A Stunning Australian Apartment Comes Alive With Secondhand Finds

A Stunning Australian Apartment Comes Alive With Secondhand Finds

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Name: Alyssa Owens and Alex Matthews
Location: Carlton, just north of Melbourne’s CBD
Size: 800 square feet
Type of Home: Apartment
Years lived in: 2 years, renting

The heritage apartment sits in Carlton, on the edge of Melbourne’s CBD. It’s part of a late Victorian residence that once held the Commonwealth Bureau of Meteorology. The mansion was later cut up into smaller apartments, one of which we were lucky enough to snag in May 2019 when we moved to Melbourne from New Orleans. The soaring ceilings and elaborate plasterwork are striking, and we’ve tried to balance them out with simple, modern furnishings. What you see in the photos is mostly vintage or used, a mix of our favourite pieces we shipped from Louisiana or sourced here in Melbourne’s second-hand market.

Credit: Alyssa Owens

The space is perfect for big, loud dinner parties. We made the most of this when we first moved in, but Melbourne’s lockdowns put the parties on hold. So, the apartment has mostly been for us over the past 18 months. We feel grateful to have had such a comfortable space to ride out the pandemic while both working from home. Alex is an Australian consultant who’s spent the past decade working in strategy in Melbourne, New York, and New Orleans. Alyssa is an educator who now works at a global non-profit that helps unemployed people access meaningful work. She’s spent most of her adult life working in schools in New Orleans. One Louisiana summer, the two of us met on the bayou.

Credit: Alyssa Owens

Apartment Therapy Survey:

Our Style: Modern, collected, textured, and always evolving

Inspiration: We’re most inspired by our travels, by art, and by other people’s beautiful spaces.

Favorite Element: The ceilings — 16-feet high with traditional plasterwork — are stunning. They’re the first thing you see when you walk into the apartment.

Credit: Alyssa Owens

Biggest Challenge: Temperature control. Soaring ceilings are lovely to look at but make heating during the Melbourne winter feel impossible.

Proudest DIY: We used vinyl decals to cover up tired, gray floor tile off the kitchen and en-suite bathroom.

Credit: Alyssa Owens

Biggest Indulgence: The Beni Ourain rug in the living space is really the only big-ticket furniture item we purchased new. We worked with an incredible weaver in Morocco to design it. He helped us get the size and color just right for the space.

Is there something unique about your home or the way you use it? We don’t have a TV, but on most locked-down Friday nights we rearrange the living room furniture and remove artwork on the 5m x 6m wall to convert the space into a makeshift home theatre. All it takes is a classroom projector, a portable Bluetooth speaker, and a willingness to put everything back into place on Monday morning before Zoom calls. Our spare bathroom also doubles as a storage closet — but that’s just not as fun.

Credit: Alyssa Owens

Finally, what’s your absolute best home secret or decorating advice? Start with one item that you absolutely love. Then design the room around it. For our living room, that was the rug. Also, go slow and buy secondhand whenever possible. Vintage and thrifted furniture lasts longer, is more interesting to look at, and holds onto its value.


Credit: Alyssa Owens


  • Japanese bowls — Antique store in Tokyo
  • Stairway runner — Vintage, from Etsy
Credit: Alyssa Owens


Credit: Alyssa Owens


Credit: Alyssa Owens


  • Art — Mark Chu
  • Black marble tulip table — Secondhand
  • Cesca chairs — Secondhand
  • Bar cart — Secondhand
Credit: Alyssa Owens


  • Wine rack — Smith Street Bazaar, secondhand
  • Renoir Poster — New Orleans estate sale
  • B/W portrait –Market in Argentina
  • Knife set — Mercer
Credit: Alyssa Owens


Credit: Alyssa Owens


  • Klimt print — Purchased in Vienna
  • Painting of the Last Emperor of China — Thrifted

Thanks Alyssa and Alex!

This house tour’s responses were edited for length and clarity.