After a Breakup, a Photographer Starts Fresh in a New Place of Her Own

After a Breakup, a Photographer Starts Fresh in a New Place of Her Own

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Name: Breeana (Bree) Dunbar and son Ari
Location: Brunswick East — Melbourne, Victoria, Australia
Size: 540 square feet
Years lived in: 2 months, renting

I moved into this apartment after my son’s father and I separated earlier this year. I found the separation absolutely devastating; it feels like a death and in a way it is. It’s the death of your life as you know it, and the death of the future you imagined for your family. During this really dark time, as my son’s father and I were still living together and trying to figure out how we were going to move forward as a separated family, the one thing that would give me a spark of hope and excitement was the thought that, for the first time in my adult life, I would have “a room of my own;” a little space that I could decorate and make completely my own.

It may sound frivolous to some (although not to Apartment Therapy readers, I’m sure!), but I knew that in this new chapter of my life, my state of mind was going to be really affected by the space I lived in. I knew that my new apartment had to be a place I felt really happy to be in. I’m a photographer, so I’m affected by the aesthetics of spaces and things, but more than that, for the first time in almost a decade, I was going to be coming home to an empty house every second week, so my apartment had to be a place where spending time alone felt like a pleasure.

When I was looking for a new apartment, my single-parent income meant that I could afford either an older, two-bedroom apartment in a further-out suburb, or a newer one-bedroom apartment in the neighborhood where I had lived for years, close to my support network of friends, my clients/work, Ari’s father, and Ari’s kinder. I choose the one bedroom. I felt like I was making a huge, HUGE change in my life, and a lot of things were out of my control, but one thing I could control was where I lived, and I just wanted to stay in the neighborhood I love and feel at home in, where everything I needed was an arm’s length away. So at the moment Ari and I co-sleep when he’s at my house (his dad and I have joint custody). We won’t be able to stay here for long—Ari’s only four but he’s a giant and will need his own bed soon—but while I’m getting on my feet as a single mum, financially and emotionally, I felt like the one bedroom was the right choice for us.

I know that some people don’t agree with co-sleeping, but personally I don’t have a problem with it, lots of cultures do it and they’re all fine! We will only be co-sleeping for a comparatively short time, and honestly, after such a big upheaval, it’s quite comforting for both him and myself. He has a bedroom at his dad’s house, so he gets his “own space” there, but I tried to make sure that he felt like our apartment was his even though he doesn’t have his own bedroom. His bedside table is filled with his books, he has a special dinosaur pillowcase made by his grandmother for his side of the bed, and the three drawers on his side of the bed are filled with his lego and special toys.

I also put family photos of the three of us up on the walls, and I put photo albums depicting our time together as a family on a low shelf that he can access any time. He loves to look through them. Some people might think it odd to have photos of a former partner on their walls, but I think it communicates to Ari that we’re still a family even though we live in different houses, and that his parents still care for and respect each other. My parents divorced when I was four (hello, history repeating!), and growing up I very much felt that my family was “broken.” I don’t want that for Ari.

Ari’s dad and I actually live in the same apartment building, which, again, some people might find odd but it makes sense for us. Parenting a child in two separate houses is a logistical nightmare, so we felt like living in the same apartment building was a way to make things easier, and so far it’s working out great. The apartment building is huge with over 400 apartments, so we don’t just “run into” each other, but if Ari wants a goodnight kiss from me, I can be at his dad’s door in one minute flat, which is brilliant! It has made the transition really smooth for Ari; he comes back to the same building every day, and he knows that the other parent is close by.

Another reason I wanted to stay in this building is because it has incredible communal facilities, which is pretty rare for apartment buildings in Australia. We have a rooftop garden with breathtaking views towards Melbourne city, other gardens and barbecue areas are scattered through the grounds, there’s a gym, lap pool, sauna, spa, and even a rooftop cinema! It all adds to a lovely community feel in the building, and makes it much easier to live in a small space.

We love entertaining. Ari is always asking “is anyone coming over for dinner tonight?” and importantly “do they have any kids?!” Ari loves to take visitors up to see “my rooftop.” He doesn’t quite understand that we share it with the 1000 other residents of our apartment building.

Even though our apartment is small, we love to welcome our friends and family, and we’ve already created some great memories here. Once the time comes to move to a bigger abode, I know I’m going to miss this little nest and the new start it has given me and Ari.

