When vintage collector, boutique shop owner, interior decorator and purveyor of all things vintage, Lynda Gardener, first walked through the doors of the old mattress factory in North Fitzroy, a “gritty” inner suburb of Melbourne, it was not a pretty sight that greeted her. Wires hung from the roof, buckets were surreptitiously placed to catch the leaks from where the roof had partly cavedin, floors of cracked old concrete were covered with oil stains from the sites’ former incarnation as a vehicle repair yard, and the rear of the buildingwas a toilet block. “I didn’t even dare to look out the back,” she confesses. But, living next door, Gardener had secretly coveted the building for years. “I used to spy it from our top windows and dream of what I could do, and I was terrified someone might just pull it down.” So when the property came up for sale, Gardener bought it on the spot.
This was not a job for the faint hearted. Even less, it seemed, for this mere slip of a girl perched on her dangerously high heels in a pretty vintage gown, her mop of unruly black corkscrew curls loosely piled high on her crown and pinned in place with a signature flower, looking every inch as if she’s stepped straight from the pages of a glamorous fifties’ magazine.
Challenge however, is exactly what Gardener thrives on. The first stepwas to strip everything out and take the building back to an empty shell. Bringing light into the cavernous warehouse space was critical, so the centre of the building was left open to create an internal courtyardwhere natural light and fresh air now floods into the interior. The old toilet and ablutions block at the rear was converted into a charming separate guesthouse. Upstairs, Gardener took down the walls from what had been three rooms, and removed the ceiling to expose the old rafters. New windows were added and fitted with recycled shutters, cut down to fit, and a freestanding claw-footed bath elegantly positioned in the middle of the room. A coat of white paint and new concretefloors- also painted white – and the stage was set!
Gardener’s first love is vintage, so the “look” was always predetermined. “Its just the way you interpret it,” she says, Her first home, in the building next door – a former shoefactory that she converted ten years previously- had been “gritty” and industrial in feel, with old wooden floors, exposed brick and chunky, industrial furniture. “We went to an awful lot of trouble to try to make it look like we had hardly touched the place,” she laughs. “We even found an old toilet with a metal cistern on the wall, and a claw footed bath with just the right degree of rust.” Character aside, it also had to be a beautiful home, so the interior of the bath was perfectlyenamelled.
Wheninternational magazine Marie Claire launched its Australian ‘Lifestyle’ edition in the mid ‘nineties, Gardener’s warehouse featured as the epitome of the new “junk style” décor. The look was not only sanctioned by the design cognoscenti, it became highly desirable and collectable, channelling stylists decorators and collectors from around the country to her newly opened ” Empire Vintage” boutique retail outlet.
“I’ve always just loved vintage- clothes, shoes,furniture,whatever, “ she says. “ I bought my firstrickety chest of drawers when I was still living at home, My mother’s taste was modern state-of-the art glass tables – so she was rightly horrified! But it the character of the pieces I respond to, the sense of age and past lives.
While she knew the new space would be essentially vintage, it wastime for a re-incarnation. After the rustic, industrial feel of the previous home,Gardener wanted girly and feminine. Out went the rust, the army blankets and hospital beds and in came delicate and dainty: flower paintings, chintz and chandeliers- 12 in all. A French daybed with original pink satin upholstery set the theme.
No sooner had the dust settled, it seemed, when Gardener wanted more change. A new relationship bought male company into the house, and while her partner professed to love everything just the way it was, Gardener felt the impetus for something different, something” a bit more raw.” In an impulsive moment she tore the pink satin from the bed, exposing all the studs and pattern lines drawn in pencil on the calico underlining, and that triggered the train of thought. Velvet chairs were reupholstered in hessian, and flour sacks and old flags were made into cushions to replace the delicate embroidered pieces. “I took out everything that was pink and overtly feminine.” An old book of drawings found in a local market was tornup an pinned to the wall – “I love it – so simple!” Simple, maybe, but done with such panache it’s also easy why her pssionate joy in vintage has generated such a diverse following ofvintage style devotees. Not surprisingly, Gardener has even commenced a “Vintage Outing” business, driving fellow devotees around the city to view her favourite haunts- in vintage cars of course!
“The ‘look’ is always changing – it just depends what catches my eye” she says. “I’m a total bowerbird. But somehow I just can’t image not living here forever! I went through a stage of thinking I’d paint everything charcoal, a colour I love, but somehow this house is meant to be white. It’s a happy place. Once I shut the door of the main road I’m in my own world. It’s special – I could be in France or anywhere in the world!”