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Inside the Cosy Melbourne Apartment of Artist and Musician Lucy Roleff

Welcome to The Makers. Each week, we’re celebrating innovators, artisans and crafters of all types, taking you on a private tour of their creative spaces. For this instalment, we head to the soothing Melbourne sanctuary of artist and musician Lucy Roleff.

When Lucy Roleff was looking for a new home almost five years ago, she knew exactly what she wanted. Light, openness, storage and space… The dream was to trade the “dark, downstairs” flat that she had lived in for years for something that could be both a relaxing home and a space for creative rejuvenation, allowing her to head to her studio each day inspired to begin working on her oil painting and music projects. “I was absolutely desperate for natural light and to be above ground floor,” Roleff explains.

The space she ended up finding in Melbourne was just right: big windows, beautiful floorboards, plenty of space, and even a balcony. “This apartment ticked all of the boxes,” Roleff says. She went about trying to maintain that perfect harmony while styling her home, ensuring that each room was a balance of open space and joyful messiness. “I am neither for minimalism, nor stuffing a room full to the gills,” explains Roleff. “I will have one or two walls totally bare, while another corner will have a shelf brimming with ornaments, books and vases.”

The result is an apartment that feels cosy and personal, full of the things that make Roleff truly feel at home. Shelves stacked with books, plenty of plants and greenery and special handmade ceramics and glassware on display. Roleff says the bedroom, with its view onto a sprawling gum tree, is soothing, but it’s the living area “jam-packed” with knick-knacks that she loves the best.

“I like to be in a space that feels ‘lived in’ and inviting – with plants, lots of books, candles, ceramics, linens, baskets,” Roleff says. “As with most of my work, it’s very intuitive and based on how it makes me feel to look at, rather than fanciness… or function,” she jokes.

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

I make oil paintings, and also music.

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

I’m not really someone who feels the need to talk about my feelings too much, I think because I spend so much time channelling this introspection into making, whether it be songs or paintings. I’m also naturally quite introverted and enjoy being alone, so this is pretty complimentary to the hours of solitude and focus that composition and painting require.

When did you start creating art and painting? And what inspired you to go down this route with your career?

I loved drawing as a kid, and I always felt very moved by paintings – big, realist oil paintings in particular – when I would visit galleries. At uni, I majored in photography (BFA) and tried my hand at painting a few times, but always felt intimidated and like I just didn’t ‘get’ it. I remember thinking that painting realism was something you were inherently able to do, or not. Anyway, I ended up becoming a freelance illustrator and worked at that for a few years.

Eventually, I became curious about painting once more and started researching how to do it from books and the internet, until something clicked for me and I knew this was what I had truly longed to do for a long time. From that point on it has just been a process of chipping away at it as much as possible! The encouragement I’ve received from friends, family, and peers really motivated me to pursue it as a career.

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

I always have a sketchbook around, in which I jot and sketch ideas. My earlier still life pieces were entirely thought out and sketched out before I set them up, but now I work a bit more intuitively on the spot. Sometimes I photograph the setups myself, and other times I have collaborated with my friend Annika Kafcaloudis who is a very talented photographer. We both really enjoy arranging and rearranging objects so we will often make an afternoon of it, sharing croissants and coffee while chatting and shooting setups.

After this I look over all the shots and decide which ones are my favourite. I guess my background in photography has given me a pretty solid understanding of composition and sense of what I like, so the selection process is also pretty intuitive and quick. Then it’s on to staining boards or linen, drawing, and painting - which I do at my studio. I paint alla prima (wet on wet) so each painting will be done in about 2-4 days as there’s no waiting around for layers to dry.

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

So far I haven’t really thought too hard about strategies and prefer to follow my instincts about what to do or what not to do, but I’d say that properly utilising social media tools like
Instagram has played a big part in almost all of my best opportunities.

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

I think keeping on top of messages and emails can be tricky sometimes, especially since people have so many different avenues to reach you by. I was very embarrassed by one such mishap where I sold a painting someone wanted to another person. Though I guess these are the sorts of lessons you learn the hard way once - and then are aware of avoiding next time.

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

I think most of all, connecting with artists or curators who I’ve long admired has been a really surreal experience. I feel very grateful for the kindness and support I’ve received – especially as someone who is kind of private and doesn’t post things constantly.

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

The main thing I would say is to not underestimate the power of just chipping away at a new skill or venture. Too often I feel we want to be proficient at something straight away, and we feel a bit scared of just working at something bit by bit, even when it feels really good to do, because we can’t quite envision the outcome. When I started my freelance business in illustration, I had zero experience with commission work – but over the months, little jobs lead to bigger ones, and I just learned as I went.

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

It will be five years this December!

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

The floorboards were laid right before we moved in, and later the kitchen was changed completely. I didn’t mind the original 1970’s kitchen too much, but I have to say the new one feels much nicer to cook in.

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

I would make a terrible interior decorator because anywhere I’ve lived I style at a glacial pace. Really it’s a process of finding things and, bit by bit, add them to the space. I rarely seek anything out specifically, but wait for them to pop up. Pretty much every piece of furniture in the apartment is either from a second-hand shop, from the side of the road or passed on from a friend. Though I do play around with the placement of things and flow of the space.

What are your favourite pieces in the home?

I particularly love this white bookshelf I found on the side of the road a few years ago. It’s a weird shape but it seems like it was made to fit exactly where I’ve put it. I also like this wooden, upholstered folding chair ($30 at an antique shop) at the kitchen table, and the coffee table - my cousin haggled for it on my behalf at a shop we visited, as I was too shy.

Shop Lucy's look with the Oatmeal Bedding Set and Oatmeal Sheet Set.

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

I think the apartment might be at full capacity now, but I am very keen to start a salon hang on the living room wall with artwork by friends and emerging artists I like.

Which is your favourite room in the house?

Either the living room or bedroom. Both are jam-packed with books, plants and get lovely, even light during the day and sunset light in the evening.

Tell us about your bedroom.

It’s pretty big by apartment bedroom standards, and is the bigger of the two bedrooms. I really enjoy my time sitting on the bed looking at books with the cat beside me and windows wide open. There’s also a nice gum tree that attracts different birds right outside the window - it’s very peaceful.

Shop Lucy's look with the Oatmeal Bedding Set and Oatmeal Sheet Set.

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

I enjoy variation and also following the natural design of a home, rather than trying to squeeze something in where it won’t flow. I am also a big fan of using mirrors to make a space feel a bit bigger. It’s an old trick, but it sure does work!

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

I’m working towards my first solo exhibition in Melbourne, which will open on July 18, and then a duo exhibition for next February in Geelong. I have a few more group shows coming up but I’ll share the details on my Instagram and website.

For more from Lucy, follow her @lucyroleff

Loved this home tour? Inside the Pink-Hued Cottage of Josh and Jenna Densten

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

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