What do you do with a struggling industrial Laundromat business in Melbourne’s bayside?
If you’re photographer James, the answer is clear – you purchase it, gut it, and reinvent it as a photographic studio and ‘Elwood’s answer to Cheers’.
James had been looking for somewhere to locate his photographic business that was close to his home at the time.
Unlike nearby industrial suburbs such as Richmond, Elwood factories were in short supply and spaces with depth and height – imperative for a busy studio – were few and far between.
So when the opportunity 13 years ago arose to purchase the Laundromat, it proved too tempting.
James effectively split the floor plan in two, allocating the larger back section to his studio and the front section to what was, at least in its first new guise, a dress shop.
Work commenced immediately; one of the priorities being to cut the studio into a diagonal space to enhance natural lighting but to also enable James to ‘shoot’ his subjects (largely from the Australian entertainment industry) from a greater range of vantage points.
Some 12 months into the build and finances ran thin.
James was attempting to live and work in an area that was effectively an industrial production site.
He made a decision to cease all tradey activity, requesting a six-month sabbatical so he could drive as many jobs as possible through the studio and inject a second round of capital into the build.
It proved a wise move and the renovation was completed a further six months later.
Flowing on from the actual photo shoot location on the floor plan, James’ ground floor space now also comprises a take-it-easy area complete with fireplace, and an elevated kitchen with ample space for a large communal table and bathroom.
- The dining room looking back towards the fireplace and elevated kitchen. Image credit, James Penlidis.
- The kitchen complete with gorgeous tile splashback and terrific display storage. Image credit, James Penlidis.
A lover of hotel bathrooms, James likes nothing more than arriving in a city, heading to his hotel room, pouring a drink, drawing a bath and just shutting down for a bit.
He was adamant the studio’s bathroom should capture some of that lifestyle, and set about to accommodate a bath, shower, vanity and ample storage in what is otherwise a fairly tight area underneath the stairs.
- The cleverly designed bathroom area. Image credit, James Penlidis.
But it’s the fireplace that is the real crowd pleaser – located at roughly the halfway point of the ground floor, it’s where many a family member, friend, colleague and client has enjoyed a quite beverage and a quality heart-to-heart. Indeed, it doesn’t take long for any guest to realise this is more than just a photographic studio.
- The amazingly inviting fireplace and surrounds. Image credit, James Penlidis.
It seems a lot like Elwood’s charismatic community corner; the place those-in-the-know come to catch up with James, chew the fat, chill out… Just be local.
Up the flight of timber steps and you arrive in an elongated bedroom with a generous study area.
Originally this room was a mezzanine that looked down over the photographic work station.
However, with the arrival of James’ first baby a wall was built to effectively seal this space off from the noisy distractions of life downstairs.
Anything to help a tiny tot get some shut-eye!
These days the photographic studio also doubles as a room for hire, and has been used for many a party and even by film crews for sets such as House Husbands.
But before you start thinking this is simply a clever, cool renovation, it’s time to introduce you to the real show-stopping feature. The bar.
The Cheers of Elwood, or as it’s otherwise known – ‘The King of Tonga’. Whereas most of us think ourselves fortunate if we have a dedicated drinks area in the house or (even better) a cellar, James cuts straight to the chase.
- 'The King of Tonga' Bar. Beyond cool! Image credit, James Penlidis.
Walk through the kitchen door and you literally step into the back of the bar – a dimly-lit, low-key, retro-relic of a bar complete with 1960s Polynesian prints, old-school Tongan mementos and, of course, a full licence. It’s the brainchild of James’ friend Stephen Whittaker who put is heart and soul into this fabulous little hideaway that only locals would know about.
Come in here and you feel like you’ve stumbled onto a suburban secret. You can’t help but wonder if locals have conspired to ensure this never ends up on Broadsheet, so that only they will be able to delight in the hidden treasure.
For James, the bar is the perfect partner to his studio.
If, for example, he is running late on a shoot that would affect the next client, he simply ushers them past the kitchen, through the door, and straight to a seat in the King of Tonga for pass-some-time-cheeky-drink or two.
If that isn’t the ultimate in customer service experience, what is? This is a renovation fit for a King, be it one from Tonga or anywhere else!
James’ renovation advice:
Remember your tradies are professionals, not your best mates. If you establish too good a rapport with your tradies, you invariably find you’re the first one to get bumped. They probably rightly think that because you’re such a good egg, you’ll understand. So keep things professional.
Seek out suppliers who will respond with ‘let’s give it a go’. Defeatist ‘it-can’t-be-done’ attitudes are not going to give your build its best chances for success.
When it comes to walls – build up. Our outside courtyard area originally had walls set at a much lower height. Initially I was reticent to bring them up any higher – I thought they would take away more of my portion of the sky and make things claustrophobic. On the contrary – they’ve given our outdoor space a real depth and now it actually feels like we have more area (that is now a more private space as well)
Look for the yum when it comes to colour. By this I mean it has to be such an enticing and gorgeous shade that you’d literally want to eat something in that colour! After a few renos I now know there’s no such thing as grey, for example. There’s so many different shades, so seek out the stand-out that is going to work for you.