Stepping inside the old MacRobertson confectionery factory feels like stepping back in time.
In the 1880s, the unique complex was once part of local chocolatier Sir Macpherson Robertson’s namesake empire, made up of several buildings and blocks sprinkled across Fitzroy, with ‘MacRobertson’ sprawled on the outside. The businessman might not be a household name, but he’s credited with creating some of Australia’s most famous chocolates, including the Freddo Frog and Cherry Ripe!
Today, the expansive complex is now home to some of Melbourne’s most coveted warehouse apartments, with buyers often lining up around the block whenever one hits the market. This was the intimidating scene Lauren Bruce and her wife Hannah McNeill saw when they came to the first inspection of their two-bedroom, loft-style apartment, back in 2020.
‘The history of this building, and its related quirks, was one of the main things that drew me to it,’ Lauren says. Despite being converted into apartments in the late ‘90s, not a lot has changed about the building’s architecture. Red brick, exposed beams overhead and an endearing red fire-escape staircase give you a sense of what the chocolate factory was like before it was transformed into a residential building.
‘I love the height of the ceiling and the light streaming down from the skylights,’ Lauren adds. ‘Our apartment is actually the lowest point of the building… being on the ground floor means we have these beautiful original concrete floors, and these fantastic, grand industrial windows that let in really beautiful light.’
But each of the apartments — connected by a maze-like mezzanine on the upper floors — is different from the next.
Fellow resident, lawyer Amel Masinovic and partner Meg also moved into the building during the pandemic. After inspecting an apartment on a whim, they ‘fell in love with the place’ and are now raising their two-month old son there too. ‘We moved in during one of the last Covid-19 lockdowns, and the extra space and large balcony were a huge draw for our weary minds!’
Located on one of the upper levels on the northeast corner, their home is made up of two combined apartments, hiding three-bedrooms, and four-bathrooms across two floors, with timber-rich interiors and surprisingly soaring ceilings! There’s even a quirky wooden structure which encloses one of the bedrooms, turning it into a self-contained space complete with a kitchenette.
‘Our apartment has a wrap-around balcony that sets it apart from the rest,’ Amel says. ‘From our apartment we can see eastern Fitzroy towards Collingwood, and further past the high-rise buildings we can see the hills to the east.’
He says that beyond the building’s old-school warehouse windows and enduring style that feels like ‘it’ll never get old’, there’s also a friendly familiarity between the residents, who often pass each other in Brunswick Street and Smith Street’s cafes, restaurants and nearby parks.
When airline pilot Mark and visual artist Bronni Krieger were downsizing almost a decade ago, they knew they wanted to live in a vibrant artistic community — Fitzroy was a natural choice. They came across a quiet, two-bedroom apartment in the building with an ‘inward design’, that was a great blank canvas for them to call home for their next chapter.
‘The apartment had not been touched since the 1990’s and therefore deserved a complete rework of the internal cosmetics and a little structural change,’ Bronni says. After removing some internal walls and opening up the space, the cosy apartment is a perfect backdrop for their eclectic art collection and vintage furniture.
The couple say it’s big enough for just the two of them, but living in the former chocolate factory means they’re not short on places to meet up with friends and family, they just do so outside their apartment’s industrial walls. After all, the lifestyle is one of the best parts of living in the inner-city, even if you have to give up a little extra space.
‘A living space should be practical, aesthetically enjoyable and provide a space for life,’ Bronni notes. ‘We find our little place exactly that.’