Inside the industrial house in Melbourne that’s been given a colourful makeover

·3-min read
Photo credit: Lisa Cohen
Photo credit: Lisa Cohen

Going with the flow is something of a mantra for Mardi Ola. The Melbourne-based interior designer has seen her career ‘evolve organically, with a number of residential projects on the go at any one time’, and takes much the same approach to her home life.

Her huge, colourful apartment in the suburb of South Yarra is always open to change. Set in a turn-of-the-century former industrial building, it has proved endlessly adaptable, despite being one of the earliest warehouse conversions in Australia, dating back to the 1980s.

Photo credit: Lisa Cohen
Photo credit: Lisa Cohen

‘The steel columns and beams provide all the structure you need; within that, the world is your oyster and the space can be manipulated to suit,’ Mardi explains. ‘This means that it’s evolved with us. One area has transitioned from playroom to guest bedroom, then study – currently, it’s our “lockdown room”, filled with crafty things to keep us occupied.’

Mardi was lured to this part of Melbourne by the nearby Royal Botanic Gardens and leafy Fawkner Park, and now shares her apartment with daughters Olivia, 15, and Ava, 13.

‘I first discovered the area when I moved to the city in the 1990s and was taken with it straightaway,’ Mardi remembers. ‘It’s a real hidden gem.’

Photo credit: Lisa Cohen
Photo credit: Lisa Cohen

When she took the leap and bought her place here in 2016, however, it was in need of renovation. ‘I had to pull out every window as the lovely original steel-framed ones had been replaced,’ says Mardi. This entailed cutting through four layers of brick, and sourcing new frames more in keeping with the architecture. ‘Most of the sill heights had to be lowered by almost a metre, because in a warehouse no thought was given to light or views.’

Now, the apartment is incredibly light and bright. ‘For me, natural light is paramount,’ says Mardi, explaining how she repositioned doors and windows to bring in as much of it as possible. Doing so has enabled her other passions, for plants and bold colour, to shine.

Photo credit: Lisa Cohen
Photo credit: Lisa Cohen

Despite having, she admits, ‘not the greenest of thumbs’, verdant indoor gardens can be found in every corner of her home. ‘They fill the space with life, but I tend to stick to unkillable plants, like cacti and fiddle-leaf figs,’ she jokes.

Mardi doesn’t like to put a label on her decorating style, believing that every space should be treated in its own right. ‘You should fill it with things you love,’ she adds. In her case, that’s vintage furniture, some cherished bespoke pieces, and colourful art that ‘makes you happy’.

Often, she will use an artwork or hue as the starting point for a room. ‘I tend to colour block, but subtly,’ she explains. ‘I love pale blues and greens as they’re so relaxing to live with.’

Photo credit: Lisa Cohen
Photo credit: Lisa Cohen

With the hard work done, any updates to the space are now simple. ‘Having some chairs reupholstered or swapping out bedlinen keeps things fresh,’ says Mardi. And for an extra dose of happiness, there’s always some wildlife around – whether it’s the animal artefacts scattered through the apartment, the family’s Scottish Fold cat, named The Catman, or the fauna in the garden.

‘Sometimes we welcome our friendly kookaburra neighbours, who demand to be fed,’ reveals Mardi. ‘That makes for good fun. It’s lovely to swing the big doors open and let the air in.’

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