Joanne’s 1940s Art Deco Apartment Renovation

updated Feb 19, 2019
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Name: Joanne O’Callaghan
Location: Melbourne, Australia
Size: 510 square feet
Years owned: 16 years

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Joanne recently renovated this late-1940s Art Deco apartment in East Melbourne, Australia. The entire place is full of light and charm, but the apartment’s living and dining space, called the “blue room,” is a particular jewel: It features Art Deco cornices, a tiered mirror above the original fireplace and a large framed window. Joanne writes: “Our focus was to breathe life and creativity into a previously tired and neglected space.”

From Joanne:

“The apartment is one of 18 built in the 1940s. Located on the East Side of Fitzroy Gardens, the apartment is just a 10-minute walk into the city. Located nearby to a hospital, the apartments were once home to many doctors and nurses over the years. We fully renovated the apartment in 2015 with the assistance of Gillian Stewart of Gillian Stewart Interior Design. Gillian helped us re-design the kitchen and bathroom/laundry in a way that makes great use of the small space without being overcrowded with joinery.

The distinctive apartment style has been created with a mix of period antiques and mid-century pieces. Here an Edwardian carved oak sewing box has a new life as a bedside table. A selection of paintings, illustrations and soft furnishings give the apartment a warm, inviting feel. We have collected and gathered the apartment furnishings and art in recent years from auction houses and various home furnishing retailers. The space is occasionally available to rent through Airbnb.”

What we did:
  • Restored the original Tasmanian oak floorboards
  • Renovated and modernised the bathroom using period materials such as the travertine marble floor
  • Redesigned the kitchen, with Art Deco style reflected in the light fixtures, cupboard handles and art work
  • Created a focus in the living room on the metal framed windows and outdoor greenery, framed by flowing curtains.
  • Introduced colour – the living and dining room the walls are painted up to the picture rails in ‘Blue Balm’ by Dulux (love this shade of blue).

Apartment Therapy Survey:

Our Style: I have an eclectic style. I love to pair the old with the new – hand crafted antiques with contemporary furnishings, and art both old and new.

Inspiration: Art. Art Deco and Mid-Century style. We recently did a walking tour of Shanghai’s Art Deco architecture, with architect Anne Warr. Whilst we have visited Shanghai a number of times, the tour was a real insight and Anne had so many great stories of historic Shanghai to share. Did you know Shanghai has some 100 Art Deco buildings and hosted the World Congress on Art Deco last year? I would love to share some photos from that trip… but that is a whole other story…

Favorite Element: I am thrilled with the Dulux ‘Blue Balm’ coloured walls in the living room. I was really ready for something other than white on the walls. This blue is brilliant as it works well with so many other colours, there are many more combinations in soft furnishings I would like to try with it.

Biggest Challenge: Our biggest challenge was the Tasmanian oak floorboards. They were very orange after layers of varnish over the years. We tried a darker stain but were disappointed in the results so we stripped them back and gave them a clear satin finish. The floor feels very soft underfoot, and I am really pleased we were able to salvage the boards in the kitchen (which had been glued over with linoleum).

What Friends Say: Creative, warm and artistic.

Biggest Embarrassment: Some people think it is a little unusual not to have a bedroom door, but as space is tight and the entrance to the bedroom is off a hallway, it doesn’t seem needed. There was no door there when we purchased the apartment (so it has been long gone for many years).

Proudest DIY: The idea of a custom made mirror in the recessed panel above the fireplace. The masonry is in sections, I had a mirror cut to size for each panel — I just love the effect.

Biggest Indulgence: ‘Medidate’ original artwork by Carla Fletcher. Underfloor heating under the terrazzo stone in the bathroom. Art Deco style wall light beside the sink in the kitchen.

Best Advice: Collect things that you love in your travels throughout life. I tend to purchase ceramics when travelling, sometimes a collection of bowls… not so easy transporting in the suitcase, but no breakages yet!



  • Lounge: Dulux Blue Balm and Dulux Natural White (ceiling and trim)
  • Kitchen: Dulux Natural White
  • Bedroom walls: Deluxe Natural White
  • Bathroom: Dulux Natural White
  • All trim: Dulux Natural White


  • Woven rug: Fringed woven jute rug by Weylandts
  • Floor lamp: AJ Floor Lamp by Arne Jacobsen in white. This lamp designed in 1960 for use in the SAS Royal Hotel in Copenhagen, which my husband and I have visited!
  • Cushions: Citta Design and various others
  • Sofa: Stocksund sofa in Nolhaga dark grey by IKEA
  • Armchair: Leo Armchair with Ottoman in mushroom with 100% linen slipcovers. By Weylandts
  • Sideboard: Danish teak sideboard sourced from Ainger Auction Rooms
  • Lighting: Replica Serge Mouille two arm ceiling lamp from Matt Blatt
  • Art: ‘Buildings of Melbourne’ illustration by Lewis Brownlie


  • Table: Tasmanian Oak drop leaf table from Ainger Auction Rooms
  • Chairs: No. 18 Thonet Bentwood chair.
  • Side table: Art Deco from Ainger Auction Rooms
  • Art: large oil painting from Ainger Auction Rooms


  • Benchtops: Caesarstone benchtop in ‘Clamshell’
  • Art: Art Deco ‘Manchester Unity Building’ illustration by Lewis Brownlie
  • Objects: White and orange salad bowl by Kate Spade, Vintage blue Wedgwood
  • Crockery bought on Ebay.
  • Rug: Blue and white rug by Armadillo&Co


  • Bedlinen: Bedlinen by Country Road. Cushion by Citta Design
  • Chair: Hans Wegner Wishbone Chair
  • Side table: Edwardian carved oak sewing box has a new life as a bedside table.
  • Sourced from Ainger Auction Rooms
  • Art: State Library of Victoria domed reading room illustration by Lewis Brownlie and ‘Medidate’ (koala) by Carla Fletcher.
  • Books: Mostly sourced from second hand stores. As a children’s author I particularly enjoy finding unique children’s picture books or vintage classics such as Enid Blyton books.


Floor: Dove Grey terrazzo stone tiles by
Fibonacci Stone • Vanity benchtop: Caesarstone in ‘Clamshell’ • Mirror: Black rimmed bevelled edge mirror by
Freedom Furniture • Lighting: Classic pendant by
Nud Collection • Art: Capped penguin with goggles by
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Thanks, Joanne! And thanks Briony for the photos.