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Urban Oasis

Urban Oasis

Cathryn Wills, Creative and Commercial Director of Australian accessories empire, Mimco, lives in an unassuming pocket of Melbourne’s Brunswick West. Kath Dolan visits her understated little oasis of solace and calm.

Above: Cathryn Wills in the sanctuary of her Brunswick home.

Cathryn Wills’ pared-backed Brunswick pad looks like it hasn’t been touched since the Habitus photo shoot weeks before. For Cathryn, the creative dynamo behind Australian accessories brand Mimco, constant travelling means the home is kept like a sanctuary. For her partner John Wessels, a furniture maker and part-time personal assistant, who works from home in the small attic-style studio on the roof garden – its sloping ceiling had to be levelled out to accommodate his lanky frame – home needs to be ordered, uncluttered.


Left: George Barsony black figurine and fishbowl, which keeps the couple’s cats entertained.
Right: Cathryn has been beguiled by a life-long love of fashion.

Cathryn admits to being somewhat consumed by her role at Mimco, where she started in 2004 as a freelance knitwear designer. Within a few years was she overseeing design, visual merchandising and marketing. More recently, she added commercial operations to her hefty portfolio. “It’s what I do,” she says. “I love it and it feels like an extension of me. That’s quite a blessed state to be in.”

When work and travel allow, however, Cathryn spends as much time at home as she can, unwinding in the renovated former printing factory she bought with John in June 2009. “I’ve definitely noticed a change in my stress levels since moving here, just the calm I feel when I come home,” Cathryn says. The rear courtyard in particular offers respite from a hectic world. There’s beautiful light, a small water feature whose restful sounds permeate the entire house, a tall bamboo garden and a private outdoor shower both of them prefer to the ensuite.


An antique timber dresser and Art Deco dining table with an unusual set of three brass bowls.

Cathryn met John seven years ago. He had lived for years in Brunswick, north of the city and she was from beachside St Kilda and Elwood. For a time they settled half way, renting an apartment in glitzy Docklands, where they began editing their idiosyncratic collections of furniture, furnishings, art and design objects into a coherent whole. “I’ve been more the crowded, hectic person; he’s got a lovely clean aesthetic,” Cathryn says.

It seems improbable that a fashion designer with a life-long love of dressing up and accessorising could join stylistic forces with another creative soul with apparent ease, and resist the urge to tweak their interior scheme on a regular basis.


Textures add warmth and drama to the home’s minimalist industrial

Cathryn and John still seem to be pinching themselves over their good fortune in finding a fully renovated home they both loved instantly. So smitten were they with its existing form that they bought the previous owners’ massive indoor plants too, which clearly thrive in the interior’s lovely light and add to the ambience of tropical calm. The two-storey house is a minimalist box with an open-plan kitchen, dining and living area at ground level and a generous bedroom and ensuite above. French doors lead from the bedroom to a rooftop garden, complete with a workshop and a telescope to capture the surrounding cityscape, and a recent addition: arguably the world’s most symmetrical vegie patch. “He’s Dutch,” Cathryn says of John by way of explanation.


Open plan kitchen area with luminous seat light designed by graduates from RMIT.

The interior is a study of a few well-placed dramatic gestures against a backdrop of restraint. Beyond the clean lines and monochromes of the white walls and unadorned concrete floor are some exquisite design objects that reflect the couple’s shared love of texture. These include photographs by Samantha Everton and graffiti art by dirtfish from the Melbourne Art Fair; a tiny pair of paintings by Chelsea Gustafsson from Linden’s annual postcard show; fabric screens handmade by John using vintage textiles; lampshades and ottomans in a riot of prints; a smooth, sheer, luminous teardrop seat light made by industrial design graduates from RMIT; a distressed, turquoise-washed industrial timber cabinet found at Tyabb Packing House Antiques, and an elegant deco dining table topped with three shallow brass bowls from Aimee McCallum’s homewares treasure trove, Tiger & Peacock, in Fitzroy. Each bowl totters on long, delicate, tentacle-like legs, with the look of creatures freshly emerged from the sea.


A futuristic high-shine plastic outdoor setting shares the courtyard with one of five bikes in the house.

“I don’t so much collect things any more,” Cathryn says. “I prefer to acquire things slowly that I really love. And I love art.” It’s a philosophy that stems from her years in the 09 fast-paced world of fashion, her disdain for the copying rife in the industry, and her exposure to artisans at events like Florence’s bi-annual yarn exhibition Pitti Filati. “It’s not fast food, it can be Slow Fashion, it can be built from the ground up and it can come from an idea,” she says.


A small rooftop garden linked to the master bedroom accommodates John’s workshop, a veggie patch and a telescope.

It’s an approach she’s brought to Mimco as well as her home, weaving whimsy and storytelling about inspirational muses into the creative process. “I hope that I’ve brought a story-telling and escapist mood to the business,” Cathryn says. “Buying product, buying things that you love, is an emotional response. It’s not just about a style number, it’s about a beautiful black bag that makes someone feel really great when they put it on, or great earrings that light up a face.”


Photography: James Geer