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Inside the Plant-Filled Melbourne Home of Artist Abbey Rich

Welcome to The Makers. Each week, we celebrate innovators, artisans and crafters of all types by taking you on a private tour of their creative spaces. For this instalment, we head to Melbourne where artist Abbey Rich lives in a beautiful rental surrounded by gumtrees.

Artist Abbey Rich and their partner Sam found their Melbourne home almost by chance. The pair attended a birthday party for their friends’ daughter and fell in love with the home it was held in. There was something about “the big windows”, Abbey says, along with “the huge gum trees you can see from streets away and the myriad of fruit trees.” So, when the opportunity came up to make the place their own, the couple didn’t hesitate.

Abbey is a painter and drawer who works on projects as large-scale as public murals and as small-scale as a tiny tattoo adorning the arm of one of their clients. Every job is different, and requires a different creative process, they say. Big murals are planned out “methodically” while other personal works could come “tumbling out” after a period of feeling stuck. “It’s an, at times, uncomfortable but familiar process.”

At home, there’s a similarly collaborative and multi-purpose vibe. “The thing we think about most is how can we make it a functional space that can accommodate many friends day in day out,” Abbey explains. There are plenty of chairs, lots of ceramics and a big table, all designed for maximum hosting with minimum fuss, while also “being cosy enough” when there’s only Abbey and their partner Sam in residence.

Most of the furniture in the couple’s home was found, either in secondhand stores or off the street. (“I like collecting,” Abbey says.) Their most treasured items, though, are artworks by their favourite creatives including Julia Trybala, Felix Atkinson and Joy Yamusangie. Those, along with their photo album, represent Abbey's most beloved memories. “I’ve made a really conscious effort to regularly print out photos from trips and just our everyday life,” they say. “I look at it almost weekly.”

Hi Abbey! This series is called The Makers. What is it that you make?

I would like to acknowledge the Traditional Owners of the land that I live and make work on, the Wurundjeri People of the Kulin Nations and point out that I, as a visitor, profit off stolen Wurundjeri Land. I make pictures; painted, drawn and tattooed.

How does the act of “making” relate to your personality and who you are?

I guess like most people in this line of work you forget who you were before. Everything you do feeds back in to your practice. It’s definitely in my blood too and for that I am very thankful. I am not a super patient person, so that is reflected in my work which can be a bit of a curse sometimes.

Tell us about your career journey to date. Did you always know you wanted to pursue this line of work?

My career has been fast moving since day one. I accidentally started a fashion label, did that for a few years, burnt out, realised fashion wasn’t really my vibe as it is inherently bad for the environment and often the people working within it. I was making art to put on clothing so I think it was inevitable that I would just make art on things that already exist like walls and bodies – the damage has already been done.

Talk us through your creative process. Where do you start?

It’s so varied. For commercial jobs like murals it’s very methodical as there is a brief, but when it’s personal work I could be sitting on ideas for months. Like now for example, I had been feeling stuck for months and had mostly been doing back to back murals and now the work is just tumbling out. It’s an, at times, uncomfortable but familiar process.

What’s been the single most crucial tool or strategy you’ve used to grow your creative business?

Instagram has definitely helped me. I could comfortably say I wouldn’t have a career without it. Sometimes I use the system and sometimes I just do the opposite – saying no to big opportunities because the client is morally corrupt. I think if I’d said yes to more things I’d be more successful, but I have what I need, and I don’t make concessions because I can afford not to.

What’s been the most challenging lesson learnt since you started your business?

As a white person living in this country I am afforded a lot of privileges. I started out when I was 20 with very little life experience. Now, five years later, I have learnt so so much.

Perhaps had I taken it a little slower I would’ve done things differently, but how glad I am I went with it at all. Saying no can be challenging. As I’ve grown I realised that I definitely have a responsibility to say no to collaborations with people and brands I don’t believe in. I don’t necessarily think this has been a ‘challenging lesson’, but I do think it has been a very important one and when you get the platform to speak in a world that is incredible unfair to many you have to use it wisely.

What’s been the best thing that’s happened to you since you started your business?

Growing as an artist has allowed me to grow in other ways too. I am a pretty anxious person, but not so much about my work and I really value that. I think I trust in my creative practice now, it’s super cool to have an idea sketched out small and be able to translate it by feel onto a giant wall and for people to trust you in doing that. I definitely think that’s the best thing, painting murals is incredible!

Do you have a single piece of advice you’d give to your younger self or someone looking to start their own business?

Don’t do it to start a business, to be successful or make a lot of cash, do it because you care about what you’re doing and acknowledge that you have a responsibility with the voice that business affords you.

Now, the home stuff. How long have you lived in your home?

Almost a year and a half.

How did you initially know this was the space for you?

Our friends were living here before us, we came to their daughter’s first birthday here and fell in love. The big windows, the huge gum trees you can see from streets away and the myriad of fruit trees.

Create Abbey's look with Rust and Terracotta in our Build Your Own Bundle.

Did you do any renovations or make any big changes after moving in?

We are merely renters, but my partner Sam has definitely stealthily tried to replace lots of the roses and other ‘cottagey’ things with beautiful native plants.

What was the thought process behind the way you’ve styled the interior?

I think the thing we think about most is how do we make it a functional space that can accommodate many friends day in day out. The long table, the many chairs, extensive ceramic collection (thanks to my beautiful friend @sophie_harle) whilst still being cosy enough just when it’s only Sam and I.

What are your favourite pieces in the home?

My Julia Trybala drawing, Felix Atkinson painting, and a rug we bought in Mexico City from M.A.

But seriously, it’s probably just our photo album. I’ve made a really conscious effort to regularly print out photos from trips and just our everyday life. I look at it almost weekly.

Create Abbey's look with Rust and Terracotta in our Build Your Own Bundle.

Do you have any special décor pieces you’re looking to add?

Not specifically. For a long while we have been trying to work around our original kitchen that was not designed for people of our height. Then my very sweet Dad built us this incredible bench, entirely by hand (hand saw, hand planed etc) that is most definitely too tall for anyone under 6ft but works perfectly for us. That just arrived a few weeks ago so I feel pretty set now.

Oh! Also, we just invested in a print from my favourite artist Joy Yamusangie that should arrive any day now!

What are your top tips for a well-styled bedroom, and home generally?

Just go with what you feel, I like collecting – whether it be friend's work or little things we find on a trip. So much stuff exists in the world I think it’s really easy to style well with second hand things! All our furniture in our house except our bed was found. Even our two big rugs were found in hard rubbish right on our street.

Do you have any projects coming up you want to talk about?

A few murals, lots of commissions and a few bigger ideas brewing!

For more from Abbey, follow them at @abbey_rich

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Discover more of Australia's most beautiful homes in our series, The Makers.

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