Before + After: A $40k Makeover Of A Historic Adelaide Apartment (That You Can Stay In!)

Adelaide’s Ruthven Mansions (1911-1914) is a distinct building combining Gothic and art nouveau influences that was one of the first multi-storey apartments in Australia. 

The last 100 years have seen the loss of original internal details, but painter and illustrator Billie Justice Thomson saw potential to reinstate one apartment to its former glory.

In three months and with a $40k budget, Billie created a playful, inspiring accommodation that celebrates the building’s origins. 

The apartment, aptly named Mini Mansion, is located in the heart of Adelaide, and it’s available to book now!

Amelia Barnes

Billie Justice Thomson in her newly designed accomodation, Mini Mansion. Photo – Kate Bowman

Mini Mansion is located in the intriguing Ruthven Mansions (1911-1914), in the centre of Adelaide, less than 100 metres from Rundle Mall. Photo – Kate Bowman

The apartment is decorated with works by all-local artists. ‘There is so much in the way of skilled people here I didn’t feel the need to go elsewhere,’ says Billie. . Photo – Kate Bowman

Installing the new kitchen was the biggest job of the apartment transformation. Photo – Kate Bowman

Billie renovated the apartment in just three months and with a $40k budget. Photo – Kate Bowman

Mini Mansion is now open for bookings. Photo – Kate Bowman

The previously ‘sad beige’ interior. Photos – supplied

The before bedroom shot. Photo – supplied

Amelia Barnes
21st of February 2023

Painter and illustrator Billie Justice Thomson is a proud Adelaide resident. She created the new short-stay accommodation, Mini Mansion, to share with others how she sees this beautiful city.

Mini Mansion is located in the intriguing Ruthven Mansions (1911-1914), in the centre of Adelaide, less than 100 metres from Rundle Mall. Billie has long been fascinated by the building with its combination of art nouveau and Gothic architectural influences, and history that heritage documents note ‘borders on the bizarre.’

Ruthven Mansions (built over 1911-1914) originally represented a benchmark luxury accommodation in Australia, (complete with central vacuum cleaning, automated doors, mechanical ventilation, electric light and an electric lift) but fell into disrepair before a major restoration in 1979-1980. Today it’s a combination of serviced apartments and privately owned residences like Billie’s. 

Billie could immediately see the apartment’s potential at the inspection. ‘The space was much lighter and brighter than the real estate photos, which doesn’t happen very often,’ she says.  ‘I could easily see past the sad beige interior and immediately got a sense that it could be really beautiful and intimate.’

Armed with a vision and a three month deadline, she set about transforming the apartment into the playful, vibrant accommodation you see today.

In her own words, Billie tells us how she did it! 

The inspiration… was to bring some of the building’s old character back inside. I also wanted it to be really comfortable and relaxed, like an old home and not at all like a hotel. I started with the rugs and lighting and worked from there. 

I worked closely with Gabe Turner, a furniture maker who loves working with plywood, to make the kitchen work around the existing and clumsy plumbing that we couldn’t move. 

The budget… was initially $30k but it blew out to $40k, as they do. The renovation took 93 days. 

I DIYd… everything that I felt confident I could. All the painting, all the demo, some plaster work- and lots of the small annoying jobs like scraping off the glued-on astro turf on the balcony. I got the pros in for the floorboards, all the sparky stuff, air conditioning, cabinetry, and plumbing. 

The biggest jobs… were the brand new kitchen and the custom in-built cabinetry. I could tell the unusual wall angles and niches for services were going to be problematic so it seemed wise to make shelving that fits exactly where it needs to go. With a space this size you don’t really have many options for reconfiguring or shuffling things around. 

I love the deep blue kitchen. Gabe and I worked hard to make that happen and I’m so glad we did. It was important to have a real sink, a real cooktop and the washer/dryer combo so guests have everything they need.

We were very limited structurally and the layout is pretty good as it is. I’ve got plans to do something really special in the bathroom later in the year. 

I’ve decoratedwith all local art. I went to art school here in Adelaide over 15 years ago now, so lots of my friends and peers are making and practising now. I reached out to lots of people, not just artists, but also makers and organisations like JamFactory. The response was overwhelmingly positive and it really propelled me forward. There is so much in the way of skilled people here I didn’t feel the need to go elsewhere.

Book your stay at Mini Mansion!

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