Apartment Therapy Survey:

My Style: I guess I would say that my style was eclectic because I have pieces from different eras and styles, from mid-century to retro ’80s to industrial to modern pieces from IKEA. I think mixing it up like this keeps your home from looking too show-roomy and boring, and adds lots of personality. I try to keep things cohesive with a similar color palette and “vibe” throughout the apartment. The majority of pieces in my home are thrifted or hand-me-downs. I love giving new life to old things!

Inspiration: I obsessively follow interior design blogs like Apartment Therapy (of course!), Design Sponge, The Design Files, 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 family, as well as vintage interior design books.

Favorite Element: I have three:

1. The oil painting in the living area is probably my favorite thing, and is my best thrift store find ever. It depicts the corner of William and Flinders Streets, Melbourne, looking down to famous Flinders Street Station, and is dated 1980. It had just been put out on the floor at the thrift store I was shopping in and I paid pennies for it! I took off the gaudy ’80s frame and had it reframed in a Tasmanian Oak floating frame. I absolutely LOVE my hometown of Melbourne, so having this gorgeous piece of art depicting such a “Melbourne” scene makes me happy every time I look at it.

2. The sculptural, handmade ceramic lamp in the living area. It is such a work of art. It was made by my lovely friend, talented Georgina Proud. I exchanged some photography work for it, and I got a good deal!

3. The gorgeous ’80s pink office chair; it’s such a fun piece and probably the most commented on thing in my apartment. It costs pennies in a thrift store.

Biggest Challenge: The biggest challenge is the fact that the apartment only has one bedroom, so my four-year-old son and I co-sleep, but to be honest, I don’t find it too big a challenge! If I had him full-time, it would probably be more difficult, but because I share custody with his father, it hasn’t been too difficult to make it work.

Proudest DIY: My son, ha ha! He adds the most personality to our home, for sure! After him, my proudest DIY would probably be my photographic prints that I have finally framed and hung on my wall. I also love the photo wall I created on my fridge. I filled it mostly with photos of my free-wheeling 20s when I traveled the world and had lots of great adventures, in order to remind myself that I had lived a full life before I fell in love with Ari’s dad, and I would lead a full life again now that that relationship was over.

Biggest Indulgence: I would probably say that art is my biggest indulgence, although most of the pieces I own are very inexpensive! I think art adds so much character and meaning to a home. Almost anything looks good if it’s framed properly; vintage posters, children’s drawings, thrifted paintings, old letters, iPhone photos blown up really big! And it’s so much more personal and meaningful than mass-produced “art.”

Best Advice: Spending time, money, and effort on your home is important and worthwhile! Outside of your workplace, your home is the place you spend the most time and as such it directly affects your state of mind and well being. Coming home every day to a lovely home that is filled with memories and things you love, and that functions well for you and your lifestyle, does wonders for your mental health. That is worth investing in! Also, it’s a cliche but I really follow the rule of having a place for everything and putting everything in its place, which in a small space is so important. I literally have a place for everything; Ari’s toys all live in drawers and cute storage boxes to keep them out of the way. I have a storage box for things I need to donate to the thrift store, I have a place for things I’ve borrowed from friends and need to return, I even have a little basket for books we’ve borrowed from the library! It keeps our little apartment organized and free of clutter.


Wall — Dulux White on White

Chest of Drawers — Vintage from Lost and Found Market. I spruced it up with some white linen chalk paint.
Mirror — Found in a dumpster outside of a house that was being demolished.
1940s Swedish glass vase — Vintage from Geelong Vintage Market
Brass bowl — Gift from a friend, from Mexico
Silver paper bag — Gift from a friend, from Uashmama

