Photography producer Sarah Ewing, business development professional James Walker and their mischievous Vizsla Humphreys rent a converted warehouse in Northcote, Melbourne.
Not only is this unique space the couple's residence, it is also the home of their recently founded photography business, Atlantic Studios, and the offices of Sarah's photography agency, SEA. The studio element is available for public hire with Sarah's production staff on-hand to assist if required.
Unsurprisingly, there aren't many spaces in Melbourne like this one. It took Sarah a year of searching for a location suitable to develop and grow both businesses before finally finding this building.
“We had a lot to ask of the space. A good studio needs great access, proximity to the CBD, parking, ceiling height and natural light to name a few, and this building ticked all of those boxes,” Sarah says.
Double doors between the photographic studio and warehouse apartment divide the work and living dimensions of the space, allowing Sarah and James to separate work from home life.
“We’ve tried to design the space so it’s a flexible as possible. Our clients can have access to the whole building or we can divide it up into different work and shooting spaces. Double doors divide the photographic studio and the warehouse apartment – a naturally lit area with a homely feel,” Sarah says.
"The whole building works as a cohesive space which is fantastic, but you can also divide it up in to separate private areas for different purposes. We love the flexibility and we think it provides something really different for the clients that come in to use the space."
The studio was originally an industrial manufacturing site and was converted into a private photography studio a number of years ago. Seeing the long-term potential of the space, Sarah and James managed to secure a commercial three-year lease, affording them the time and flexibility to give it a considerable makeover.
"If you can get a slightly longer lease your relationship with the building changes. Making a bigger investment makes you feel more committed and in a sense what you put in feels like it's a less risky proposition,” James says.
Sarah and James engaged a team to renovate the space, which saw a new bathroom and kitchen added to the studio. They also worked with their builder and plasterer to create a cyclorama (a curved wall used as a background), making creative use of DIY YouTube videos in the process!
The building's former storage area has been transformed into an office, which involved installing new phone lines, power outlets and a large window for natural light, plus going through an incredible volume of paint on the walls and floors.
The initial renovations took about four months, and even now the space remains a work in progress. Sarah and James have learned that the work of a warehouse is never complete.
“It’s a nice mix of rough edges and polished details. It’s a playful space,” James says.
Almost all the furniture has been chosen specifically for this rental, as the couple’s former furniture (purchased to suit an art deco apartment) felt too small and dark for a warehouse. Several pieces have been placed on wheels in order to be moved around for different shoots as required.
“The plan was to keep it fairly minimalist because it’s a multipurpose space,” Sarah says.
The couches are from West Elm, the rug is from Armadillo & Co, the sideboard is from a second-hand dealer, the table and chairs are from Thonet and James repurposed the kitchen island bench himself. Other side tables are from Douglas and Bec and Hay.
A big challenge has been incorporating storage space. Former school lockers are used as the kitchen pantry, a standalone rack holds the couple’s clothes, and a small loft space above the dining area serves as a library and holds James’ record collection.
As someone in the photography industry, having so much wall space to hang works is one of the greatest joys of this home for Sarah. Currently on the feature wall are three aerial works from the series ‘Braided Rivers: Iceland’ by SEA photographer Tom Hutton. On the neighbouring wall are several other photographic works Sarah has collected over the years, including those by Phil Toledano, Sean Fennessy, Paul Blackmore and originals by Rennie Ellis and Bill Henson.
Top rental styling tip?
Be bold. Negotiate a longer lease for the property if you can and that way you can do more.
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What's the best thing about renting?
It has allowed us to be able to live in a space we wouldn't have otherwise been able to afford.