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Neale Whitaker on the art of apartment living

18 May 2022 |  by Neale Whitaker


Life has taught me a thing or two about apartment living. My first-ever London flat (as we called them in the UK) was so small you could barely swing a kitten let alone the proverbial cat – but it was mine and I loved every damp patch, every creaky floorboard and the rumble from underground trains passing deep below. Fast forward several decades and my most recent apartment was an industrial, warehouse-style home in inner Sydney with concrete beams, terrazzo tiles and a deck wide enough to have swallowed my London flat whole. In between those two homes were many other apartments – some good, some bad and some downright ugly – but whatever their quirks and irregularities, they always felt like home. I loved apartment life. 


Calling an apartment home

Australia's multi award-winning sofaNeale has created a seamless flow by carefully positioning each design both indoors and outdoors.


More of us live in apartments than ever before. The skylines of Australian cities are in a continuous state of flux, with ever-burgeoning residential developments. For some, apartment living is a lifestyle choice that brings us closer to work, study, family or amenities; for others it’s about downsizing or consciously opting to live in a home with a smaller footprint. Whatever our reason for calling an apartment home, there should never be a need to compromise on comfort, functionality or individuality, although there are a few things to consider. Not so much rules as practical advice. 


Creating the illusion of space

Australia's multi award-winning sofaThe Dainelli Tuscan Desk combines long-lasting performance with a simple and elegant design aesthetic.


A frequent mistake is to think apartment living requires scaling down. It doesn’t. Filling an apartment with smaller pieces in the belief it will make the space feel larger creates what I call the ‘doll house effect’ – and may actually make it feel smaller. Far better to use fewer, larger pieces to create an impression of size. My mantra is ‘if in doubt, oversize’ and I find it particularly applicable to apartment living in terms of rugs, furniture, artworks, mirrors and lamps. And I guess I should acknowledge here that the points I’m making are especially relevant to compact apartments and homeowners downsizing from a larger property. 


Designing 'Destination Australia'

The Apero Side Table sits elegantly next to the Jasper Bed.


I recently teamed up with KING and property developer Mirvac to style the interior of a three-bedroom apartment – ‘Destination Australia’ - in Melbourne’s Yarra’s Edge. My brief was to create an interior that epitomised contemporary, open-plan, apartment living. To contrast with panoramic views across Melbourne’s industrial docklands (impressively urban but devoid of colour) and to add warmth and character, I used a palette inspired by the Australian landscape – deep, earthy reds, browns and shades of green. Throughout the apartment I used KING furniture selected for comfort, elegance, functionality and – of course – luxury. 


Multi-functional spaces

Australia's multi award-winning sofaQuay Ceramic Dining Table and Luna Outdoor Dining Chairs to create a generous year-round living and dining area.


While the palette and materials referenced our Great Southern Land (KING’s distinctive Oceania print - inspired by indigenous art - was featured prominently), I wanted the interior to represent sophisticated, modern Australian design and an understanding and appreciation of apartment living at its best. With so many of us now working from home, it was important to prioritise the study space with KING’s Eto desk and Dainelli Libreria Bookcase. In the living area, along with the Zaza sofa and armchair, I used the Vertio wall system (equally at home as a room divider) and Dainelli sideboard to incorporate additional storage and display. While maintaining an overall feeling of luxury, the apartment needed to acknowledge the new appreciation of multi-functionality encouraged by the pandemic. I also combined the Quay Outdoor range with a Quay Outdoor Dining Table and Luna Outdoor Dining Chairs to create a generous year-round living/dining area on the covered deck. 


While most of us are familiar and comfortable today with open-plan design, apartment living can add the challenge of creating distinct ‘zones’ in close proximity to each other. Rugs are an impactful way to separate those zones. In a recent presentation for KING, I used the distinctive Oceania Rug in black to define the living area, and a contrasting Avalon Rug (actually an outdoor rug) in the adjacent dining area. The rugs gave each zone definition whilst complementing each other perfectly. 


Colour palette

Australia's multi award-winning sofaThe Pallino Table Lamp rests on the Dainelli Roma Bedside Table in American Walnut (left), completing the bedroom styling.


And finally, a word about colour. My advice in an apartment (or any open-plan space where living zones are in close proximity) is to use a palette that feels related but not repetitive. In other words, select a base palette of neutrals (remember that shades like charcoal grey are also neutrals) to which you can add layers of colour, pattern or contrasting neutrals. For example, sage green, forest green and a green stripe or pattern. Or the equivalent in blues, yellows, reds or browns. If there is just one colour or shade that links the different zones in your apartment, it will create continuity and visual harmony. And don’t forget that a neutral interior can still feel warm and rich by adding layers and textures. Gone are the days of the matching three-piece suite. Think about mixing linen and woven fabrics with leathers. It’s a luxurious and very contemporary combination. 

I threw the rule book away a long time ago, but there are several things I stand by that are as true for apartment living as they are for a house. Have fun, don’t take current trends too seriously, and choose items you love. Don’t worry about anyone’s opinion except your own – it’s your apartment, your home and it tells your story.