“This is the problem with being at Von Haus,” says Denise Sprynskyj of Melbourne label S!X, facing her dainty feast of a sandwich. All afternoon, aromas from the cafe downstairs chase us up the stairwell. Sweet staff bring tea trays and tall glasses of juice. One day there’s frittata; another day, Deven Marriner, the owner and chef, makes enormous strawberry shortcakes, two or three of which take over the tiny meeting table in the hall.
In fact, there are multiple problems with spending time at Von Haus. Not only the constant temptation of delectable food and drink, but of company and distraction – footsteps and laughter on the landings, chatter in the S!X showroom and murmurs from Sarah Scout Gallery. Even when all is still, the old building breathes and hums, and the city calls in.
And I am supposed to be working. I’ve arrived from Carlton to set up a temporary replica of the store my mother and I run, Milly Sleeping. After six years of operation, we are almost old hands at this mobile ‘popping up’, which is both a contemporary retail practice and, of course, a very old fashioned mode of trade. Like gypsy sellers, or a travelling picture theatre.
A couple of car trips and we’re inside with our props: our racks and mannequin, mirror and folding screen. We have locally-made garments and accessories, even a few pairs of shoes and socks, and now, an ideal city setting for our wares.
If not in the heart of Melbourne, Von Haus is at least in the flow of the pulmonary vein, catching light from the neon Pellegrini’s sign as darkness falls. I’ve been here for quick dinners, casual drinks, openings, parties and parades, and have said before that it’s an enchanted space, which appears to shrink and expand according to occasion. When full, the hallways are large and festively accommodating. When calm, the rooms are small and intimate – spaces for drifting and daydreaming.
And I do drift, between visits, often to Sarah Scout, which is a refined and modest gallery directed by Kate Barber and Vikki McInnes. The current show is a beauty – objects, images and structures by Susan Jacobs, Katie Lee and Bridie Lunney – that together are poised and anticipatory. It is, to me, a scene that suggests something remembered, or something foreseen, or a moment forgotten and left behind. The installation is basic but pristine, delicate but rooted; pieces extend up from the floor, out and into the walls and over the window. They even sneak around the corner into the gallery office, where the tension is gently broken by words of greeting and conversation.
In the showroom of S!X, I hover amid clothes designed and made to order by Denise and her partner Peter Boyd. On one rack, the t-shirts and tunics are bold and offbeat – geometric shapes panelled, twisted, taped, and decorated with stark flower silhouettes. Opposite hangs a row of printed ivory garments, some sweeping the floor. At first inspection, these are exquisite formal gowns but turn one around and you are likely to find it backless, except for a rudimentary band of elastic. The pieces on display are often just starting points for discussion, as the designs are commonly altered and personalised for S!X’s clients. It is a process that cultivates relationships and, indeed, many of the visitors seem to know someone who works here, if not everyone.
All sorts of people traverse the Von Haus stairs, drawn by the tangible and the consumable, but also by the experience of the building as a whole – the interactions and overlaps between the spaces, concepts and creative people. I’ve met artists, curators, students, storeowners, restaurateurs, accountants, travellers from interstate and abroad. Hour by hour, unassuming faces appear at my door to see what’s going on and to appreciate the artistry of the work. Upstairs and down, there is a shared respect for formality and detail but the mode is casual and personable. And without rush. It is quite magical – I can almost forget time here, and soon it is 6pm.
And that is the other problem with being at Von Haus. It can be difficult to leave. After a long day of ‘work’ it really would be nice to slip into the bar for a glass of something, and…“Deven’s cooking dinner,” somebody calls out.
Von Haus, Sarah Scout, S!X - La Chambre de Bonne and the Milly Sleeping Temp. Shop are all at 1A Crossley Street.
Von Haus cafe/bar
Thu & Fri 11am–6pm
Sat 12pm–5pm (or by appointment)
S!X - La Chambre de Bonne
By appointment only.
Milly Sleeping Temporary Shop
Mon & Tues, Fri & Sat 12pm–6pm until December 20.