Gem Leslie and Mike Chambers live in a one-bedroom apartment in South Yarra, Melbourne.
Their apartment showcases a refined, almost minimal aesthetic, decorated with a mix of classic furniture, modern art and photography. There’s not an abundance of ‘stuff’; rather, each piece has been carefully selected over the past three years to serve as a standalone ‘hero’ of each room.
“When we first moved in we had nothing, but we didn’t want to buy stuff for the sake of it, so we collected it,” Gem says.
Their favourite items are the two original ‘Birds of a Feather’ paintings by West Australian artist John Boyd, both of which were bought from an op-shop for around $100.
“The first was painted in 1988, and the other in 1989. They give us a lot of happiness every time we look at them!”
Mike and Gem are constantly swapping pieces in their home for newer finds that they both adore, many of which that have been influenced by Gem’s time working for local furniture and homewares store, Modern Times. Since the photographs in this post were taken, they have hung two new artworks, 'South' by photographer Brooke Holm, and an original artwork by Tonee Messiah. They have also sold their blue velvet couch (a $90 Clayton op-shop find) to make way for a second-hand Lotus sofa by Niels Eilersen.
“I fell in love with the sofa. It's brown, and most people hate it, but we love it!” Gem says.
Other pieces have been picked up at auction houses such as Leonard Joel in Prahran, borrowed from friends, found by Gem’s dad on the side of the road (the lounge armchairs were a particularly great find), or purchased in New York while travelling.
“We give each other a lot of art for our birthdays…Every trip I go on I’m just carrying a big [poster] tube on the plane, otherwise it just gets a bit boring!” Gem says.
“I find it’s hard in Australia to find interesting things that don’t look the same as everyone else.”
Also on rotation in Gem and Mike’s home is a selection of bedding from their label, Scottie Store. Founded in late 2014, Scottie Store provides ‘functional, playful and instantly familiar’ French flax linen.
“The reason Gem started it was we were looking for nice linen that we could afford, rather than something that’s cheap and would scratch you to death, or something that was so expensive that you actually didn’t want to sleep in it because it’s too nice,” Mike says.
Initially Scottie Store was run entirely from this apartment, but is now partly managed by Gem’s parents (who store the linen in their home and send out all the orders) and also from an externally rented studio.
“Somehow I found this guy and for some reason he liked me and offered me a very generous desk space for next to nothing [as my studio in Collingwood]. He rents me the space cheap and I help him out with design work,” Gem says.
Prior to this apartment, Gem and Mike lived in a share house in Clifton Hill. They only moved to South Yarra when looking for a rental of their own.
If you’re unfamiliar with Melbourne, you might not be aware of the slight rivalry (for lack of a better word) that exists between the inner northern and southern suburbs. The inner north (mainly Collingwood, Fitzroy, Abbotsford, Clifton Hill, Northcote and Brunswick) is often generalised as being populated by working class ‘hipsters’, whereas the suburbs located south of the Yarra River (Toorak, Windsor, St Kilda, Armadale and South Yarra to name a few) are stereotyped as being more for cosmopolitan upper middle class earners. While these generalisations are largely reflected in the median house prices (south side’s being much higher), when it comes to rentals, the inner-north is actually home to the city’s most expensive and sought-after properties.
“We didn’t want to move into another share house…and Fitzroy and north side were too expensive and all the apartments just weren’t looked after by the landlords,” Gem says.
“Then looking south side there was too much to choose from! There was no one was at the inspections, and they were much cheaper and closer to the city.”
Despite their label’s success, Scottie Store is just one part of Gem and Mike’s impressive resumes. Mike also works in professional services doing client strategy and business development, and Gem is the newly appointed digital marketing manager of accessories label, Lucy Folk. Mike is also a co-founder of Suitably Connected – a networking group that helps members facilitate personal and professional relationships. The group supports the not-for-profit organisation Wear For Success that helps dress, groom and coach disadvantaged people looking for permanent employment.
While this apartment may be too small to host the entirety of Scottie’s operations right now, Mike and Gem have no intentions to upsize just yet.
“We’ve thought about it, I look online a lot, but we have too good a deal here… We like this place too much!” Gem says.
Top rental styling tip?
Acquire beautiful and useful things but acquire them sparingly!
We have friends over for dinner most weekends, so there is a piece of timber behind the couch, and trestle legs on the balcony, so we can have the joys of eating at the table with friends. Then we pack it down and enjoy the space when we don’t need a table.
We also have some small wooden stools that we stack and keep outside as well, or use them as a table for our dinner on weeknights!
What are your most frequently searched home-related terms online?
Patina leather sofa, tubular mid-century, French rattan chair, terrazzo…Also, I am always looking for old exhibition posters on eBay. You can find some great ones from international galleries that don’t cost an arm and a leg.
What are favourite furniture and homewares stores?
The New Zealand based online store by the name of Everyday Needs. Everything they sell is simple, beautiful and functional – no more, no less!
The flexibility to live in an area that you love!
Words by Amelia Barnes
Photography by Dan Soderstrom