Inside a Photographer’s Converted Warehouse Apartment in Newtown (That You Can Stay In)

Published on 22 November 2021

Two decades ago, photographer Louise Lister and her husband converted a vast St Peters warehouse space into a home, a studio and a one-bedroom apartment. In partnership with Airbnb, Lister shares her personal philosophy on curating the space for her guests.

Louise Lister's converted warehouse apartment in Newtown

When Louise Lister and her husband Matthew purchased a former warehouse near Newtown some 20 years ago, it was just a long and empty shell. But when they enlisted architects to carve out a living space and a photography studio (along with flourishes like interior courtyards) the architects noted it was simply too much space for one family, even with a studio attached.

“They suggested making a separate apartment,” says Lister. “That was a really good idea, which we went with.”

Two decades on, the couple has raised their teenage son in the sprawling converted warehouse, while both working comfortably from home. While Lister shoots photos and videos mostly for food advertising, Cleary works remotely for a Dubai steel company. That extra apartment has come in all too handy, to host their visiting parents and to provide a lovingly curated home via Airbnb.

“It’s quite a large, spacious one-bedroom apartment, with triple-height ceilings in the living area and kitchen,” says Lister of the loft-style, 110-square-metre apartment. “It’s all very open.”

Lister has been an in-demand photographer for 35 years and has hosted stays at the apartment for the past six. Some of her own framed photographs adorn the walls, alongside some art painted by friends of hers, and a wealth of art and travel books line the bookshelves. She was thrilled to curate the apartment’s interior decor, spending a year acquiring distinctive furniture and other quirky trappings from auction houses to achieve what she calls “authentic textures” from a diverse mix of the modern and the antique. Lister’s design aesthetic mingles artworks from Africa, China, India, England and beyond, favouring a soothing colour palette of blacks, whites and chestnut-y browns.

“Everything is nice to touch,” she says. “There’s leather, there’s wood, there’s linens. There’s no plastic. And a lot of things have a history: people have owned them before I have.”

“There’s some amazing things out there,” she adds, relishing the creative process at every step. “It’s just about putting them together without fear. Just go with what you like. Keep things authentic. Make sure you have some genuine antiques with some modern stuff. There are no rules in my interior design book; it’s just what I like.”

It’s also what a lot of other people like, judging from the apartment’s repeat guests and long-term stays. A couple from Los Angeles comes to Australia twice a year and stays there for two months at a time. There’s a queen bed and a sofa bed, so the apartment sleeps up to four – with the sofa bed ideally used for one adult or two children.

While it was mostly families staying when Lister first started hosting, now it’s primarily couples who enjoy the newly renovated bathroom, fully equipped kitchen, and extras like washer, dryer and spare linen. There’s also a private courtyard off the living room, and some guests like to take a picnic blanket to nearby Sydney Park and lounge in the sun, with three individual ponds on offer. A smaller oval awaits immediately across the road, and the spacious kitchen means that many guests cook meals in the apartment. There’s a supermarket close by in either direction, adding to the home-cooking appeal.

Nestled right on a tree-lined street at the border of St Peters and Newtown, the apartment is only a two-minute walk to the train station and, from there, four stops to the CBD. It’s also just a 15-minute drive to the airport, and within easy striking distance of the burgeoning bars and restaurants on both King Street and Enmore Road. Lister recommends the “new and fabulous” Café Paci on King Street, and the “quirky modern Chinese” served at Queens Hotel on Enmore Road.

Having Lister and her family right next door means that meet and greets are easily managed. Even if she’s out on a shoot, Lister can pop back to hand over a key and say hello. Her artful interior design and loving touches means that people enjoy actually staying in the space more than just using it as a place to sleep after exploring the city. “People – especially repeat guests – use it as a real destination [in itself],” she says. “They just want to come and stay because they like being in the space. It’s a comfortable place to stay.”

She adds: “People like to stretch out. We had a couple that had gone around Australia in a camper van. They got into the apartment and said, ‘Oh my god, space’.”

It’s also a popular space for guests to share with their friends and family, and even couples who plan to be alone during their visit will find that Lister has stocked the apartment ahead of time with wine, eggs, bacon, bread, juice, fruit and other thoughtful staples.

“I make sure that when they first arrive, they don’t have to leave if they don’t want to,” says Lister. “It’s really important to me that they feel they’re being looked after. The minute you walk in and shut the door, you can relax.”


This article is produced by Broadsheet in partnership with Airbnb.