How Ceramicist Jessica Choi Turned a 'Derelict' Melbourne Terrace Into a Calming Oasis
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 newly renovated Melbourne home of ceramicist Jessica Choi.
Jessica Choi never thought her hobby would turn into her main source of income when she enrolled in a community pottery course in 2016. The then-production coordinator simply saw ceramics as a creative way to pass the time – until last year.
During lockdown in 2020, the Melbourne-based creative started to take her ceramics more seriously, and decided to take a leap of faith by selling her pieces. While she felt "embarrassed" after receiving no sales in the first two weeks, she persisted and followed her intuition, which she admits has been the best decision she's ever made.
Choi now pursues her craft full-time with her thriving business Eun Ceramics. This is where she gets to channel her creative energy every day – a process she describes as therapeutic, exciting and rewarding. Inspired by the fluidity of clay, her soft, earthy-toned pieces are equal parts delicate and strong; fluid and bold, and it's these same traits you can see echoed throughout her newly-renovated Melbourne home.
Yes, in between starting her business in 2020, Choi and her husband were also house-hunting for their dream period-style home They stumbled across a terrace within their budget, however, there was one problem – it was rundown to the point of being "derelict" and needed a heavy makeover. But the couple decided to go for it and now, five months of renovations later, they boast a beautiful home.
Since moving in, the couple have ripped out and rebuilt the kitchen and bathroom – a process Choi documents on her addictive TikTok account. They've decorated the space minimally, opting for a clean colour palette of whites and oatmeals, with pops of greenery and rust. While it looks uniform at first glance, look closely and you'll see each room has been cleverly designed with a different theme: one playful, one classic and one minimal. Choi didn't want to settle on one specific style so it was her way of adding a wealth of character and warmth to her home.
The minimal bedroom fitted with Bed Threads sheets in Stripe and White gives the space a cloud-like relaxing feel. In the lounge room, the emerald velvet rug, mid-century black chairs and modern oatmeal coffee table cohesively work together to create a place perfect for entertaining guests. Her bathroom - admittedly her favourite room in the home - is fitted with a show-stopping free-standing bathtub, where she rests after a long hard day. And to harmonise everything, her bold ceramics are sprinkled throughout.
While the home is still a work-in-progress, Choi is proud to see her vision finally come to life.
Hi Jessica! This series is called The Makers. What is it that you make?
Hi! I make high-fired ceramics with contemporary forms and experimental textures, predominantly using wheel throwing techniques at my home studio in Melbourne.
How does the act of “making” relate to your personality and who you are?
I’ve always had too many thoughts in my head and like to let my imagination run free, so having the ability to make whatever comes to mind has been the perfect outlet for me. I find the process of making very therapeutic, and being able to bring my conceptual ideas to life is both exciting and rewarding. I’m also quite independent and like to do things on my own terms so I’ve found working for myself to be the best fit for me.
Tell us about your career journey to date. Did you always know you wanted to pursue this line of work?
I actually wanted to be an art director for films, but I didn’t get into the theatre course I wanted (even though I gave up my Schoolies week to attend the interview!), so I studied more of a general film and media course instead. I worked as a production coordinator and manager for a small production company producing TV ads from when I was 23 years old and still do odd film jobs occasionally.
My pottery journey began not long after I started my film job. I was working from home a lot and needed a hobby to get me out of the house so I decided to take on pottery to get my creative juices flowing. I was instantly hooked and have been practicing religiously since then.
It wasn’t until the first COVID lockdown in 2020 that I started putting myself out there and actually tried to sell my work. I’ve always been afraid to make the leap because I was worried about how others might perceive my work and didn’t want to fail, but being in lockdown made me realise I had nothing to lose. There was no harm in me giving it a go.
Now looking back, pushing myself to believe in myself has been the best decision I’ve ever made. I’m so grateful for all the support and how quickly I was able to grow despite the pandemic.
Talk us through your creative process. Where do you start?
Each process is very different. The most important aspect of my work is finding the balance between simplicity and complexity. I want my work to be easy to approach yet complex enough in a way that it unveils something new the more you look at it.
