Interiorssneak peeks

A Brisbane Home Filled with Light and Treasured Collections

by Grace Bonney

If there’s one thing that most city apartment-dwellers learn over the years, it’s that you have to give a little to get a little. Even the most beautiful of spaces come with quirks and challenges, but those are just part of the joy of living in an older building in a bustling city. Nicolette and Tom know a thing or two about living with a difficult but beautiful space, and they’ve managed to turn what could have been a difficult space to work with into a warm, welcoming home.

Photographer and documentary filmmaker Nicolette Johnson shares her Brisbane home with her fiance, Tom Dawson, who is studying IT networking. They came across this sunny apartment two years ago and loved the area (just a short walk from Tom’s school, as well as the Gallery of Modern Art, the Queensland Art Gallery, the science museum and the Queensland Performing Arts Centre). The home is filled with great art deco-era details and, because it’s a corner apartment, comes with stunning curved windows and walls. While all these details (crown molding, polished hardwood floors, original hardware) sold the apartment for Tom and Nicolette, they also had to work around some small and difficult layout challenges and a few rooms that are just big enough for a few pieces of furniture. But quirks aside, Nicolette and Tom love their space and feel like they’ve created a calm, private sanctuary away from busy city life. Between their shared love of travel collections and expert thrift-shop finds, they’ve managed to not just fill their home with beautiful things, but find a way to balance their desires for comfort and function with a creative and inspiring space. The space is still a work in progress, but Nicolette loves that. “Both of us are on a very tight budget and have been for the majority of our relationship, but we have managed to slowly pick up some great pieces here and there for a relatively insignificant amount of money. I think that’s how great collections are formed, slowly and deliberately.” I couldn’t agree more and am so thrilled to share a peek inside their sunny home today. xo, grace

Photographs by Nicolette Johnson

Nicolette Johnson's Brisbane Home on Design*Sponge
The living room is the first room you see when you enter the house. There are three different doors in the room, which have made for an interesting decorating challenge, but Nicolette has done a great job of balancing the needs of the room with the need to have a clear path to and from all the doors into other parts of the home. One of Nicolette's most prized possessions is this huge vintage Dhurrie rug that she found on Gumtree (Australia's equivalent to Craigslist) for, "an absolute song."
Nicolette Johnson's Brisbane Home on Design*Sponge
Nicolette and Tom's art collection has been collected over a few years, much of it from secondhand stores, which are Nicolette's main sources for great pieces.
Nicolette Johnson's Brisbane Home on Design*Sponge
Lola the cat, who Nicolette describes as, "elusive and emotionally withholding" (classic cat), holds court over one side of the living room. The armchair she sits in is part of a pair that Nicolette and Tom bought together. They found them on eBay and Nicolette's mom sewed new cushion covers for them. The main door pictured here (closed) is the front door, and the other is a door to the, "tiniest hallway you will ever see," which leads off to the bathroom to the right, the bedroom to the left, and the kitchen straight ahead.
Nicolette Johnson's Brisbane Home on Design*Sponge
The mask was a gift from Nicolette's father, who brought it back from Papua New Guinea. The photograph on the top right is one Nicolette took and is part of a body of work she made about New Mexico and her grandmother. The print on the bottom left is an original etching and aquatint of the Olgas in Central Australia done by George Eddy in 1976, and the print on the bottom right is an ink print by Jiro Nagao.
Nicolette Johnson's Brisbane Home on Design*Sponge
This is the living room facing the sun room. Nicolette found this gorgeous Pierre Vandel Aluminum Étagère bookcase on Gumtree (the Australian equivalent of Craigslist) for a complete steal--under $100! It's perfect for displaying the couple's collections of ceramics and books. The horse shoes are mementos from Nicolette's horseback riding days, and they like keep them up above the doorway for good luck.
Nicolette Johnson's Brisbane Home on Design*Sponge
The living room looking past the front door and into the tiny hallway. Nicolette has always loved the Eames Hang-It-All, so she picked up a walnut replica at an amazing furniture store in Brisbane.
Nicolette Johnson's Brisbane Home on Design*Sponge
The dining nook/sun room is just big enough to fit Nicolette and Tom's table at one end, and bookshelves and Tom's desk at the other.
Nicolette Johnson's Brisbane Home on Design*Sponge
Nicolette says she loves their apartment's tiny kitchen. The print hanging above the stove is of a painting done by Izabella Godlewska de Aranda in 1961. Nicolette first saw it in a magazine and coveted it for a long time. She finally found a print of it a few years ago.
Nicolette Johnson's Brisbane Home on Design*Sponge
Nicolette says, of the apartment's small kitchen, "The kitchen is minuscule but is such a joy to cook in, as we have a window that lets in floods of light in the afternoon and lets us look out onto the back terraces of the building. These windows are open constantly."
Nicolette Johnson's Brisbane Home on Design*Sponge
Without much built-in storage space, Tom and Nicolette have had to find storage alternatives, like these antique drawers which fill an "awkwardly empty corner" and add much needed prep and storage space. The shelves above it were a DIY project, made with discarded wood Nicolette found in a parking lot!
Nicolette Johnson's Brisbane Home on Design*Sponge
Kitchen details. Nicolette's spices live in those little wooden drawers that her mother gave to her for Christmas years ago.
Nicolette Johnson's Brisbane Home on Design*Sponge
The bedroom is a lovely, airy room and Nicolette's favorite place in the apartment. The bed frame is from IKEA (a solid ash wood frame that Nicolette feels will last them a long time) and the bedding in the room is kept minimal, as the apartment is not air-conditioned and doesn't have ceiling fans. Nicolette explained, "It sometimes gets a bit sauna-esque in there, but being on the second floor means that if we open the windows the apartment is filled with beautiful breezes for most of the day."
Nicolette Johnson's Brisbane Home on Design*Sponge
The print that hangs above the bed is a collection of arrowhead illustrations by Valerie Waldorf, and it's one of Nicolette's favorite pieces of art in the house.
Nicolette Johnson's Brisbane Home on Design*Sponge
Bedside details: The little vase is a piece of Navajo horsehair pottery that Tom and Nicolette picked up on their recent trip to Santa Fe. The bigger vase was a gift from her mother, and the lamps (they're a pair) are finds from two different secondhand stores a few months apart, after which Nicolette painted them both matte black with spray paint designed for potbelly ovens.
Nicolette Johnson's Brisbane Home on Design*Sponge
Nicolette's desk lives in the bedroom, as there just isn't enough space in their sun room for two desks. Nicolette also uses it as a vanity sometimes so she, "can justify having it there." The shelves were another DIY similar to the kitchen shelves.
Nicolette Johnson's Brisbane Home on Design*Sponge
Desk details: The chair is a Hans Wegner replica wishbone chair. Nicolette found the vintage French glass bonbonne at a secondhand store and decided to fill it with water and plant a philodendron in it. The photograph on the shelf is an older photograph of Tom and Nicolette, which Nicolette made in the early months of their relationship for one of her last bodies of work at college.
Nicolette Johnson's Brisbane Home on Design*Sponge

