An Elegant, Art-Filled Apartment Inside A Converted 1861 Mansion

Melbourne is home to a handful of Victorian mansions that have been converted into multiple apartments decades after they were built, but the homes inside these magnificent buildings rarely come up for sale.

That’s why when Kate Cowen visited an apartment within an 1861 mansion opposite St Kilda Beach – albeit, for a wake – she couldn’t help mentioning that she’d love to know if it ever came to market.

Luckily for her, the elderly owners were ready to pass on the home! Step inside her elegant abode, which has been renovated by Bower Architecture & Interiors to showcase her eclectic collection of art, textiles and furniture.

Christina Karras

Kate Cowen’s renovated St Kilda West apartment. Photo – Shannon McGrath

The home inside the 1861 property is has been beautifully updated by Bower Architecture & Interiors and LBA Construction. Photo – Shannon McGrath

Positioned on the two middle floors of the old mansion, Kate’s apartment has ‘views of the water and front-row seats to every waterfront event – marathons, cycling fixtures, and music events’. Photo – Shannon McGrath

The sophisticated kitchen. Photo – Shannon McGrath

Kate was downsizing from a large, four-bedroom modernist house with a huge kitchen, butler’s pantry, study and three living areas – so needed plenty of storage and soaring ceilings for all of her ‘stuff’. Photo – Shannon McGrath

Sentimental artworks and colourful furniture she’s collected over her lifetime inject plenty of personality. Photo – Shannon McGrath

‘I’m a regular at Joel’s Auctions and Camberwell market. I love tribal galleries and have brought lots of textiles on my travels to India and a trip to Africa,’ Kate adds. Photo – Shannon McGrath

‘The building is grand in scale but the apartment is warm, filled with colour and some irreverence. While I can admire the sophistication of a minimalist aesthetic, restraint is not my strong suit – I am not a beige girl,’ Kate says. Photo – Shannon McGrath

Sisal-coloured wool carpet and white steel-framed glass run throughout the downstairs area. Photo – Shannon McGrath

Inside one of the three bedrooms. Photo – Shannon McGrath

A glimpse into the terrazzo floors of the ensuite. Photo – Shannon McGrath

The second bathroom is tucked into space under the internal staircase and includes a step-down hammam-style bath and shower! Photo – Shannon McGrath

Striking emerald green tiles give the bathroom a spa-like feeling. Photo – Shannon McGrath

There’s also an egg-yolk yellow powder room upstairs. Photo – Shannon McGrath

Photo – Shannon McGrath

Homeowner Kate Cowen on her home’s glamorous balcony. Photo – Shannon McGrath

Playful, Mickey Mouse-inspired sculptures are positioned behind the doors of the living area. Photo – Shannon McGrath

Picture-perfect. Photo – Shannon McGrath

Kate’s home is one of only four in the converted mansion. Photo – Shannon McGrath

Christina Karras
13th of December 2022

Kate Cowen’s chic St Kilda West apartment is inside one of two neighbouring Victorian mansions built in 1861. While one of them remains a stately 14-bedroom residence, the other has been transformed into a set of four apartments shrouded in green ivy, with enviable views of St Kilda Beach.

‘The building is loaded with history,’ Kate says. ‘All kinds of interesting people have lived here including several creatives – film maker Bob Weis, gallerist Anna Schwartz, garden designer Rick Eckersly and restaurateur Donlevy Fitzpatrick to name a few.’

She first came across her apartment at a wake hosted there for a friend’s mother, and was ‘gobsmacked’ by the 4-metre high ceilings, arched hallways, and understated grandeur.

‘In an act of supreme bad taste, I mentioned to my friend I’d love to know if it ever came on the market. I was ready to downsize and loved the idea of the ready-make community in this building,’ she says. It was a case of right place right time, as she quickly snapped it up from the owners with no negotiations!

The previous owners had retained the two-level apartment as two enormous rooms both with bifold doors in the middle. But with two daughters and frequent houseguests, Kate enlisted Bower Architecture & Interiors and LBA Construction to create three bedrooms, new bathrooms and replace the kitchen – which was ‘too small’ to even accommodate a full-sized fridge.

‘I wanted something timeless, seamless, and elegant that would be a foil for art, rugs and the eclectic furniture and objects I’d accumulated over time,’ she says.

Walnut timber floors upstairs are paired with white walls and marble accents in the kitchen, providing a perfect canvas for Kate’s unique collections sourced at auction houses, markets, and travels to India and Africa. Indigenous art and playful sculptures bring bold pops of colour and new character to the original period architecture. She says they also ‘had a bit of fun with the bathrooms’, designing an egg-yolk yellow powder room upstairs, and emerald green bathroom with a step-down ‘hammam-style’ bath and shower.

‘I love that I inhabit every inch of this home and there are spaces for all my moods and needs – the squashy couch end for TV in the evenings, a warm entertaining space and the kitchen’s proximity to it all – I don’t miss any juicy conversation at dinner parties.’

The apartment’s glamorous black-and-white tiled balcony is another highlight, giving Kate the ultimate ‘front-row seats’ to every waterfront event all-year round.

Recent Interiors