In 2006, when Karen Alcock and her partner Jojo were looking to buy a house in Melbourne’s inner North, they quickly watched prices rise by $50,000. Desperate, the couple opted to inspect the literal cheapest house for sale in Fitzroy at the time. 

‘Because it was one bedroom, it was in our price range,’ says Karen, principal of MAArchitects. ‘The laneway location probably put a few people off, [but] what they didn’t realise was that it was its best asset.’ 

They bought the property, and went on to undertake a major renovation in 2010, just after their son Luca was born. 

‘We moved out, knocked everything off from the ridge back, and were able to tuck in an upstairs bedroom and ensuite and renovate the lower level,’ Karen says. ‘To keep the height of the building down, we created a split level on the ground floor so the upstairs bedroom could tuck behind the existing roof with an east-facing window poking over the ridge.’

It’s been a slow process, with the garden and kitchen taking the most time to refine. ‘It’s one thing to design a house for clients. but much more difficult to design a home for yourself. You have so many ideas!’ says Karen. ‘We spent a few years just building things and playing around to see what worked and what we liked.’

A particular challenge was deciding on a suitable interior scheme for the kitchen. As it turns out, simple is best. ‘When we first moved in we did a refresh of the kitchen, and I made Jojo paint it three times because I couldn’t make up my mind (she wont let me forget this),’ Karen says. ‘It was then I realised that I like white. Keep it simple and add the colour with art and furniture.’ 

The couple have styled the home with a variety of thoughtfully selected pieces, from a Hans Wegner CH25 chair, to $10 lights from Ikea. ‘We choose things that are something or nothing – they just can’t be mediocre,’ Karen says. The main paint colour on the walls and panelling is Dulux Lexicon.

In 15 years, this house and its owners have changed a lot. ‘We came here just two of us, and we will be leaving as a family of three with two dogs!’ says Karen. ‘The only reason we are moving is because we bought a Labrador and learned how to garden during lockdown.’

The two-bedroom house goes to auction next week!

Karen designed the table with SJB Stainless Steel in Thomastown as part of a series of them also in her office. Light shade from Lantern Shop. Photo – Caitlin Mills for The Design Files.

The outdoor bath is a pig’s trough from Ag Crete: ‘We rolled it in through the front door!’ says Karen. Exterior furniture is Palissade from Hay. Photo – Caitlin Mills for The Design Files.

Cloud modular sofa from Prostoria. ‘Jojo and I got the colour samples separately and unanimously agreed on the purple,’ says Karen. ‘I think you don’t choose the colour, the colour chooses you. It’s big and bold and makes the living room feel generous.’ Benches designed by Karen and built by Kennedy’s Timbers from planks of blackbutt with a Danish oil finish. Photo – Caitlin Mills for The Design Files.

Hay for Ikea floor light. The rechargeable lantern light from &Tradition was a gift from Karen’s staff. Prints from The Australian Print Workshop: left by Kate Butler, right by Wayne Viney. The rug is a traditional Welsh bedspread Karen inherited from her uncle. Photo – Caitlin Mills for The Design Files.

National Tiles tiles with fitted with charcoal grout. Vipp salt and pepper shakers from Cult. Japanese dolls were gifted by Karen’s sister who collects them from the flea markets around Tokyo. Chopping board from Iittala. Photo – Caitlin Mills for The Design Files

Bench designed by Karen and built by Kennedy’s Timber. ARTEK K65 stools. Photo – Caitlin Mills for The Design Files

Oven from Ilve. Rangehood from Qasair. Fuck Yeah plate by Lucas Grogan. Shelf brackets designed by Brendan Ravenhill Studio for Areaware. Tap by Astra Walker. Photo – Caitlin Mills for The Design Files

An excellent view to the garden. All of the interior is finished in Dulux Lexicon in various strengths. Kitchen handles are Fisher & Paykel fridge handles adapted to suit the joinery. Photo – Caitlin Mills for The Design Files

‘Series 7’ by Fritz Hansen chairs designed by Arne Jacobsen. Mud Australia bowl. Photo – Caitlin Mills for The Design Files

Spiral staircase from Enzie. Lampshade from Lantern Shop. Photo – Caitlin Mills for The Design Files

A prized possession chair is a Hans Wegner CH25.  The mushroom light is from Ikea. Karen made the shelves. Art from left to right: Jenny Bolish, Mark Strizic, Polly Borland. Photo – Caitlin Mills for The Design Files

Chair is an Eames rocker by Vitra. The sliding screen is made from unfinished cedar battens. Photo – Caitlin Mills for The Design Files

Sink is Scola from Duravit. Taps are Astra Walker with custom painted pins to match the door. Chair from Thonet. Photo – Caitlin Mills for The Design Files

The Fitzroy home’s exterior. Photo – Cheyne Toomey of Spacecraft Media.

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