hen Amanda Lynn describes her dream home – a tiny, five-metre by 16-metre house painted entirely black – people tend to become a little sceptical.
Lynn, an interior designer and former RMIT lecturer in colour theory, has used her own apartment in North Melbourne as guinea pig for her vision. “I always wanted a black house,” she offers. “But it wasn't the kind of concept I could explore with a client.”
A former office building wedged between two mechanics, the property was a characterless shell when Lynn and her husband Leon Levine moved in six years ago. They never intended to actually live there either, but a combination of factors – including a love of the area and a desire to realise the potential this unassuming property held – led them to bring in the renovation crew, who stripped the place of its fittings. Emerging from the rubble, the ‘Little Black Number’ is a house purpose-built to confront our assumptions that black cannot work in small spaces.
Assisting Lynn and Levine in the project were architects Rexroth Mannassman Collective, who paid careful consideration to maximising the use of space and creating a functional, multipurpose living environment. What results is an exceptionally clever design, characterised by lofty ceilings, rooms which seem to meld seamlessly into one another and an infinite sense of space.
This is no doubt enhanced by the use of shade. Lynn believes that, contrary to popular belief, “black creates the illusion of no boundary, unlike white, which casts shadows and makes lines more obvious. With black, it's more difficult to tell where one wall ends and the next begins.”
She's not wrong. Surprisingly, there's nothing harsh or bleak about the colour scheme. Instead, black seems to elicit a sense of neutrality and tranquillity, allowing other elements of the home – such as furniture, artwork and outdoor greenery – to pop.
“Black also acts as a frame for other features of the house”, Lynn adds.
There's a lot to like about the Little Black Number, and every innovation seems to bring with it a notion of bemusement and joy. An oversized, central skylight made from 1970s glass door panels, helps to brighten the rooms, casting beams of muted yellow sun throughout the space, while the use of mirrors and reflective black surfaces also act to enhance the sense of open space. An impressive perforated roller door (“This was probably the most expensive part of the entire renovation!” exclaims Lynn) opens out into a communal driveway, allowing the space to expand further. But the best part ?– and arguably the most important for any respectable fashionista – is the pop-out jewellery cabinet hidden in a panel on the wall.
Earlier this year, the public got their first chance to step inside Little Black Number when it was added to the Melbourne Open House program. Running over one weekend in July, aficionados of architecture, design and general snooping were able to tour the home, discover the surprises within and give their feedback. The response was unexpected.
“Nobody criticised it…once they saw it, they realised it really works!”
While doubtful at first, visitors to the home are usually instant converts to the interior, and quickly learn that it is the depth, texture and use of shade that matters, not the colour itself. While not everybody would be comfortable letting strangers trek through their home, Lynn reasons that she “wanted to prove that family homes can exist in the inner city, without losing all the amenities more typically associated with the suburbs”. You might say she's made it her mission to get this message across – you can have a smart, comfortable home, regardless of size or location.
What's clear is that our everyday environment – the spaces where we live and rest and work – needn't be so black and white.
Sometimes they can just be black.
Little Black Number
75 Leveson Street, North Melbourne