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Fiztroy_Karen & Maggie on stairs top level-7551

Three levels of laughter

Jan 29 2015 • Leave a comment

This amazing home, created within an old chocolate factory in Fitzroy, belongs to a gorgeous family of five. It is owned by a very special friend of mine, so I’m a tad excited to share it! She is one of those people that literally lights up a room (I hope her head fits through the door tomorrow!).

My friend and her equally incredible husband, inquisitive six year old son and two adorable girls fill this space with personality. Created within the old factory walls is a warm, inviting home that cleverly uses every inch of space for family function. It perfectly balances family life and all its sentimentality, with an eye for creative design.

Oh…and I have discovered my friend is a bit of a bowerbird. Over the years, she has collected all sorts of interesting things that all have a story. Come and take a look…..

Fiztroy_Isla Peaking Through Steel Door-7290-1

The industrial steel features and chipping paintworks is a reminder of the buildings current incarnation. Photo by Briony Skeen.

Fitzroy_Dickinson Exterior Of Building-7280

The redbrick exterior of the old chocolate factory. Photo by Briony Skeen.

Isla Socks 800-7296

The front door way. High above the busy streets of Fitzroy this home is surprisingly really quiet. Photo by Briony Skeen.

Finlay Latrobe Cabinet

A lucky find, this display unit from The Smith Street Bazzar sits in the entry hallway. It is from LaTrobe University Chemistry Department and is the perfect place for glassware and special collections. The picture is a 3d topographic map of the French Alps. Its fun to pinpoint all of the places where they used to hike and snowboard pre-kids! Photo by Briony Skeen.

Fitzroy_Dickinson Isla Kitchen Bench-7314

The concrete kitchen bench is the hub of the home and there is always eating, cleaning, drawing and talking going on. On the right, the big kids shared bedroom is just off the lounge and makes for an easy movement from one zone to the other. Toys and children come and go freely, always within earshot of the kitchen. The cablecar was a present from the grandparents and continues to be a centrepiece of the kids’ play. Photo by Briony Skeen.

Fitzroy_Dickinson Isla Ladybird Mask-7324

Animals are a constant feature in the house and provide countless hours of play. The children are also into dinosaurs and ‘Dinovember’ – when the dinosaurs escape their crate and get up to mischief each night.  Provides a fun month for the adults too! Photo by Briony Skeen.

Fitzroy_Dickinson Kitchen Stove Top-7615 Fitzroy_Dickinson Kitchen Cook Book-7617

The cute wooden eggcup holders were a gift to each child from an old school friends travels in Denmark. Photo by Briony Skeen.

Fitzroy_Dickinson Mum & Isla Poiting To Tram-7331

Fitzroy_Dickinson Karen Kissing Isla-7360

My friend loves rummaging in second hand shops (or rust and dust shops as her husband calls them!). The lovely vintage German coffee set was bought a few years ago with christmas money. Above the white side board on the wall, old tobacco tins are displayed from the 1930’s from her Grandpas woodworking shed. They were his father-in-laws who used to smoke. They were later used to store nails and other ‘shed” things in them. There was no Howards Storage or Bunnings around then! Photo by Briony Skeen.

Karen's Lounge No Cord-2

The 3 story open space is north-facing with large original windows allowing natural light to stream in. The rug is a new-old Turkish rug in celebration of the couples 10 year anniversary. Photo by Briony Skeen.

Fitzroy_Dickinson Isla Bedroom Shot Accross Rug-7374

The older children share a bedroom. A large bunk has enabled enough height for grownups to sit on the lower bunk for stories and cubbies. Photo by Briony Skeen.

Fitzroy_Dickinson Isla Autumn Leaves-7373

Almost every room in this house has a little arty crafty display that my friend and her kids have created together. The oldest daughter made this simple autumn leaf display, which looks so delicate and warm on the steel windows. Photo by Briony Skeen.

  Finlay LEGO Display           Finlay Bedroom Guitar

The built in desk and shelving is a small nook but perfect for storing crafty supplies and acts as a Lego zone for this busy 6 yo. He can spend hours creating and playing safe in the knowledge his baby sister can’t reach his masterpieces. Photo by Briony Skeen.

Fitzroy_Dickinson Isla Measuring Monkey-7386

Passage of time. The children’s growth has been marked over the past years. Favourite snuggle toys, Peanut and Monkey always get measured too, but somehow never grow taller! Photo by Briony Skeen.

