It’s long been Lauren Bruce’s dream to own a home in Fitzroy, but she wasn’t sure it would ever really happen. Even at the initial inspection of this apartment, the queue of potential buyers went around the block. ‘We kept looking at other places and sort of wrote this off, but in the end it all worked out and we got it!’ says Lauren, who works in communications and engagement at Creative Victoria.
Lauren and her wife Hannah McNeill, a civil engineer and project manager working on the Metro Tunnel Project, and their dog Rosie, moved into the two-storey apartment in 2020. Their apartment is located in one of the former MacRobertson’s confectionary factory buildings, which dates back to the 1880s.
MacRobertson’s (which was sold to Cadbury in the 1960s) was not only known for its iconic chocolate creations (Freddo Frog and Cherry Ripe among them), but its support of women in the workforce and education. The majority of factory workers were female (and union members), and company founder Macpherson Robertson provided funding to establish Mac.Robertson Girls’ High School. ‘It’s fantastic to own a little bit of history that relates to women in the workforce (and to chocolate),’ says Lauren.
After moving in, Lauren and Hannah originally hoped to renovate in future, but those plans were quickly brought forward when the apartment sadly flooded! ‘That sped up reno plans a bit!’ says Lauren.
In repairing the damage, the couple took the opportunity to reconfigure the ground floor to maximise available space and natural light. They worked with Skyline Building Group, Holmes Construct, JAC Cabinets, and Colsparx Electrical to remove walls, relocate the formerly pokey kitchen, and install new cabinetry and shelving.
The pair designed the renovation themselves; Lauren with her ‘creative but poor descriptions about what I wanted,’ and Hannah with skills from her construction background. Hannah was able to translate Lauren’s vision to sketch a 3D model of their renovation within their allotted budget.
‘Thanks to Hannah’s project management background, we provided a very clear annotated version of the sketches to our builders, and they built it exactly as we had laid out,’ says Lauren. ‘The insurer chose our builder but they were great to work with and we couldn’t be happier with how it turned out.’
The addition of plywood, colourful book displays, and plants that contrast the original warehouse features, imbuing the space with newfound warmth.
‘We both wanted to make sure there were lots of natural materials around; as much wood as possible that worked in a warehouse conversion which is all concrete, exposed beams and brick,’ explains Lauren. ‘It had to bring colour and warmth into the warehouse bones, without working against it.’
The renovation has changed the energy of the apartment, enticing Lauren to spend more time entertaining and hosting. ‘I’m a cook and it’s my sanctuary really… It’s a lovely place to be.’
While still bearing the hallmarks of its industrial roots, the apartment now feels cosy and warm, perfectly reflecting those who inhabit the space. It’s also a brilliant showcase for many local designers – with furniture from Coco Flip, custom shelving by Like Butter, and vintage finds from Grandfather’s Axe, aswell as artwork and ceramics by a host of local makers and creatives – inner city living doesn’t get much more ‘Melbourne’ than this!