Above street level, at the nexus of Elizabeth and Londsdale Streets, a group of freelance creatives quietly tap away at their keyboards.
They are the designers, artists, photographers, web developers and other innovative minds that inhabit The Common Room – a collaborative, creative space inside the historical Mitchell House building.
Constructed in 1936, Mitchell House is a perfect example of the art deco Streamline Moderne architectural style the era was famous for. It joins a cast of historical local buildings (Curtin House, the Nicholas Building, Block Court and Majorca House) designed by influential Melbourne architect Harry Norris, one of Victoria’s leading designers of large-scale commercial and retail structures at the time. Mitchell House was purpose-built for brush manufacturing and distribution firm Thomas Mitchell & Company. Nowadays, since being added to the Victorian Heritage Database, it hosts businesses and office spaces with a focus on nurturing the creative industries.
Spanning six stories, Mitchell House stands in stark contrast to the polished, futuristic design of the new Emporium Melbourne shopping development across the road. While Emporium is sleek, reflective and almost clinical, the interior of Mitchell House is ornate, created with vintage craftsmanship rarely seen today. Patterned terrazzo flooring, vaulted ceilings and faience tiling welcomes visitors upon their first step through the foyer doors. The exterior features curved corners, steel-framed windows that span the walls of each floor and the prominent gold Mitchell House signage that sits proudly atop its tower like a crown.
For the past two years, the creative residents at The Common Room have occupied an airy, sun-drenched corner of Mitchell House’s tenanted floor space. At any one time the nine workstations will be occupied by freelancers such as Amanda Brizzi (Hello Creative), Kelly Watson (designer), Charlie Kinross (graphic designer and photographer) and local artist Eveline Tarunadjaja. A tenth hot desk is also reserved for casual hire by creative freelancers who want in on the atmosphere (available at $25 per day).
It was Tarunadjaja who first discovered the space. After being forced to move out of their former studio in Melbourne Central to make room for retail development, Tarunadjaja and her colleagues were on the hunt for new headquarters. She stumbled on Mitchell House while strolling through the city. “I was just walking down the street and looked up, saw a For Lease sign … and it all happened from there,” she explains.
“The place was a dungeon at first ... Eve was really the one who saw its potential,” says Brizzi. “The carpet was filthy, it was dark; partitioned walls, wire hanging everywhere.” Thanks to a supportive real-estate agent, the new occupants could get the space work-ready. “They let us gut the place and make structural changes before we even had to start paying rent ... they've really been on board since day one,” she says.
With limited funds between them, The Common Room team built its space with the help of friends, fathers and an awful lot of favors. The result is a sunny studio; uncluttered but for a handful of spacious workstations, a tasteful collection of vintage furniture and a large ping-pong table in the centre of the room (also used for business meetings). It’s not your typical office space, and for the people who share it, it’s an environment that facilitates inspiration and opportunity. It’s also a platform for continual innovation, experimentation and learning.
“We just wanted to work with like-minded people,” says Brizzi. “The idea was to create a place where sole traders could come together and collaborate on projects, but still run their independent businesses. In doing that, we want to bring some attention to Mitchell House ... to this wonderful building we inhabit,” she adds.
325–362 Lonsdale Street, Melbourne
For any enquiries, email The Common Room here.