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How This First-Time Renovator Transformed Her Pint-Sized Melbourne Apartment

Interiors

This 1970s Alphington, Melbourne apartment had great bones just brimming with potential… all it needed was a new owner to bring the space to life. 

That owner was academic Laura Schuijers — a first-time renovator who designed and project managed the apartment’s recent transformation, creating an enviable home with custom-made plywood cabinetry, a hand-built bath, and clever storage solutions.

Laura really has thought of EVERYTHING in this renovation, from a tailored lighting scheme down to hidden space to store her rock climbing gear in the 34 square metre home. 

She tells us how she did it!

16th August, 2022

The renovated apartment of academic Laura Schuijers in north-east Melbourne. Photography – Amelia Stanwix

Lara designed, styled, and project managed the whole renovation herself — with no previous experience! Photography – Amelia Stanwix

The proud homeowner and renovator, Laura Schuijers! Clay artwork by Cassie Hansen. Photography – Amelia Stanwix

‘Small touches like the brass rail attached to the bottom of the open pantry, which I’ve hung my scissors and trivet from, and the shower rail which is attached to the ceiling from leather offcuts, only really required a drill,’ says Laura. Photography – Amelia Stanwix

‘I chose plywood for the cabinets and benchtops. Ply was a sustainable choice for my space, and I decided to leave it raw and oil it myself with a natural hard wax oil rather than opt for a veneer or coating,’ says Laura. Photography – Amelia Stanwix

Framed beaded artwork by Camille Laddawan. Bright geometric palms artwork by Nina Sepahpour. Reframed vintage 1970s paintings purchased from Waverley Antique Bazaar. Photography – Amelia Stanwix

Framed beaded artwork by Camille Laddawan. Bright geometric palms artwork by Nina Sepahpour. Reframed vintage 1970s paintings purchased from Waverley Antique Bazaar. Photography – Amelia Stanwix. Photography – Amelia Stanwix

Large photograph by Natalie Karpushenko. Small photograph by Sarah Lee. Photography – Amelia Stanwix

‘Every single shelf dimension was designed specifically to fit both the space and the things I wanted to put on display, like my cookbooks and tea jars,’ says Laura. Photography – Amelia Stanwix

Photograph by Natalie Karpushenko. Photography – Amelia Stanwix

All the cabinetry was made by builder Josh Baker in a matter of weeks. Photography – Amelia Stanwix

Large artwork by Charlotte Alldis. Trout print by Sammy Veall. Photography – Amelia Stanwix

The bathroom contains a concealed washing machine, a hand-built wall-to-wall bath, and a shower curtain sewn by Laura’s mum. Photography – Amelia Stanwix

A heavyweight linen blanket over the king size bed is draped to the floor to hide storage space underneath. Photography – Amelia Stanwix

The before shots!

Amelia Barnes
Tuesday 16th August 2022

‘Every single shelf dimension was designed specifically to fit both the space and the things I wanted to put on display.’ –  Laura Schuijers

This pint-sized, 34 square metre apartment, in Alphington, Melbourne caught academic Laura Schuijers’ eye from the outset. While the interiors were uninspiring (beige carpet and stark white surfaces), it was ripe for a cosmetic makeover.

Laura designed and coordinated the entire renovation herself, which she admits, ‘was challenging, but really fun.’ Despite not having any technical skills, or even having renovated before, she rolled up her selves, got sketching and made it happen.

In her own words, Laura shares how she did it!:

The plan… was to find a builder, Josh Baker, who was happy to work with my drawings and go with my ideas. 

I wanted the apartment to feel like a home, not a storage solution. Opting for high, open shelving in the living and bedroom meant I could avoid having boxy furniture and too many cupboards. It does mean everything is on display, but I like that about it, as it’s an opportunity to show my personality. 

Although I had set ideas of what I wanted and didn’t want, I’m not a designer, so there was a learning process.

For the kitchen… I chose plywood for the cabinets and benchtops. Ply was a sustainable choice for my space, and I decided to leave it raw and oil it myself with a natural hard wax oil rather than opt for a veneer or coating.

