Smart Small-Space Ideas Make This 560-Square-Foot Home Work for a Mother and Son
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Name: Breeana Dunbar (Bree) and Ari, 9, Lego and cat enthusiast
Location: CBD — Melbourne, Australia
Type of home: One-bedroom apartment
Size: 560 square feet
Years lived in: 1 year, owned
Photographer and single mom Breeana Dunbar saved up money for years for a deposit to buy a home, and was finally ready to start applying for a loan in February 2020. The timing wasn’t great. “I had to shelve my search when COVID-19 kicked off, and by the time I could start up the process again a year later, the pandemic had impacted my business so negatively that it slashed my borrowing power,” explains Breeana. “With my new, tighter budget, and a fantastic mortgage broker, I finally managed to secure a small loan and bought a decent-sized one-bedroom apartment in Melbourne’s CBD (central business district, downtown for U.S. readers).”
Breeana did a small renovation before she and Ari moved in, which she says “freshened up the place immensely and really helped it feel like it was mine.” Spending around $15k, she painted, re-carpeted, changed lights to nicer fixtures, updated the kitchen appliances, re-grouted the bathroom, switched broken blinds to soft linen curtains, as well as purchased a few pieces of furniture.
“As a self-employed single mum, I thought home ownership would be unachievable for me, and I still can’t believe I’ve managed to pull it off. There was a lot of luck involved. The novelty of owning (paying off) my apartment continues to move me to tears a year later. It’s a humble apartment, but it’s mine, and the sense of security that it gives me is difficult to describe, particularly as Australia has one of the most expensive and difficult-to-access housing markets in the world,” she continues. “On top of that, this apartment is the calmest, safest, happiest home I’ve ever lived. Being able to provide my son with a secure home that’s full of love and laughter is my biggest personal achievement.”
Apartment Therapy Survey
My style: I describe my style as eclectic hygge because I have pieces from different eras and styles, from mid-century to retro ’80s to industrial to modern inexpensive pieces from IKEA. I think mixing it up like this keeps your home from looking too showroom-y and boring, and adds lots of character. I try to keep things cohesive with a similar color palette and a cozy vibe throughout the apartment.
Inspiration: I follow interior design blogs and YouTube channels like Apartment Therapy (of course!), The Modern House, The Design Files, Never Too Small, and Emily Henderson, and I do get some great ideas from these sources, but I try not to be too influenced by trends and instead stick to pieces that speak to me personally and make sense for my lifestyle. I’m also really inspired by the homes of friends, and local Melbourne creatives, as well as vintage interior design books.
Favorite element: I have three favorite elements. First, I love my art collection, which is made up of personal items (personal framed photos, Lego pieces that Ari has made me over the years, and so on); vintage art from thrift stores, eBay, and Facebook Marketplace; and pieces from family and friends (I’m lucky to have lots of creative and talented people in my life).
Second, I love the view from my balcony. When you enter the apartment, you come into a narrow entry/kitchen area that has no natural light; it’s a bit dark and underwhelming. But then you come through to the living room, which has floor-to-ceiling windows and beautiful light that changes throughout the day as the sun travels past the buildings in front of the apartment. The view from the living room is cool, an urban cityscape with different styles of architecture, and then when you step onto the balcony there’s a fantastic view of Flagstaff Gardens, the oldest park in Melbourne’s CBD and also the highest point of the CBD. It’s wonderful. I’m also lucky that, because of where my apartment is positioned, the view can’t ever be built out.
And third, I love my carpet! I know carpet is a little controversial in the interior design world, but I was so happy to have carpet after living with tacky faux wood flooring for years. I re-carpeted before I moved in and chose a high-quality, soft, stain-resistant carpet in a dusky pink. I copied a friend who had the same carpet and color installed in her house a couple of months before, so I knew it was going to be good. It adds so much texture and coziness, it’s very comfortable to sit on the floor, and it muffles sounds, so we don’t hear any stomp-y footsteps. My dining table is on top of the carpet, there’s nowhere else to put it, and yes, I do panic every time Ari carries a drink to the table! But we haven’t had any accidents yet and, hey, it’s only carpet — it can be cleaned!
