Resident Stories

At home with Vanessa and Roger from Jewell Station

As we drink tea and devour homemade peanut butter and white chocolate biscuits, surrounded by the wonderful detritus of a family-centric life, Vanessa and Roger tell me all about how they came to land in their two-bedroom apartment at Neometro’s Jewell Station, Brunswick.

The balcony doors are pushed wide, the sounds of inner-urban Melbourne floating across a botanical threshold to mingle with the domestic soundtrack of Roger asking how I would like my tea and Vanessa confiding that he is her second and “far superior” husband. Just before setting foot in their home, I passed a tricycle outside which was soon clarified as Vanessa's means of mobility following major spinal surgery in 2019. Seeing the two orbit one another in a seamless dance, it’s apparent that they are a beautiful unit moving in the practised rituals of medium-density, inner-urban living.

Roger and Vanessa met when Vanessa moved to Melbourne from country Western Australia 20 years ago. Originally from Minnesota, Roger emigrated to Australia during the teacher shortage in the 70s. The two were residing in Northcote when, in the mid-2010s decided that change was on the cards. “We thought maybe it would be a good idea to get a beach house and a Melbourne apartment and split out time between the two,” explains Roger. They began looking around Port Arlington and also asked Vanessa’s daughter Isabelle, an Interior Architect based in Melbourne, to recommend designers who were developing in the area. She recommended the collaborations between Neometro and Clare Cousins Architects - Jewell Station and 17 Union Street, Brunswick.

“We bought a Jewell Station apartment off-the-plan and moved in in 2019, two years after beginning our investigation,” says Roger. Vanessa’s health and rapidly escalating property prices in Port Arlington mean they now live in their apartment full-time. Taking advantage of their daughter’s architectural aptitude, they made slight alterations to the joinery that sits on the threshold between the kitchen and living as well as some of the kitchen storage. “It’s a problem in every development that there isn’t enough storage,” says Vanessa, “but we’ve actually found it quite adequate here, we just made small changes to suit our own needs.”

Despite large cupboards in the bedrooms and a private storage space, Vanessa and Roger did have to downsize considerably when transitioning from a three-bedroom house to an apartment. “You’ll notice that everything has two uses here,” says Vanessa. “The lampstand is a ladder, and the pot stand is an extra stool so we’ve been creative with that.”

“It didn’t make sense to keep everything we had in the house. It would look cluttered in here,” says Vanessa. “I collect sets of books. I had sets of Le Carre and different sci-fi led books and I thought, what’s the point of having all these when I can read them anytime on a kindle? What matters to me is the stories. I do still love to hold a book in my hands though and we actually have a little book swap area downstairs by the front doors. So we are still reading books but we are more inclined to then pass them on.”

This small ritual is one of many examples of how Australian lifestyles have become more conducive to apartment living. Through a multitude of gestures, our living patterns have evolved. Vanessa and Roger are a perfect example of the ways subtle shifts in the way we carry out our social and cultural activities can alter the ways we orient with the world.

“One of the explorations we’ve been involved in is a group we started called Jewell Elders,” explains Vanessa. “There are a number of older people living in the building and many are single women living alone. We’ve talked about, when the time comes, pooling resources for things like cleaners or carers.” This consideration for community asserts itself in many ways at Jewell. Recently, Roger went back to the States for a couple of weeks and Vanessa was inundated with residents checking in. She was one week into retirement when she found out that a ruptured disc had calcified years earlier, putting increasing pressure on her spine and leading to the slow loss of use in her left leg. Apart from the physical toll the surgery had on her, a secondary diagnosis of Parkinson’s Disease and the emotional toll on them both, the lifestyle changes, both current and planned, were significant and the layout and programming of their home integral. “The friends that we have know about this and at one stage I was asking Roger to come home from his trip early because I was just being loved to death!”

Jewell Station has become a scaffold in Vanessa and Roger’s lives, their apartment perfectly supporting their private lives and their interactions with family and community. Their terrace is bursting with greenery; their second bedroom is a haven for grandchildren; their living and kitchen zones just right spatially for the two of them to be in each other’s orbit yet holding their own space as well. Beyond its doors, Brunswick lies all around, easily accessible to Vanessa on her tricycle. “We weren’t expecting this sense of neighbourhood to quite this extent,” considers Vanessa. “I’ve lived in a few apartments and always gotten to know a few neighbours,” says Roger. “And then, living in the house we had friends in the street and it was a very nice place to live. But if we shut our gate and kept to ourselves we could go a long time without seeing anyone. But now…” “It takes half an hour just getting anywhere!” finishes Vanessa. Her laugh indicates that this is a good problem to have.

Vanessa’s sense of community and entrepreneurial spirit has led to the establishment of Prezziesax. The not-for-profit venture raises money for research into a cure for Parkinson's Disease through the sale of gift wrap alternatives made from fabric. You can follow her Instagram to find out where she can be found selling her beautiful merchandise around Brunswick.

A big thank you to Vanessa and Roger. Find out more about Jewell Station by Neometro here. Words by Tiffany Jade. Photography by Derek Swalwell.