I’d often sit on a concept for a couple of months before developing it because you get to look at it in a more unbiased way once the first excitement of an idea has simmered down. Developing the idea into an actual object often requires multiple attempts so it can be quite a lengthy process. I think some of my favourite work comes from focusing on one concept and gradually developing it over time.
What’s been the single most crucial tool or strategy you’ve used to further your business?
It has honestly been social media! I had no previous business training or mentors so it was the only method I knew how to promote my work without spending a tonne of money. I posted photos of my work every day and shared personable stories regularly so the viewers could get to know me as well as my work. People tend to underestimate the power of social media, but I can definitely say it has helped me tremendously.
What’s been the most challenging lesson learnt so far in your business?
Knowing your worth and not getting too emotionally invested in how others respond to your work. I think it’s very important to stand your ground and believe in yourself – especially in creative industries.
I remember when I first launched my website, I didn’t make a sale for over two weeks. I was embarrassed no one was interested in my work I had been so passionate about and I felt like a failure. I’m getting better at not getting too attached to every piece of work.
Shop Jessica's look with our Olive Bath Towel.
What’s been the best thing that’s happened to you since you started your business?
Doing this interview with Bed Threads and having my work stocked in so many beautiful shops not just around Australia, but in NZ and Europe, too. It's fulfilling being able to connect with amazingly talented creatives in the process.
Do you have a single piece of advice you’d give to your younger self or someone looking to pursue a similar line of work?
Just be persistent! If something doesn’t work, find another way to make it work.
Now, the home stuff. How long have you lived in your home?
We bought the house last November via an online auction – the classic “millennials trying to get a foot in the door during a pandemic” style. We moved in in April this year after renovating for a couple of months, so even though we've only lived here for a few months now, it really feels like we’ve been here forever.
Shop Jessica's look with Stripe and White in our Build Your Own Bundle.
How did you initially know this was the space for you?
Basically, it was the only period home we could afford in the area. We wanted two things in a house: a period home in a central location. All of the period-style homes in the areas we wanted to buy were over our budget, but we came across this house when we were about to lose hope after being brutally beaten in multiple auctions and having our dreams taken away.
It was the cheapest listed house in the area at the time and borderline derelict, but we saw a lot of potential in it and decided to take on the renovation project somewhat naively (and partly fuelled by the fear of missing out).
Did you do any renovations or make any big changes after moving in?
Yes, the renovation is still ongoing and the back half of the house is basically a construction site. We’ve re-stumped two-thirds of the house, fully renovated the bathroom, repaired the floorboards and re-painted the entire house. The kitchen has been temporarily renovated using thrifted goods until we’re ready to start the second stage of renovation.
What was the thought process behind the way you’ve styled the interior?
I didn’t want to settle with one specific style as I like different aspects of all styles, so I set a theme for each room: one playful, one classic and one minimal. Although everything is still a bit of a work-in-progress, I think each room sets a different mood when you walk in, which adds a lot of character to the house. It’s been incredibly enjoyable seeing my vision come to life.
What are your favourite pieces in the home?
Probably my Hollywood Regency-style shelf with all of my pottery displayed on it.
Shop Jessica's look with Stripe and White in our Build Your Own Bundle.
Do you have any special décor pieces you’re looking to add?
I have so many things on my list. My next purchase would probably be a large gold gilded mirror for above the fireplace.
Which is your favourite room in the house?
The bathroom for sure.
What are your top tips for a well-styled bedroom, and home generally?
Utilise what you already have and work on elevating that rather than buying everything all at once. This will allow you to take more time to find the perfect items you’ll love and cherish for years to come.
Do you have any projects coming up you want to talk about?
I’ll be participating in a group exhibition at No Vacancy Gallery in Melbourne CBD from 6-18th of July, 2021. I’ve also just been shortlisted in the Handcrafted category of The Design Files Award + Laminex Design Awards 2021, so wish me luck!
For more from Jessica, follow her on Instagram @eun.ceramics.
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Discover more of Australia's most beautiful homes in our series, The Makers.