Fitzroy_Dickinson Close Up Plant-7463

The house gets bathed in natural light, highlighting the original features of the chocolate factory. Great efforts are made to bring ‘nature’ indoors, as the family lives in such an urban jungle. The marquetry Mr Rush was a childhood gift that my friends grandfather handmade. It remains a special piece for her children to now enjoy. The music box is also a treasured childhood peice. Photo by Briony Skeen.

Fitzroy_Dickinson Karen & Maggie Standing Shot Bedroom -7410

Main Bedroom. How cool is the wall paper? My friend ordered it online after feeling inspired when she saw it in a magazine. Her and her husband put it up themselves (a real test of their marriage ha ha) but have loved the calm it brings to their room. Photo by Briony Skeen.

Maggies Room-8782

The youngest daughters bedroom on the mezzanine level. It is accessed, somewhat secretly…through the wardrobe in the master bedroom. Grandma still knits the children a gorgeous winter wooly each year and the wooden animals were a present from an old girlfriend from Gorge Jenson. The chest of draws was from childhood. Photo by Briony Skeen.

Fitzroy_Dickinson Bookshelf Close Up-7509

The top floor. The shelves were homemade with Victorian Ash timber from a local hardware store. They were built with a purpose of holding books and displaying an amazing sand collection. The bottles of sand have been collected for 20 years. There is over 600 samples from across the globe. My friend describes it as a beautifully organic and naturally visual collection that never fails to start a conversation. It intimately connects her to her past journeys. Photo by Briony Skeen.

Fitzroy_Dickinson Bookshelf Close Up-7523

Just under the sand collection on the right, the maracas were bought in Santarem, a small town in the middle of the Brazilian Amazon. They’re made by indigenous groups from local products. The white headdress are actually fishscales from a huge fish called the Arapaima. Photo by Briony Skeen.

Fitzroy_Dickinson Full Shot Roof Top-7501

The north-facing deck has an unobstructed view over Fitzroy. It is surprisingly quiet and completely private. The fake grass was added a few summers ago. My friend says whilst it can get oppressively hot in the height of summer, the grass automatically encourages you to sit on it and ultimately play with the children. They spend hours enjoying water play, creating habitats for toy creatures and planting succulents – apparently the only thing that thrives up here! Photo by Briony Skeen.

Fitzroy_Dickinson Isla Lobster-7496 Fitzroy_Dickinson Umbrella-7544

Grandma’s pristine 1970’s beach umbrella was a very special housewarming gift. Photo by Briony Skeen.

Karen walking down 800-7551

The top floor leading down to the mezzanine where the master bedroom and youngest bubs room is on the right. My friend floats up and down these stairs with ease. I’m sure this is why she is so fit! Photo by Briony Skeen.

Fitzroy_Dickinson Karen Carrying Maggie downstairs-7569

A favourite view. Even when the house is a complete mess, my friend can see her family, their shared space and all the memories they’ve created together. Photo by Briony Skeen.

Fitzroy_Dickinson Isla Leaving-7286

 The inner walk way connects the buildings apartments and leads to the lifts. Photo by Briony Skeen.


The story of this home started 6 years ago. The couple bought it when their firstborn was only 6 weeks old. Having lived in Europe previously, they were attracted to inner-city apartment living. For them, buying a warehouse conversion meant that they got more floor space, amazing uninterrupted views of Melbourne’s north (from the sixth story!) and giant voids of light in a fantastic location. Oh and then there’s the kudos of living in an old chocolate factory. They already had one little Oompa Loompa too, so everything was falling into place!

The building was part of MacRobertson’s chocolate empire which boomed in the 1920’s. Original features still exist such as giant concrete beams, pylons and steel girders. Alas the smell of chocolate has long since dissipated. The apartment was converted in the late 1990’s and was one of the early warehouse conversions in Fitzroy.

Three children later and some minor renovations, to bring the apartment out of the 90s, the family is still working on living harmoniously and making creative use of space. The couple always have to think creatively about storage and function because most of the house is shared space or open plan.