Every single shelf dimension was designed specifically to fit both the space and the things I wanted to put on display, like my cookbooks and tea jars. The cupboards extend right up to the ceiling, and the benchtop is slightly higher than is standard. My electrician, Lani the Sparky, put a few power points inside the cupboards for me, so I can use my toaster and blender without ever needing to bring them out onto the bench space.

I don’t have gas or the power capacity for continuous hot water, so there is an 80 litre hot water unit tucked into the corner into its own custom cupboard space. Under the sink is a dishwasher drawer. It was like a game of Tetris fitting everything I wanted into the 2 x 2m space, but I don’t feel like anything fundamental is missing. I like to cook a lot, so that was important to me.

A father and son duo I found on Airtasker ground and sealed the existing concrete slab as my flooring after I’d taken the carpet up myself (a task which had me sneezing for days). They had to use a hand grinder because the space is so small. They warned me that we wouldn’t really know what to expect underneath, as 1970 concrete slabs weren’t poured with the idea that the concrete would be exposed one day, but I’m happy with the way it turned out.

The bathroom… is actually bigger than the kitchen, but making room for the wall-to-wall bath meant being clever with space in this room as well. 

Hidden under the plywood bathroom vanity is a washing machine and all my cleaning products. The sink sits on top so it doesn’t protrude into this space, and I have an open cupboard mounted to the wall for the things I use daily.

The lighting was something I wanted to change from the outset. I’m not a big fan of too much ceiling lighting, but since the ceilings are low, I also didn’t want to have large pendants obscuring the windows or getting in the way. 

The living room pendant light that sits over the table was one of the first things I purchased. Most of the other lights were custom ordered from Etsy, including what I call the ‘oyster’ bedside wall lamp — which I colour matched to my bedding — and the ‘avocado’ light in the bathroom, that I painted to match the doors. 

My electrician, Lani the Sparky, lives close by and runs an all-female electrician team who would come over in between other jobs to help me out getting it all connected.

The furniture and decor… feature a combination of texture and more matte finishes: flax linen for the blinds and bedding, velvet and wool for the couch and blankets, rattan and timber furniture, raffia lighting instead of metal, and a microcement render instead of tiles for the splash and bathroom.

I was adamant on fitting a king size bed into the small bedroom. It does take up most of the room, but it is so luxurious being able to stretch out. My camping and rock climbing gear is stored underneath with a heavyweight linen blanket draped to the floor so you can’t see it.

The couch is an IKEA modular I already had from my student days. Instead of getting a new couch, I decided to repurpose it by having covers custom made by an Etsy shop I found that had chartreuse velvet fabric. In spring and summer, the neighbour’s tree outside has leaves almost the exact same colour.

My mum sews, so she made the linen blinds and the lichen green bathroom shower curtain, which has a waterproof lining. Her skills were so handy as it meant I could choose the exact colours and lengths I wanted. 

I came up with the design for the shower dowel because I didn’t like the look of any of the wall brackets I could find. It’s essentially a timber rod that hangs from the ceiling with leather offcuts.

Dad and I did all the painting ourselves.

I had the hardwood dining table made to fit the small space from recycled teak. The cantilever dining chairs work well with it because they don’t impose outward on the space.

My couch covers, door handles, and desk were all handmade or secondhand and purchased through Etsy or Instagram. Small touches like the brass rail attached to the bottom of the open pantry, which I’ve hung my scissors and trivet from, and the shower rail which is attached to the ceiling from leather offcuts, only really required a drill.

It was challenging… renovating a small space during lockdowns. The materials and labour shortages caused delays, and finding tradespeople to do small jobs with no architect or project manager involved was especially difficult. The few people I did work with had to trust me.

My builder Josh Baker fitted out the kitchen and made my shelving and vanity for me in the space of just a few weeks, but the other aspects took longer than I’d anticipated.

My favourite part of the home is the hand-built, wall-to-wall bath. My carpenter and I tested out whether it would be comfortable to lie in while the place was still essentially a construction site, but now it feels like my own little spa nook. The microcement render is a lovely finish for a small space — no patterns or grout lines. I take a bath every day if I can, so I was really happy to be able to have a bath.

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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