This Melbourne Warehouse Home Is Full of Playful Spaces

A Melbourne warehouse-turned-cubbyhouse champions spaces that make city living fun

Photo by Sue Stubbs from 'Individual', published by Murdoch Books.

When Leah Hudson-Smith was a young girl growing up in Auckland, she would spend her days building cubbyhouses. Beyond just throwing a sheet over two armchairs, Leah would create serious structures that weaved through doorways and required the repositioning of furniture to maximise the fort's footprint and flow.

While most of us were just rearranging things on our bookshelves or creating pop-star montages on our bedroom walls, Leah was reimaging entire spaces and, much to her engineering father's delight, revealing an early interest in architecture and spatial relationships.

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Talk to Leah about the residence she currently shares with her partner, Wally Maloney, in the inner suburbs of Melbourne, and you can tell that the home they have created is the result of her thoughtful approach to space planning, charged with the couple’s shared need to keep life light and fun.

The dining table and striking timber screen were both made Leah. Photo / Sue Stubbs.

Leah and Wally — an interior architect and a musician/tour manager, respectively — are a social couple who like to laugh, entertain and travel. Their open-plan warehouse home gives them plenty of space to host friends and the flexibility to change the layout when they need to combat the extremes of the Melbourne seasons.

Their charismatic pooch, Benson the 'Prince of the North', pads around the space, taking his role as the unofficial doorbell seriously, alerting the couple to incoming guests with his deep bark. Bikes roll in next to the dining table, and their outdoor space — with its turf, potted plants and bench seating — resembles the sort of outdoor bar you would see on the buzzy main street just around the corner. So much so, strangers often pop their head into the warehouse’s laneway entrance looking for a pint.

Wally is a born and bred Melburnian, having grown up only a suburb away. Besides an overseas gallivant in his early twenties and international tours with his band, he has always resided and worked within a tight inner-city radius, including time he lived behind a gourmet grocery store that he owned and ran with a close friend.

(Left to right) Wally, Leah and Benson. The weaving on the wall is from Myanmar. Wally composes music on this century-old piano, sitting on a chair Leah made from American oak. The lithographc print is from Oaxaca, Mexico. Photos / Sue Stubbs.

The sense of community and connection that Wally feels to the area are very strong, as illustrated by the fact that his band members live in a large warehouse next door. When the guys rehearse, their tropical-inspired party music filters through the streets.

It was through friends that Leah and Wally came to live in this sensational space. The warehouse's previous tenant, a talented woodworker whom they knew, had turned what was once a grubby mechanic's garage into something habitable. He had cleaned away years of oil and grime, lined the ceiling in ply, put up bathroom walls and created a neat kitchen with American oak benchtops and exposed copper pipes — a good match to the industrial feel of the brick walls and concrete floors.

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Their friend had undertaken a huge amount of the grunt work, but Leah knew that the space still needed a few more things before it could be considered 'home'. The big, open room was missing the private zones that a standard home would offer, particularly areas in which to sleep and work.

(Left to Right) The bedroom pod is an initimate space with the bonus of temperature control. The small but well-functioning kitchen.Photos / Sue Stubbs.

Leah, having taken her cubbyhouse-building prowess and turned it into a successful design career, took the opportunity to design two separate pod structures — sophisticated, grown-up versions of a cubbyhouse. The bedroom structure is made of maple and shaped like a child's line drawing of a house, with a pitched roof and a window off to one side.

The interior of the maple house is painted white and minimally decorated, providing the couple with a calm and neutral space in which to sleep. Most importantly, the maple house can be completely closed off from the larger space to contain heat, sorely needed in Melbourne's chilly winters. The other structure is a charcoal-painted bunker-like box and the perfect insular hideaway in which Wally can work without interruptions. Shelves installed on the outside of the bunker create a library zone in the negative space between the two structures.

With the help of a stonemason friend (in exchange for a bottle of whisky), the couple installed a fireplace, completing the transformation from warehouse to home. It is filled with one-off timber furniture pieces that Leah has made through her calculated trial and error approach to creating.

(Left to right) A brass crab picked up in Japan. Individual by Jessica Bellef, photography by Sue Stubbs, Murdoch Books.

Because she is untrained in carpentry, Leah works instinctively, responding to the grain of the piece of timber in front of her. The process satisfies her deep-seated need to experiment and play. Her work includes a striking timber screen, two dimensional pieces for the wall and many of the tables in the space, each with the attention to detail and finish you would expect from an interior architect.

The rest of the home is furnished with Gumtree [online site] discoveries or finds from the side of the road, and the objects, textiles and art carefully dotted around the lofty space have been collected over the many travels that Leah and Wally have done. As much as they love kicking back at home, they highly value their travel adventures and the inspiration these journeys provide.

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By decorating their home with pieces collected on their trips, they are constantly reminded of the experiences that define them. More importantly, they are reminded to keep playing and learning.

• Images and text from Individual by Jessica Bellef, photography by Sue Stubbs, Murdoch Books RRP $55.

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