Resident Stories

At home with Kathie from 9 Smith Street

Since moving into her apartment at 9 Smith Street back in 2017, Kathie Hall and her partner Mark have happily dropped anchor in Fitzroy. Embracing the locale’s gritty and dynamic inner-urban spirit — which is balanced by expansive parks and gardens that wend their way into the nearby CBD — has been surprisingly effortless for Kathie who, before her north side shift had been living in bayside Melbourne and working as Director of Interiors at Fender Katsalidis Architects.

“I had plenty of experience with designing apartments and knowing how things panned out spatially,” says Kathie who, after almost 30 years entrenched in the A&D landscape, felt confident purchasing an apartment off the plan to then cultivate the ideal home environment. Located at the rear of the Neometro development, on Little Smith Street, her apartment bears similar qualities to the terrace houses that line Gore Street. With its own laneway entrance and linear layout bookended by courtyards, the apartment has the hallmarks of a stand-alone home, drawing Kathie in with the relative quietude of its moment of arrival, its west-facing orchestration of afternoon light and its dual garden spaces.

“The garden has just flourished. It’s almost jungle-like,” says Kathie of the apartment’s metamorphosis since she moved in. “The changes I made when I purchased were minimal, just ensuring timber flooring run throughout and kitchen appliances were integrated to make it all really seamless. But the amount of storage already provided, and the fluidity of the apartment’s layout were amazing. That was critical to buying off the plan for me.”

Affordability and location were also key drivers for Kathie when deciding on an apartment. The purchase coincided with the establishment of her eponymous practice, Hall Studio, so the ease of settling on a place an easy walk from the studio and designed by industry peers she knew and admired, MA+Co, was that much more reassuring. “It was a time of immense change, but there was a nice thread of consistency that underscored it.”

A long-time group of Kathie’s St Kilda friends had slowly begun to shift to Fitzroy; clients continued already well-established relationships; and, at the heart of everything, a new home surrounded by heritage-listed terrace houses that will never be built out, and the resonant sense of community that lays upon the area “added to the building’s sense of home.”

Secondary to affordability and location was a consideration for design and programming. “When I was younger, I came across Jeff Provan’s work in Herbert Ypma’s Interior Architecture magazine and it really struck me,” she recalls. “I had a lot of respect for it. Back then he was working on restaurant fit-outs however the residential work he develops today has the same inherent qualities. There is a sense of consideration. Rather than adhering to the real estate checklist of x amount of bedrooms and bathrooms, Neometro’s apartments have a great sense of space and light. They find a balance between amenity, living space and atmosphere.”

At a time when the wellness implications of our homes have been called into question, those built environments that strive to improve everyday life through the coaxing of natural light, a dedication to passive thermal design and cross ventilation, the use of materials that wear in, not out and the fostering of connections to the surrounding neighbourhood have begun to stand out, to be seen as benchmarks of good design that are intrinsically linked to the way it makes people feel.

“In the middle of winter, I light the apartment in a way that illuminates the concrete ceiling to lacquer it with warmth. I light more lamps than may be necessarily required as a means of light and ritual.” In a simple one-bed-plus study space, the way the light alters the shadow play of foliage and the visual qualities of artwork conjures a cosy and welcoming ambience. One can imagine how richly decadent the home must feel to Kathie’s cat Panther who is a well-known resident of the building. Tempering this decadence is a collection of expressed building materials, a construction methodology Kathie was familiar with and an admirer of, that tilt the apartment into modernity.

“Part of the building’s identikit is its design aesthetic and its walkability. It’s proximity to parks and gardens. Given that we’ve been through the weird years of lockdown, being so close to several big gardens was amazing. I love it. I love the community here and plan for this to be our forever home.”

A big thank you to Kathie and Mark. Find out more about 9 Smith Street, Fitzroy by Neometro here. Words by Tiffany Jade. Photography by Derek Swalwell.