For all of the beautiful height in the rooms, there are challenges. The open plan stairs have always been a challenge for children’s safety. The kids have become amazingly adept at knowing rules such as shutting stair gates and being sensible. My friend said that as the children grow older, the house continues to evolve and spaces are reinvented to suit. The older children are now able to be upstairs or outside unsupervised, which has opened up more opportunities. I think my friend is amazingly brave to raise two older kids and a newborn in a mainly open plan house. In the earlier days, when the youngest wasn’t quite sleeping through the night, the noise could easily travel. It is not for the faint hearted!

In the future, there are plans to look into creating some more zones and potentially renovating the bathroom. With only one toilet and basin it can get quite crowded in the mornings! Every six months or so, they take another look at how the house is working and make modifications such as moving beds or storage boxes around. Even a tidy up of the book shelves and piles of filing helps free up space, making the rooms seem bigger and fresher again.


There’s no question that this family love living in Fitzroy. The streets below provide so many opportunities for local treasure hunts, graffiti admiring and exploring. They love having access to everything by foot, scooter or bike. Local libraries, Fitzroy swimming pool, gorgeous parks and of course Melbourne’s best coffee. Especially in the newborn days, my friend said that weeks would go by without her needing to leave the suburb – everything they needed was right there. Even when the walls of new-parenthood were closing in, they could always brighten their day with a walk around the streets.

Living so close to the city for work makes this family feel like very spoilt, happy, inner-urbanites!


  • Happy Valley – A fantastic collection of gifts, books, posters and gorgeous coveted goodies.
  • Flowers Vasette – A Brunswick St institution for, arguably, Melbourne’s most beautiful flowers.
  • Jimmy Grants – The best souvlakis outside Greece. Kids versions are a perfect Sunday night dinner.
  • Shop Ramen – A new find on Smith St. Always worth the wait – take in a pint at the Birmingham Pub nextdoor – for massive bowls of fresh, yummy goodness. The added kraft single to the beef brisket is utterly indulgent.
  • Robert Burns Hotel – A Scottish pub turned Spanish. Don’t let the tartan floors trick you. They have a fantastic menu of meat and a beautiful sunlit courtyard for a summery Rosé or Sangria.
  • The Vegetable Connection – A Brunswick St last minute treat for cheeses, veggies (of course) and bread.
  • Sushi Link – A routine started for Friday night sushi after childcare pick up and a week of work. The owners are always amazed to see my friends kids grow, having fed them for years!
  • Minlokal – The local coffee stop. Even on the worst days of houseboundness in pregnancy or newborn stage, my friend could always hobble there and Tim and his crew would treat her kindly. Always cheery, reliable and a neighbourhood-hello spot.
  • DeClieu – One of many café institutions on Gurtrude St. Delicious ham hock, eggs and of course amazing coffee.
  • McCoppins Johnston St – Another Friday night routine stop. A fantastic selection of beers and enough space to maneuver a double pram and scooters around.
  • Big Dreams – An inner north child shop institution. Dangerously close for popping past whenever!
  • Picture Box – The original store on Johnson/Smith provides bespoke picture framing and can always help solve your framing dilemma.
  • Macpac & Icebreaker – NZ outdoor shops
  • Living near the ‘outlet’ end of Smith St has its advantages for procuring toasty, hardwearing NZ outdoor gear.
  • Fitzroy Pool – A summer staple for the kids pool, laps in the big pool and Sunday tunes.
  • Fitzroy Nursery – Pricey but always inspiring and a space of calm in the inner city.
  • Grub Van – An airy, eclectic space of plants, vintage chairs and an original Airstream caravan. The milkshakes are sure to keep kids at bay.
  • The Rose Hotel – An old school footy pub that always puts on a good pint.


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  1. Kim January 29, 2015 Reply

    What a fabulous blog! Love looking and reading this – so intimate and personal. Photos are sublime :-)

  2. Spin Spin January 29, 2015 Reply

    So gorgeous and more great shots! That sand collection is something else,what a great idea.

  3. Lisa January 31, 2015 Reply

    Fantastic work, love all the little details. I have to try and track down a toy cable car!!

  4. Sally Polmear January 31, 2015 Reply

    The toy cable car reminded me instantly of my brother and his purchase of one almost the same in Europe when we travelled as a family 42 years ago. What a fabulous place to have this cable car- right in the hub of family life! The stuff of adventurous imaginings! When the kids are old enough, they will have to watch the classic old film “Where Eagles Dare” that features an amazing, nail biting cable car sequence. Thank you for the range of photos and the inclusion of family to witness the dynamic of living in an inner city apartment.

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