Brooklyn Sofa — Freedom Furniture. The first grown up piece of furniture that Ari’s dad and I ever bought. Brown leather is a great choice if you have kids!
Linen cushion covers — custom made from Ecocon Linen
Pink velvet round cushion — Castle and Things
Black and white throw — IKEA
Blue suitcase — Thrifted. I use this to store my linen.
Cane baskets — Thrifted
Tiled coffee table — Thrifted
Black Planet lamp — Vintage from Gumtree
Pink linen cushions — Custom made from Ecocon Linen
Blue enamel sink — Thrifted
Small white lamp — Kmart
Sheepskin — Ugg Express
Stockholm Rug — IKEA
Small mid-century bookcase — Vintage from Mondo Deluxe
Clock radio — Thrifted
Amber glass vase — Thrifted
Various ceramics — Thrifted, the light gray cups were handmade by Georgina Proud
Oil painting of Melbourne — Thrifted
Family portrait — Printed by Hound and Bone, framed by Frames Ready Made
Darren Hanlon poster — From The Corner Hotel
Black and white lithographs — Made by a friend who doesn’t have a website
Pink watercolour — Made by my 3-year-old niece Roma
Vintage oil landscape — Thrifted
Hand screen print — Gifted to me by artist Say Hola
Photographic print of building — by Ross Coulter
Vintage map of Edinburgh and Glasgow — eBay
Portrait of Ari and his dad — Printed by Hound and Bone framed by Frames Ready Made
Vintage Flinder Street sign — eBay
Colorful illustration — I commissioned Min Pin to make this illustration for Ari’s third birthday. I gave her a list of his favourite things as a three year old (dinosaurs, books, ice cream etc) and she created this work.
Ceramic lamp — Handmade by Georgina Proud. This incredible piece is truly a work of art! Georgie and I did an exchange, I did some photography for her in exchange for the lamp.
Gray filing cabinet — Thrifted. I found this for pennies in an thrift store years ago and made Ari’s dad cart it home for me! It was filthy and I spent the better part of a day cleaning it up. It has served lots of different functions over the years, and now it houses my photography equipment.
Mid-century chairs — Hand-me-down, my brother and sister in law’s neighbor was getting rid of them, if you can believe that! I had my parents (who run a marine upholstery company) recover the cushions in hard-wearing marine vinyl. Even though they’re white, which might not seem practical with a small person, the vinyl is made to withstand tough conditions so it holds up well.

Wooden parquetry table — Family hand-me-down, given to me by my aunt
Casalino chairs — Vintage from eBay
Ceramic fruit plate — Thrifted
Blue platter — Thrifted
Shot glasses holding candles — Thrifted
Cane mirror — Thrifted

De Bortoli wine box — Vintage, gift from a friend who worked at De Bortoli
Chopping Board — Handmade gift from my friend, furniture maker Joel Elliott
Various ceramic pieces — Thrifted
Marble serving boards — Round one from Milk and Sugar, rectangle one from Kmart
Wooden salt and pepper grinders — Kmart
Glass fruit bowl — Thrifted
West German vase — Vintage, housewarming gift.
Handmade ceramic cups — Housewarming gift, from Samantha Robinson
Small oil landscape painting — Vintage from a thrift store, reframed in a Tasmanian oak floating frame by Frames Ready Made
Larger watercolour tree — Thrifted, reframed in a Tasmanian oak by Frames Ready Made

Pink chair — Thrifted. This is the piece that people comment on the most.
Concrete pencil holder — Handmade from Fox & Ramona
Wooden bowl — Thrifted
Small industrial architect drawers — Vintage from Lost and Found Market
Industrial storage box — Vintage from Kennebec American Vintage
Vintage fan — From Lost and Found Market
Gold task lamp — Vintage from Lost and Found Market
Ice cream night light — Kmart
Concrete artwork — Original piece by my brother-in-law, artist Ross Coulter
Family portraits – Printed by Hound and Bone, framed by Frames Ready Made

Nordli bed frame — IKEA
’60s Turkish rug — Alaturca Collections
Bed Linen — Bed Threads
Linen Cushion covers — Custom made from Ecocon Linen
Tall mirror — Handmade housewarming gift from my friend, furniture maker Joel Elliott
White retro bedside table — Found discarded on the side of the road.
Globe lamp — Vintage, gift.
Vintage bottles — Found under my friend’s house when they were renovating.
Glass tray — Thrifted
Vintage matchbox cars — Ari’s dad’s from when he was a boy.
Mid-century bedside table — Vintage from Gumtree.
Sinnerlig lamp — IKEA
Alarm clock — Thrifted but originally from IKEA
George’s Lingerie print — My work, which is in my online shop here beautifully framed by Format Framing
Melbourne cityscape print — My work, which is in my online shop here beautifully framed by Format Framing
City Illustration — by artist Gavin Porter, bought through Arts Project Australia who promote the work of artists with disabilities.

Beach scene print — My work, which is in my online shop here beautifully framed by Frames Ready Made
Le Sac en Papier — Bought through Leo and Bella

Outdoor couch — Hand-me-down, cushion reupholstered in Warwick Sundec outdoor fabric in Mallacoota Ash
Astro turf rug — From Bunnings
Black chairs — Kmart
Macrame plant hanger — Thrifted
Small white locker side table — Kmart

Thanks, Breeana!

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