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A Compact Apartment Renovation Maximises Space & Highlights Heritage Features


Returning to Australia after living in London for seven years, designer Sarah Wolfendale brought with her a love of French and Scandinavian design — along with an altered perception of the space required to raise a family. Favouring a smaller home in a central location, over a big house farther out, she and her husband Tommy discovered a compact apartment located within a heritage-listed Italianate building in Melbourne. With stunning period features, four metre-high ceilings and arched windows, the couple saw huge potential, despite the lack of storage.

Located in Melbourne's inner suburb Kew, and surrounded by 20 acres of beautifully landscaped shared grounds that include a tennis court, bowling green and pool, the building, though converted into private residences in 1993, had begun its life as one of the largest psychiatric institutions in the country. While the lack of storage in the apartment was the biggest issue, the 1990s conversion had also positioned the bathroom between the arched windows and living space, and the space created by the soaring ceilings was virtually unused.

“Every element of the design started with the storage requirements,” says Sarah. “I knew I had to open up the space as much as possible to give the illusion of a larger apartment.” Sarah flipped the layout around, so that the kitchen, living and dining areas, which she treated as a single space, are framed by the arched windows and illuminated by direct natural light. Above the bathroom block, she created a 1.7-metre-high mezzanine area accessed by a pull-out industrial ladder. Making full use of the vertical space, this effectively added an extra room that contains storage, a double bed for guests and a desk overlooking the main space below. Genius!

Treating the kitchen, living and dining room as a single entity allowed each to “borrow” space from the others. Carrying out meticulous planning to ensure she got the new solutions right, Sarah measured every single pot and pan to design efficient storage around what the couple already owned.

Everything, including the kitchen appliances, is now hidden inside a series of American oak timber veneer cabinets that are lifted from the floor on black metal legs so they appear as standalone pieces of furniture, arrayed along one wall. Painted in a calming pale grey, Dulux Silkwort, the streamlined cabinetry is paired with black T-bar handles by UK brand Buster + Punch. The new arrangement has created a generous amount of marble countertop, while removing the need for an island bench, which would have broken up the space.

Selecting products from Fisher & PaykelSarah says “I liked the idea that the appliances were tailored to the Australian market, and I based the whole kitchen around the 900mm oven, because it allows you to put two trays side by side. It also allowed me to achieve a non-standard cabinetry break-up and work proportionally with the aesthetic.” She lined up the three-burner, 900mm cooktop with the oven, and then boxed out the integrated range hood and painted it to make it almost disappear into the wall, to keep the focus on the shelves and art pieces she has curated.

Also from Fisher & Paykel, the integrated DishDrawer with the same width slotted seamlessly into the bank of cabinetry, and a 600m fridge-freezer was similarly integrated into the taller joinery alongside it.

Given the limited room and lack of an outdoor clothesline, Sarah also concealed a space-saving stacked Fisher & Paykel washer and energy-efficient condensing dryer inside the cabinetry. In addition, the clever space hides a sink and hanging rail for hand-washed items, and drawers for dirty washing below.

Styling by Nina Provan / Photography by Shannon McGrath

The soothing grey tones (and clever storage solutions) continue throughout the apartment, with the addition of tiles in the bathroom, adding further warmth and texture. “Because of the natural light, high ceilings and light, timber tongue-in-groove flooring, I knew the space could afford to be grey and slightly moody, but still be comfortable,” says Sarah, who together with Tommy, recently welcomed a second baby daughter to their home. “I basically wanted to make it a study in making a small space work for a young family.”

An inspiring and thoughtful study, this impeccable renovation has artfully maximised space while shining a light on beautiful heritage features.  

Images courtesy of Fisher & Paykel 

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