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  • I love the Aldo Lungo print in the living room. I have one of his pieces hanging I’m my living room as well. I love his charcoal pieces.

  • Such a beautifully warm and inviting space. The perfect anecdote to this cold and snowy day in Boston.

    • I loved the kilim rug as well. Been trying so hard to faind something similar. The ones that I’ve seen are way colorful, very, super hard to see a perfect rug like this one.

  • Possibly one of my favourite sneek peeks to date! Love all the layered textiles and that bed looks like a dream to sleep in. They’ve done such a good job of curating only charming good quality furniture pieces and matching each to the best space. It motivates me not to bring something into my home that i’m not head over heals in love with!

  • It’s always fascinating and fun to analyze why I’m drawn to some homes so much. I love this one! I think it is because of the textures – so many beautiful woods perhaps – the rug is amazing too. Also this home feels like real people live there…perhaps because of the really great art and plants? I bemoan my own light walls, but here it just looks perfect! But sometimes I do look around my own place and say, “It’s coming together!” :)

  • Any idea who the artist is for the piece above the master bed? It’s so interesting!

    • kamille

      yes, the credit is listed in the caption: “The print that hangs above the bed is a collection of arrowhead illustrations by Valerie Waldorf, and it’s one of Nicolette’s favorite pieces of art in the house.”


  • There’s only one thing that doesn’t work for me. The mask! They should sell masks with warnings attached, as they can represent bad karma from really bad environments – such as death masks, voodoo masks, and so on. I would urge caution when introducing a foreign object into your own environment as it can have a negative impact on your household and occupants, unless of course you are 100 percent sure of its origin and the meaning attached to it. Research before you buy! Otherwise, Nicolette has done an amazing job in a tight spot. Love the Dhurrie rug and would love to know who she purchased it from on Gumtree. It’s a beauty!

  • Lovely home! It makes me want to cozy up with a cup of tea! I’m also obsessed with the kilim in your living room and the large sheepskin rug in your bedroom. Where did you find them?! I’ve always searching for rugs (I’m quite obsessed ;-)

  • Hi Aussiebushgirl, the mask was a gift from my father from Papua New Guinea in the Sepik River region. I believe they are actually supposed to be hidden from women when not in use, but I love it and we have had no bad karma :)

    Also, the Dhurrie rug was purchased from a local who no longer wanted it, unfortunately they are not a retailer.

    Joellen, the sheepskin rug was just a lucky find at an antique store!

  • This is my first comment ever… Anywhere. I love this place and I also covet the sleeping boy print. For me the most wonderful thing is the tight budget it has been achieved on. Just a reminder that beauty doesn’t necessarily require a lot of money. Just time and vision.

  • This home is so inspiring! The vignettes and collections have me lingering on each shot. I can tell the care and creativity that went into it. The gallery wall and the shelves above dresser are my favorite displays in the home, but everything has such soul!

  • Six years I’ve been following designsponge – and the sneak peeks in particular … this is the first time I’ve actually commented… but this home is just too beautiful not to :-) The art, the plants, the wonderful pieces of furniture, the ceramics, the textiles, the cat (!)… OMG ! And all on a budget, no less.

    Nicolette, you have a delightful home and thank you very much for sharing it with us !

  • Any idea what artist did the abstract sun painting in the living room above the sofa? It is stunning! Thanks!

  • I love this rug!! Could anyone please tell me where it’s from? Sorry if anyone’s already mentioned that. I’m just popping by and unfortunately don’t have time to skim the entire blog for this info. Thanks!

  • Love, love, love your home. What can you tell me about the desk in your bedroom. Is it French? What timber is it made of? Was it originally a console or a desk? Also I would live the dimensions. Any information would be greatly appreciated.