Among the treetops is a fabulous apartment that celebrates ordinary objects in a most unusual style. Matthew Bird has reimagined an interior that defies classification except to say that nowhere else is innovation and creativity so evident. Co-editor Jan Henderson visits this fantastical project by Studiobird and finds out what it’s like to live with the birds.
Once upon a time objects were made to keep, to stand the test of time and be passed down from one generation to the next. Made furniture and objects were cherished and valued, not just for their craftsmanship and utility, but for their beauty and history. Over the past decades things changed. New was better, latest was best and if it was broken, well disposable became the norm. However, these days there is an understanding that resources are finite and authenticity and the handmade are to be valued. These days more is not best, especially in the world of Matthew Bird.
Studiobird was created by Matthew Bird in 2007 as a vessel to ‘house’ his various interests. A chameleon in the world of design, Bird has many talents and a diverse body of work that includes interior design and architectural projects, creative endeavours for the stage, lecturing at MADA (Monash Art Design and Architecture), artistic installations and just about everything in between. In fact, Bird is currently at the Venice Architecture Biennale, invited as the sole Australian representative to present his work Sarcophagus (a nomadic bed chamber and abstract teleportation vessel) in the Time Space Existence exhibition at the European Cultural Centre in Venice. However, it is through his latest design project that Bird’s disparate talents have been brought together to create an interior that pushes the boundaries of style, innovation and creativity.
The project is called The Treehouse and it is a two-bedroom apartment located in a leafy Melbourne suburb. The name Treehouse pays deference to a substantial oak tree situated at the very edge of the apartment balcony that fills the entire outlook. Bird says that seeing the tree so close at hand made him feel like “a kid again climbing trees and living in the sky” and this was the inspiration for the interior of the apartment.
Despite the fact that the apartment is rented and along with the usual design parameters of no structural changes and careful interior modification, Bird has still made this project a standout. Bold colours have been used throughout to delineate areas, while furniture ensembles create pockets of interest. Everything that has been used in the decoration of the apartment has either been bought off-the-shelf (generally at Bunnings), purchased at vintage shops or are ‘found’ objects. Here the ordinary is made to look extraordinary and the usual is very unusual indeed.
The apartment block was built in 1972 by celebrated local architect Ernest Fooks and the footprint of the apartment is substantial at 75 square metres with 3.7-metre high ceilings. The floorplan is conventional and rooms are accessed via a right-angled passageway. Upon entry, the kitchen is to the left, a riot of colour in bright red (Geranium, Haymes). No remodelling was allowed, but the inclusion of a marble-topped workbench adds a touch of the contemporary while supplying the practical. The installation of Sherrin footballs decorated by bicycle reflectors on the main wall is Bird’s own homage to the game of Aussie Rules, but also injects humour and whimsy.
Down the dark passageway/gallery (Black Pitch, Haymes) there are displays of artworks, more installations and shovels and this eclectic mix of objets heralds the promise of things to come. To the right is the open plan dining and living rooms (Mission Brown, Haymes) and this is where the fun really begins. The dining table is surrounded by 12 steel car park bollards with custom steel fittings together arranged as a tepee (design Studiobird). The table is circa 1980s, the design inspired by Norman Foster’s Nomos table, and the Trip dining chairs are by Marcello Ziliani (all vintage purchased from Mode 707). This fantastical setting is a revelation of design and process and one would suppose that food would have to taste better in surroundings such as these. The living area is also a creative tableau of ordinary objects that have become something completely different. The side table is a construction of four checker-plate toolboxes upended and lashed together topped with a once discarded, off-cut of Indian marble (design Studiobird). The side lamp has been made from four stacked stainless steel ‘buttweld tee’ pipe fittings with a standard lamp inside (design Studiobird) and the pendant, aptly named Astro Boy, above the 1970s Tecno coffee table (vintage Mode 707), is the combination of two mirror surveillance domes with laser cut aluminium and an orbital texture finish (design Studiobird). These furniture pieces all sit particularly well with the 1970s sofa and chair in brown velvet (vintage Dario Zoureff, Mode 707) and the addition of an original Pantone textured wool wall hanging completes the picture… well, almost. From Bird’s imagination comes window dressing with a difference. A ‘sheer curtain’ made from lengths of chains with spanners attached to the ends has been hung across the windows and wall the span of the dining and living room. At night when the pendant light is on, this metallic ‘curtain’ shimmers and shines, but also affords a view of the tree outside. Magical.
The second bedroom/study is situated at the beginning of the right angle of the passageway and is the beating heart of Bird’s home/work area. The desk (Doodle desk, Studiobird) has been decorated with laser cut etchings that are a tag of Bird’s name. A 1960s Eames chair complements the desk, while an occasional chair (found on the street, of unknown origin) blends perfectly with Bird’s own artwork that has been hung above the guest bed.
The master bedroom between the study and bathroom is quite the statement piece. The room has been painted pure white and Bird has designed and engineered an extraordinary bed or bed box. ‘Palanquin’ as it has been named, is made from a powder-coated steel frame, paint rollers, shovels and a wallaby fur bedhead and is unlike anything of its kind although, true to its name, it is almost possible to believe this bed could be a litter soon to be carried away by four able minions.
The bathroom remains largely unchanged except for two design initiatives. The first is the landscaped floor of bluestone pavers and granite aggregate that creates an outdoor feel to this very indoor room; the second is the addition of a large pink saucer shaped crown suspended overhead as a pendant light that adds an ‘other world’ dimension. It is definitely not your average bathroom, but somehow everything just works with the 1970s fittings and fixtures.
inside published Birds first interior project, Alphomega, back in 2006. The project was the interior of another rented apartment and it was creative, weird and wonderful, and marked Bird as a designer to watch. Now 10 years on, the Treehouse is proof that Bird’s design prowess has developed and evolved organically into a more sophisticated and innovative reality. The Treehouse is individual, a manifestation of Bird’s active imagination, and there is delight in every room. The celebration of the design is through the invention and reinterpretation of objects and how each works with the other to complete the whole. Matthew Bird may be living in the treetops with the ‘other’ birds, but may he always keep reimagining, reinventing and showcasing the commonplace object as his special brand of design, art and sculpture.