“I want this apartment to be f@#$*d up”: Melbourne penthouse

Apr 4, 2017
  • Article by Gillian Serisier

Melbourne penthouse is such a construction: a beautiful, lofty, exploration of colour shifting through space.

It is then highly appropriate that the apartment is home to an avid art collector. More importantly still, it belongs to an art collector who wanted his home to be as remarkable as the objects he collects and not a passive gallery-esque expanse of white.

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As Kerry Phelan of KPDO explains, “He didn’t want the usual suspects, he didn’t want it Scandinavian, he didn’t want it mid-century. To be frank, he said, ‘Kerry, I want this apartment to be f@#$*d up,’ he wanted something new.” Add to this “a beautiful ever-expanding collection of artworks that make you think” and you have an extraordinary brief.

“I think it’s quite wonderful to get a brief like that – one has to stop and think,” says Phelan. Moreover, it allows the designer to engage with the project and client from a unique aesthetic position, unique set of goals and unique contextualisation of the client/home relationship, where nothing mimics past projects. “Often potential clients like a certain look, or ‘house style’ if you like, so this can be tricky for some designers.”

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Where Phelan’s signature lies, then, is in her sense of an interior as a frame for living. Her father was a joiner and interior designer through the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s with many a Caulfield and Toorak home to his name and, while few remain, the legacy is a particular approach to creating a home.

“I love doing joinery – obviously one has a linear way of detailing and designing things and, for me, my spiritual home is the ’70s, as they say in the fashion world, it’s the era that won’t go away,” says Phelan.

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How this translates to Melbourne Penthouse is in the blocks of colour, expanses of materiality and sense of insouciance that never falters into frivolity. These are delightful rooms full of wonderful moments and quirky compositions. A lovely deep blue powder room, an all-red laundry (Corian, Pirelli, lacquer – everything), luscious felt drapes, a mirror ball and so much more.

The client’s collection of Memphis art, which expanded during the project, runs throughout the apartment as zigzagging, striped and spotted objects of wonder. It is also clearly referenced in the kitchen where bright blue cabinetry, conical table legs, a lozenge-shaped bench of layered marble and the smashed Azul Bahia marble door handles imbue the project with the essence of this art movement. Incidentally, when the builder asked for drawings of the door handles, Phelan took some stone tiles outside and smashed them up herself!

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One of the challenges of creating an interior unlike anything else was the sourcing of furniture. “You don’t get things that are off the floor. We really took a lot of time to make sure everything was just right,” she says. As such, Phelan and her team started searching for unique objects early.

The gorgeous Cipria chair by Edra, for example, in pink, white and grey fluffy fabric, was the last before a change of material for that line. It was placed beside a large picture window with a bright orange and yellow Glas Italia XXX side table and a pink table lamp by Michele De Lucchi, Oceanic, from 1981. No one could ask for a more beautiful tableau. And it is in such tableaux that Phelan’s ability to juggle and balance comes to the fore. “It was really about the colour combinations as well; for instance, the sofa (Arflex, Marechairo XIII) is a sofa anybody could buy, but not anybody is going to put a huge Dior houndstooth velvet fabric on it. You have to be quite adventurous, and then to add the yellow, orange and pink…” says Phelan, of both herself and her client’s ability to push boundaries, adding, “Sometimes he thought I wasn’t going far enough!”

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The result is, in fact, the antithesis of restrained, with all sorts of goodies elaborating the bold statement of the sofa: Max Lamb Rainbow Poly coffee table, Arflex Pecorelle armchairs, a Moroso Shanghai Tip side table, Moooi Chess table and a Yellow Gulv-vase by Otto Brauer for Holmegaard.

The commissioned and site-specific Anthony Lister artwork in the penthouse’s entrance foyer and elevator access is, of course, the most noticeable, but it is the works hung in the interior that create the flowing engagement of the whole. A large photographic work by Isaac Julien, True North, for example, is coolly serene, while a fandango of coloured sculptures by Troy Emery, Valentina Palonen and Kate Rohde each present the disparity of being visually whimsical and conceptually layered.

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Holding the combination in place is the elegant sculptural form of a stainless steel table circa 1960s/’70s that Phelan sourced early in the project. “[The client] saw it, loved it, bought it, stored it and immediately knew he wanted True North above it. He loved the process. I find him challenging and extremely generous and a very thoughtful client,” she says.

The penthouse’s bathrooms are exceptional: striped Zebrino stone, mirrored cabinets and the very beautiful and richly hued coloured glass, which effectively bring Phelan’s obsessions together. “I love stone and I’ve always been slightly obsessed with mirror.” Again, the room is composed like an artwork, with form and colour creating movement within the space that creates both a visual impact and sense of intimacy as you move into the room. Key to this shift is the beautiful coloured glass cabinetry that opens to reveal silvered mirror, which effectively cocoons the viewer with the effect of the stone.

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Projects as good as this are rare, and not just because there are a lot of singularly fabulous objects such as the Moroso Memory chair or the Blow-up chair and footstool by Maurizio Galante that were sourced from 1stdibs as a prototype that never went into production. What makes it rare is the ability to locate each piece within the environment organically. Nothing looks staged; each flows naturally and beautifully together.

Photography by Richard Powers.

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This article originally appeared in inside 94 – available digitally through Zinio.

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