Writer and Tart Magazine editor Sasha Gattermayr spent about 18 months looking for the ideal Melbourne apartment to buy as a first homeowner.
Together with her husband, climate scientist Zeb Nicholls, she was looking for an older style (from the 1950s to 1970s), inner-city apartment with a sensible layout.
This top storey, two-bedroom apartment in Carlton North met all their criteria and had the added benefit of treetop views towards the Dandenongs.
‘Aesthetically, it was the right balance between solid bones that wouldn’t need any structural work, and some “crusty” cosmetic features we could easily update ourselves,’ says Sasha.
The couple had no renovation experience, but years of writing stories for The Design Files had prepared Sasha for this very moment!
‘Project managing yourself saves a lot of money, but is a big time investment. I watched a lot of videos (Grand Designs and House & Garden UK’s YouTube videos), listened to a lot of podcasts (HOSTEing with Laura Jackson), made so many mood boards, and did lots and lots of research before working out the best plan and going ahead with it,’ says Sasha.
‘I found it really satisfying and I learned so much about the process, but I had the time to commit to it, so I was happy to throw myself into it as much as I could.’
The plan was to make some cosmetic updates to the apartment (mainly adding more storage), followed by a full kitchen renovation, before tackling the bathroom. Sasha says this was the first lesson she learned the hard way! ‘If you’re going to reno multiple spaces, try and do them at the same time,’ she advises. ‘We are currently refitting the bathroom and I wish we had just done it at the same time as the kitchen.’
Inspiration for the renovation was drawn from far and wide, taking into account Zeb and Sasha’s individual tastes and the style of their existing apartment.
Sasha explains, ‘I like quite gothic, Victorian aesthetics (Edward Gorey, Dracula, the Brontës) and weird transcendental or spiritualist art (Hilma af Klint) but that wasn’t going to translate to the interior theme of a small, inner-city apartment. Too dark, too intense, and too not my partner’s style!’
Instead, they opted for a more light yet layered approach. Sasha calls it ‘modern Parisian cottage’ featuring cosy influences of the Agatha Christie film adaptations she often watched growing up, and many artist and writer’s homes.
‘The houses of Olivia Laing, Nigel Slater, Alex Tieghi-Walker, and Emily Bode are ones that come to mind immediately. They feel lived in, full of collected, meaningful objects or the passing stuff of life,’ says Sasha.
‘Having said that, I didn’t really try to mimic or replicate designs I’ve seen before. It was more about learning a designer’s processes/philosophy and applying that to my own taste. The interior designers I like the most at the moment reflect that: Katie Lockhart, Commune, and YSG. They all use colour, pattern and texture a lot, and feature lots of secondhand or one-off pieces, which really appeals to me.’
Sasha and Zeb ripped up the existing carpet themselves in favour of floating floorboards (bought from Bunnings) which they hired someone on Airtasker to install. ‘Doing it like this meant the new floors for the whole apartment cost about $2000 including material and labour,’ says Sasha.
They next tackled the kitchen — ripping out the old Bunnings kitchen that had old laminate countertops — and putting in a new one with more overhead storage and a wider breakfast bar.
‘We used a combination of Ikea kitchen planners and a company called Install4You. Brian from Install4You measured our old kitchen and then designed a whole new one on the IKEA kitchen planning portal in consultation with us. I ordered the carcasses from IKEA, and then nicer doors/fronts from a company called Ren Studio in Brisbane, then Brian and his team came and installed it all over a week!’ says Sasha.
‘It required a bit of organising from me, but it was a great option for keeping costs down, and much quicker than a normal renovation with lots of subcontractors.’
The dining area with the banquette seat is mostly the work of Zeb’s dad, who threw himself into the project. ‘He designed and built it in their backyard in Port Melbourne pretty much completely by himself,’ says Sasha. ‘He also helped us make the floating shelves, which he and Zeb spent a day drilling into the walls and gluing into place with epoxy resin.’
The banquette cushions were created using Clark Rubber’s made-to-order cushion service (which Sasha learned about writing for TDF!), and the curtains are simply flat linen bed sheets — a trick Sasha learned when staying at Ross Farm on our annual The Design Files staff retreat!
‘Ross Farm’s owner and designer Andrea had just bought linen flat sheets from In Bed and clipped them to the curtain wire with rings from Spotlight, so I did the same!’
Sasha says the entire project fits somewhere between a luxury and fully DIY renovation, allowing her to add some custom elements without blowing the budget. She explains, ‘Renovations aren’t a binary between luxury and DIY. There are so many services and tradespeople in the middle that can help you make quality, considered updates, without it costing huge amounts of money. This freed up cash for us to invest in quality, locally produced things elsewhere in the house.’
One of those investments was the yellow Maker&Son sofa, which is as comfy and cosy as it is gorgeous.
Each room has its own statement colour, ranging from blue tiles in the kitchen, to navy cushions in the dining nook.
Zeb and Sasha have fallen in love with apartment living. They’ve recently relocated to Vienna, Austria for Zeb’s work, but they’re already looking forward to returning home to their inner-city Melbourne nest (complete with the soon-to-be renovated bathroom!)