Not all renters think like Ellen Porteus and Ryan Klewer. The creative couple, who live in a light-filled warehouse in Collingwood, have used their individual talents to turn a blank, sometimes draughty building into a plant-filled pad that’s alive with colour.
Klewer is the green thumb behind Melbourne plant design studio Plant Charmer and plant pot company Calo. Porteus is an illustrator, animator and installation artist who’s worked with clients such as Adidas, Sydney Opera House and Triple J. The pair live with their French bulldog, Maggie, and since moving into their Collingwood address they’ve played around with various wall paintings, plant species and recycled art projects to make it their own.
“More isn’t necessarily better. Just like a great piece of furniture or art needs space to breathe, so do plants,” says Klewer. “In this space, we’re lucky to have the ceiling height and natural light to host beautiful trees and a number of hanging plants we really love,” he says.
The skylights let in lots of sunshine, which their dog loves to soak in from a prime position by the window. “Maggie loves charming all the pedestrians of Collingwood,” says Porteus. “She also loves to sneakily lie on our favourite red velvet lounge when she thinks we’re not looking.”
The space is essentially one big room with temporary walls crafted from Porteus’s former art projects. There are 20 to 30 plants, including a big Moreton Bay fig. Klewer also uses the garage space to store plants later sent to clients.
“My approach has changed over the years to be a bit more considered and deliberate with everything in the home, including plants,” says Klewer. “Being in a warehouse with high ceilings and skylights, I like to try different species of trees indoors. I observe how they like the environment, then use this knowledge for my clients if they have a similar space.”
Porteus and Klewer are making the most of the large, aged building while they can. The site is due for development and, knowing it’s only a temporary home, the couple have focused their energies on cosmetic changes only – though there is one big change they would have liked to make if it were an option.
“We often fantasise about having a big open fireplace, because damn, these Melbourne winters last long and this old place has lots of cracks,” says Porteus, laughing.
Names: Ryan Klewer and Ellen Porteus
Live: In a warehouse-turned-home in Collingwood
With: Maggie, our French bulldog
Have you made any changes architecturally since you moved in?
Aside from some basic things we needed to do to make the space livable, all changes have been cosmetic.
What made you fall in love with the house in the first place?
We loved the super tall ceilings and skylights, which make for a perfect environment for plants. We were really excited that it was a blank, empty shell we could have fun with and make our own.
Can you describe the house’s mood, and your approach to decorating it?
A warm but open space. Our approach has always been not to be too precious. We like to keep changing the colours on the walls. Plants will move in, then out, like roommates.
What is the building’s history?
It’s at least 100 years old. It was probably some kind of factory, but we don’t know much about its history.
Do you have a favourite space in the house?
We created the bed platform out of one of Ellen’s art installations – a giant washing-machine installation for a solo exhibition in 2019. It makes it feel separate from the rest of the room and we love looking up at the hanging plants in the morning.
Favourite homewares shop
Melbourne-based online shop CCSS sources really cool furniture and now makes its own designs too.
Favourite item in the house
Ellen painted a mural of our feet walking through a field of flowers, and it spans a whole wall. It’s a really positive reminder to have in our house about appreciating what we’ve got and thinking about what’s ahead of us.
Home Visits is a Broadsheet series exploring homes across Australia.