Seven years ago, Kim Lai and Tom Orton, founders of architecture practice We Are Humble were having little luck buying a property. 

With few options in their price bracket and plans to move to New York City in the immediate future, the couple decided that buying an off-the-plan apartment from a reputable developer (Neometro) was their best course of action. 

‘There was a huge boom of apartment development underway at the time, and it felt like developers were only just learning how to create projects that suited this area. This was one of them,’ Kim says. ‘We thought that buying something off-the-plan that would take a few years to be ready, but where we would be assured a certain level of quality and finish, was a good option.’

When looking at the available floorplans of this particular Fitzroy development, the couple had the option of choosing a smaller place with a view, or a larger place close to the street. They opted for the latter.

‘We made the decision to buy this particular one more for space than for view or aspect, and are glad we did,’ says Kim. ‘We love the big balcony and all the light that streams in…We can sit out there comfortably and have lunch, or clean the bikes, or whatever we want really, while still feeling like it’s very private from the street.’

While this apartment is relatively large for a one-bedroom apartment, Kim and Tom’s penchant for having items on display has been their biggest challenge in styling this space. ‘We love collecting things, and we’re not good at getting rid of things!’ Kim explains. 

‘Honestly, our favourite pieces are our clothes and accessories… They say so much about who we are, and it’s one of the easiest forms of self expression,’ Kim says. ‘[We] tried to find a way that the wardrobe would feel just like a backdrop to the rest of the room.’

The couple’s favourite displays are their hanging row of caps collected on a road trip to every USA state (!) and what they call the ‘shoe-lution’ – a combination of concrete blocks and plywood sheet that keeps their sneakers looking tidy.

It might have been purchased off the plan, but this colourful little pad proves how personal details  and a strong sense of style really can make a tiny city apartment zing with personality!

Cassina LC3 armchair in custom colours (‘This was a super exuberant housewarming gift. We selected the colours and the leather  – it’s super soft and squishy. We’re prone to swiping the sitting spot off each other as soon as one of us gets up from it!’ says Kim). Red plinth is an Ettore Sottsass Pilastro stool from Space Furniture. Photo – Caitlin Mills for The Design Files. Styling – Annie Portelli

Kim Lai and Tom Orton wearing Nike, Ganni + Peggy Gou! Virgil Abloh x IKEA daybed couch. Green ‘Chubb’ stool by Fearon Brothers for Curated Spaces. Ceramic vase made by Kim. Tom’s hat collection from USA, one from every single state! Henry Pilcher lamp sits on a vintage brushed aluminium stool designed by Norman Foster for Emeco purchased from Edwin Fox Furniture. Japanese rug from Westerlind purchased in New York. Photo – Caitlin Mills for The Design Files. Styling – Annie Portelli

Cassina Mexique dining table (‘The odd triangular shape is good because we find we’re able to leave all our stuff down one end, like a handbag or laundry, and then when it’s just the two of us we can eat at the pointy end and be closer to each other,’ says Kim.) Vintage chairs from The Mill Markets, Geelong. Photo – Caitlin Mills for The Design Files. Styling – Annie Portelli

Kettle from Cibi. HAY dish draining tray and water bottle. The shelves are filled with a collection of ceramics from Mud Australia and glassware from The Mill markets in Castlemaine, and Malaysia. Sandy Liang Nalgene drink bottle. Lots of Code Black Coffee. Wooden sake cups. Photo – Caitlin Mills for The Design Files. Styling – Annie Portelli

Striped cushion from Spacecraft on Gertrude St. Vase graphic cushion by BFGF (Lilian Martinez). Globe cushion is a kids toy from Pretty Wild on Smith St. Photo – Caitlin Mills for The Design Files. Styling – Annie Portelli

‘We love collecting things, we have heaps of vintage cups, plates and random bits of glassware,’ says Kim. ‘A little bit of coffee paraphernalia too, we work on lots of cafes and do love a good coffee.’ Photo – Caitlin Mills for The Design Files. Styling – Annie Portelli

The wardrobe! This particular section is all Kim’s skirts and dresses. Murakami flower bag from Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth. Collection of handbags, gold and fire-print second hand Prada, old Louis Vuitton x Murakami, woven basket from The Mill markets in Castlemaine. Photo – Caitlin Mills for The Design Files.

White steel shelf by Queensland brand Waltz. Art from top left: photo of Code Black cafe by Georgia Haynes and framed by Great Frames in High Street, Northcote; ‘Transit’ print by Zizkov Park from Kabinett in Kyneton; pink painting by William Ferguson. White porcelain bowl from Japan. Shelf made from Besser blocks and plywood from Bunnings. Photo – Caitlin Mills for The Design Files. Styling – Annie Portelli

‘Our living room is pretty much just a wardrobe…’ says Kim. ‘There was no way we would have been able to fit everything in the wardrobes that were built into the apartment so the first thing we did was add open wardrobes to the space from IKEA.’ Photo – Caitlin Mills for The Design Files. Styling – Annie Portelli

Bed by Floyd (We sent this back from the US in our container when we moved back from NY,’ says Kim. ‘It’s designed to be taken apart so it can move with you from house to house, which is exactly what we did!) Rug from the Virgil Abloh x IKEA collab (‘Tom decided it should live on the wall instead of the floor,’ laughs Kim). Sheets from Suku. Bedside table by Kartell. Photo – Caitlin Mills for The Design Files. Styling – Annie Portelli

‘We really love our balcony, it’s massive but also the wall gives you tonnes of privacy and still lets through a nice amount of light,’ says Kim. Photo – Caitlin Mills for The Design Files. Styling – Annie Portelli

‘We clearly kept ourselves occupied during lockdown by buying lots of plants!’ says Kim. Photo – Caitlin Mills for The Design Files. Styling – Annie Portelli

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