Please describe any helpful, inspiring, brilliant, or just plain useful small-space maximizing, cleaning, or organizing tips you have: My best small-space tip is a slightly controversial one: Get rid of your TV. Having a big TV in a small space really restricts your options in terms of furniture layout; the TV usually has to be against a wall, and the couch usually has to face it. If you don’t have a TV, you can design the living room in a way that makes sense for the room’s shape/size and your lifestyle. For example, you can have more chairs if you entertain often, or you might have space for a WFH desk. Ari and I don’t have a TV, but we definitely still watch a lot of TV — we just do it on a laptop. You get used to the smaller size quickly, and now when I’m in a living room that has a TV the size of a helipad, I find it overwhelming.
PAINT & COLORS
- Room — Dulux “Caspar White Quarter”
- Vintage Alrob chest of drawers — Facebook Marketplace
- Vintage floral oil painting — Facebook Marketplace, reframe with an oak floating frame from Frames Ready Made
- Vintage mirror — Found on the street
- Vintage lamp — Allure Vintage Treasures
- Vintage leather briefcase — Garage sale (I use this to hold my tools)
- Brooklyn sofa — Freedom Furniture. The first grown-up piece of furniture that I ever bought. I’ve had it for 12 years and every year it looks better and more worn-in. Brown leather is a great choice if you have kids.
- Linen cushion covers — EcoconLINEN
- Vintage Persian rug — This was in my parents’ home for years, left by the previous owner. I begged them to give it to me for 10 years straight and they finally relented.
- Vintage cedar chest of drawers — Facebook Marketplace
- Custom-made coffee table — By my friend Joel Elliott Furniture
- Vintage floor lamp stand — Facebook Marketplace, with IKEA lampshade
- Vintage clock radio — eBay
- Audience poster — My talented brother-in-law, artist Ross Coulter
- Embroidered hand artwork — My talented friend, artist Eddy Carroll
- Dawn Rise carpet in the color Sunset Pink — Innercity Floorworld
- Orb Batten Fix ceiling lights — Beacon Lighting
- Custom-made terrazzo cafe table — Slabs By Design. I usually prefer a vintage dining table but I couldn’t find a nice one that was small enough, so I had this table custom-made.
- Vintage Casalino Casala chairs — From eBay. I recently had them resprayed, which made them look brand new.
- Platform bed frame — Back to the Futon
- Bed linen — Sheet Society and Bed Threads
- Vintage wood hall table used as desk/bedside table — Facebook Marketplace
- Vintage pink chair — Thrift store, reupholstered by my parents at Raeline Boatseats
- George’s Lingerie framed print — From my print shop
- Linen ceiling pendant — Imprint House
- Muuto Control Table Lamp used as a wall sconce — Arrival Hall
- Vintage table lamp — The Niche Room
- Small black and white photograph — My talented brother-in-law, artist Ross Coulter
- Vintage country scene artwork — By my stepfather’s mother
- Black and white line drawing — From Arts Project Australia, who sell work by artists with intellectual disabilities
- Melbourne skyline framed print — From my print shop
- Byron Wicker Day Bed — Early Settler
- Bed linen — Sheet Society
- Custom-made room divider — By my friend Joel Elliott Furniture
- Vintage wood bedside table — eBay
- Vintage clock radio — eBay
- Upplyst LED wall cloud lamp — IKEA
- Colorful painting — I commissioned Min Pin to make this illustration for Ari’s third birthday. I gave her a list of his favorite things as a 3-year-old (dinosaurs, books, ice cream, etc.) and she created this original painting.
- PC Portable Light — Hay
- Olive wardrobe locker — Mustard Made
- Large vintage lamp with pleated shade — The Niche Room
- Vintage suitcase — eBay and Facebook Marketplace, used for toy storage
- Vintage Melbourne oil painting — Facebook Marketplace, framed by Frames Ready Made.
- Lego sculptures on top of the room divider — Made by Ari. He’s very creative!
- Wicker outdoor chaise lounge — Freedom Furniture
This tour’s responses and photos were edited for length/size and clarity.
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