My Space | Designer Nicole Chapman

  • We enter the South Melbourne abode of Empire Interiors founder Nicole Chapman and her family to learn the site’s storied past and how the new build echoes what stood before. 

    Nicole’s home stands on the former site of one of Melbourne’s historic portable iron houses from the gold rush era. These nineteenth-century prefabricated builds were crafted in the UK, then dismantled and shipped to Australia with a set of instructions and labelled components. The original iron building was moved to a museum for preservation in 2019, leaving a clear block of land that presented Nicole and her husband Ben, a commercial builder, with the perfect opportunity to build a brand new home. 

    The couple explain that they had both been searching for a heritage gem to renovate, but when they stumbled across this rare block of land, designing a new build came to light. “We wanted to create a home that would last hundreds of years – not another knockdown-style build,” Nicole Chapman says. The new home is a contemporary iteration of the former iron house, utilising hardwearing materials of brick, steel and Iron Ash cladding. This simple and relaxed palette also continues inside the home, filled with family heirlooms and nods to Nicole’s childhood in rural Victoria.

    Nicole and her husband Ben grew up in the country, so they both agreed on a design that would reflect the touchstones of a family farmhouse, such as a wood-burning fireplace and large kitchen. “The two wood-burning fires remind myself and Ben of the traditions we both enjoyed as children,” Nicole explains. Materials were chosen for their inherent beauty, respecting the simplistic nature of the home that once was. Oak flooring, white bagged brick and Carrara marble feature throughout the compact tri-level home, creating the illusion of vaster, more expansive spaces. 

    Nicole and Ben chose to employ a ‘reverse living’ floorplan, with the three bedrooms, a mudroom and laundry located on the ground floor and the kitchen, living and dining space upstairs. Black steel windows invite views of established greenery and weathered corrugated iron roofs typical of the South Melbourne postcode into this entertaining space. 

    “For us, it’s all about family. The smell of a roast cooking, the fire burning and the four of us just hanging out is what make this home feel like home.”


    – Empire Interiors founder Nicole Chapman

    The Nick Hinch photograph above the grazia&co Reeno bench is one of Nicole’s favourite pieces in her home. “My friend Nick Hinch is a wonderful Melbourne-based photographer whose work I have admired for a long time,” Nicole says. “I have wanted one of these pieces forever; there is something so calming about it.”

    The kitchen is inevitably the heart of the home. So when designing this area, Nicole says she needed to bring her family’s passions for cooking, holistic living and time together to the fore. “I wanted a kitchen that had the warmth of a big country home but reflected our aesthetic and lifestyle, which is more minimal and contemporary”, Nicole adds.

    Integrated refrigeration and a cocktail station with a wine fridge are hidden behind weathered timber joinery at the front of the kitchen. At the same time, the cooking appliances are housed within the wraparound butler’s pantry behind the main design. An enduring curation of honed marble, tanned leather and oak reflect the family’s country roots, paired with modern light fixtures and furniture from Thonet and grazia&co.

    When it comes down to her favourite space in her home, Nicole says it’s relaxing on the rooftop terrace on the weekends with her family. “We recently added a pop-up movie screen so we can light the fire and watch a film together,” she says. “Breakfast up there on the barbecue overlooking the city is such a fun way to kick off a Saturday morning.”

    The bedrooms downstairs take on the same classic palette, featuring linear wall cladding, simple wall detailing and neutral colours. “We wanted to design a timeless home where someone would consider renovating it in 50 years,” Nicole says.

    Nicole’s family home is surrounded by locals who have lived in the area for over 25 years. As the ‘new kids on the block’, the designer says her neighbours have welcomed her family with baked goods, lovely notes and fresh fruit and veggies from their gardens. “We love the community spirit and want this to be something we instil in our kids,” Nicole reflects. “We often say our little pocket of South Melbourne feels like country town living.”

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