The Workshop

“For me design has always been about the quality of light first of all. It’s important that  there is enough ambient light, so that even on the darkest weather days, you do not need to turn on any internal lights. ” - Shannon McGrath, Interior Photographer and owner of “The Workshop.”

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To regular followers of our blog, Shannon McGrath will be a familiar name. She has photographed many of our feature projects including the Caulfield Residence from November’s blog. This month she turned the lens inwards and gave us a tour of her own, recently completed, and sublimely unique warehouse conversion in East Melbourne.

Starting with the history of the building Shannon told us how, “as a little girl I grew up with this building being my father’s mechanical workshop, where he installed automatic transmissions in cars. I would visit often and always loved the space being a warehouse shell in such close proximity to the city and surrounding inner-city areas of Collingwood and Fitzroy. After my father retired and went to follow his true passion of farming, the space went to me and my mum. For years we kept it as a warehouse shell, working up the courage to face the problem of clearing the large petrol tanks that were in the ground due to the building’s history as a taxi rank even before it was a mechanics workshop. Finally after 15 years we were able to get to the point of transforming it into two apartments together with mum's partner, Danny Rae as the builder. We built one for my mother on the ground floor and one for me and my two daughters on the top floor.”

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We were intrigued to know how photographing some of Melbourne’s most beautiful homes would have influenced how Shannon approached the design of her own home. She told us that, “having photographed for so many architects and designers I’ve developed a love for materiality. I didn’t want anything shiny. I wanted everything to be soft, natural, textual and tonal. A simple palette that I could then add my personality to.”

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Of course, as a photographer, light was the primary focus of her brief to architect Jackson Clements Burrows back in 2010 and then Hecker Guthrie for the interiors. Shannon told us how “as an architectural and interiors photographer I see the importance in both disciplines. That’s why we chose to hire an architect for the structure and then an interior designer to create the subtle nuances of the internal space and materials.”  She described how she chose Hecker Guthrie because, “I see their work as craft rather than design and always love seeing their subtle but 'beautifully-different’ use of materials from project to project.”

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Later, when it came to window furnishings  Shannon’s decision was easy, “I instantly knew I  wanted a beautiful linen that dropped softly and puddled heavily. In fact I believe every room should have soft wrapping linen curtains.”

Which doesn't mean the window furnishings of this project were straightforward. No, with spectacularly angled windows following the warehouse form - they were anything but, “the angled windows were definitely tricky. After many long conversations and collaborations on site with the Lovelight team we decided on a simple pulley system, but we went from bottom up rather than top down. These work beautifully in the main bedroom and form part of my favourite vignette of the house - looking down my desk area to the angled curtain of the main bedroom. It shows the beautiful joinery by Guy Phelan and the lovely pieces by Great Dane and then the Lovelight curtains draping heavily on the floor.”

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Of course even these beautiful photographs can’t fully capture the entire feeling that’s been carefully crafted into these two homes. Shannon helpfully explained why that is;  “my goal is always to try to capture the ambience of a space and represent that to the viewer. But, a photograph transforms a three dimensional space into a two dimensional plane so as much as we use  light and shade to capture the room, it is just not the same as being in the space.”

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While we had the chance to pick the brain of such a skilled photographer we asked her if she had any useful tips she could share with any aspiring designers trying to photograph their own homes. Her answer was, just like her home, perfectly pragmatic and all about capturing the light, “just try and keep your camera straight so there are no wonky angles and then follow the light to see what nice things it does to each area throughout the day.”

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Images: Shannon McGrath

Artwork (above): Valerie Sparks


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