only one door in this house (and that is luckily for the bathroom); all the other rooms are connected by these wonky archways,’ he says. ‘They still all feel like separate rooms, but I love the little vistas they create.’

Having a commercial lease has provided Ben the freedom to knock out walls, take bars off the windows, paint the floors, and remove the kitchen door cabinets to create open shelving (‘A big hack for any renter with an outdated kitchen!’).

Ben has a knack for sourcing interesting pieces to achieve what he describes as an ‘eclectic cosy’ look. He doesn’t adhere to a particular aesthetic – instead, he simply collects pieces he’s naturally drawn to. ‘I saw in another article on The Design Files where a lady said things you love will naturally look good together. I don’t get how that works, but it does,’ Ben says.

Ben estimates 95 per cent of his furniture are secondhand finds sourced from markets, garage sales, eBay, Facebook Marketplace, and hard rubbish. ‘I’ve kind of got this sixth sense with furniture. I scroll eBay and Facebook Marketplace most days, but I can scroll really fast. It just takes a millisecond for me to spot that good piece,’ he says. ‘I don’t drive so I don’t know how the hell it all got here, but I’ve caught the tram with four chairs before!’ 

He’s also not afraid to take up valuable luggage space while travelling, knowing the pieces he collects will be cherished forever. ‘It’s actually the worst thing lugging around a dinner set for three weeks in Europe, but once I have it home I have it forever,’ Ben says. ‘You can buy some shoes or go for a fancy dinner and it’s done, but I’ve got stuff that I bought when I was five at garage sales that still sparks joy.’ 

The only challenge Ben faces now is finding a place for everything. With enough chairs in this apartment to seat 40 people (!), he’s constantly rearranging rooms in a Tetris-like manner to achieve the perfect furniture configuration!

Beyond Ma House, Ben is in the process of establishing Ma Supply Store on nearby Johnston Street. The shop is set to open in April, and will sell a selection of new and used furniture and homewares for design lovers, just like Ben! 

‘You don’t have to be a designer to love designing your home. We get so much nourishment from our homes… surrounding yourself with things you love and that speak to you makes for a happy life,’ he says.

‘I love that people are loving their homes more these days – that homes are more thoughtful and curated. I’m not an interior designer and have never worked in the field but love that someone like me can be in a publication like this.’ 

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The Design Files acknowledge the Traditional Custodians of the lands on which we work, the Wurundjeri people of the Kulin Nation. We pay our respects to Elders past and present.

First Nations artists, designers, makers, and creative business owners are encouraged to submit their projects for coverage on The Design Files. Please email bea@thedesignfiles.net