Ann Pilmer July 22, 2012
Richard Munao suggests open-plan areas should be as uncluttered as possible, but with something of interest from every aspect. Photo: Ken Irwin
Placing furniture in an apartment setting can help customers decide what works.
We're not all blessed with the ability to envisage how a new piece of furniture will look on our home territory. Will it be too big, too small or just plain wrong?
Corporate Culture's Richard Munao had the good idea to build an apartment above the company's Melbourne showroom, at the market end of Elizabeth Street, so customers can see how furniture looks in a home environment.
The company, selling cutting edge European and local furniture and homewares for commercial and, more recently, residential interiors through its sister brand, Cult, is a design guru's dream.
There's everything from couches to beds and lighting worth thousands of dollars to simple designer cups, saucers, cutlery and accessories for a handful of dollars. But they're meaningless if you don't know how to position them in your pad.
So when the four-storey building was renovated - it was once a flag-making factory - the apartment, which includes an open plan living/kitchen/bedroom area and a bathroom, was included on the top floor.
''We wanted to let customers see how our pieces could be used,'' says Mr Munao, who is based in Sydney but regularly jets to Melbourne.
''I stay there and we also use it for visiting designers and international guests. It's not soulless like a hotel room,'' he says. (Denmark's Prince Frederik and Princess Mary visited last year to commend Mr Munao on his promotion of Danish exports.)
The plans were sent to Milan-based designer Giulio Cappellini who helped fit it out.
The space, which is about 12 by seven metres, has certainly been maximised. It includes two sitting areas, one formal and one more relaxed, a dining table, study corner and bedroom, along with the kitchen and bathroom.
The kitchen, Mr Munao's brainchild, is a lesson in saving space. Running along one wall like a simple piece of streamlined cabinetry, it includes a dishwasher, underbench refrigerator, sink, drawers, shelves and a washer/dryer.
It's finished in snappy, dark, walnut veneer, which blends with the building's raw brick walls. An induction cook top sits in the black granite bench. Fisher & Paykel specially made the refrigerator which is disguised in a drawer.
The eye-catching bathroom is simple, but gets its wow factor from lime green mosaic tiles. The sitting area is dominated by a Caravaggio light, a spun aluminium pendant that comes in black or white and can be hung singly or in groups.
''Pendants are often covered at the top,'' Mr Munao says. ''This is open so the light comes up and makes the cord a feature.'' The black pendant has a red cord and the white, a matching cord.
There's no sign of a television set. ''I'm not a big television watcher,'' Mr Munao says. ''And we want to encourage guests to enjoy the furniture and get out and explore the local area.''
Because the space is open plan, many pieces do double duty. The bed sits behind a polypropylene Cappellini wall divider, which can also be used for books.
Mr Munao, a former cabinetmaker, started the business 15 years ago in Sydney, opening three years later in Melbourne.
Keeping it simple is the key
If you like an open-plan effect or space is limited, keep it uncluttered, advises Mr Munao, but make sure you get a different visual wherever you look.
Ideally, furniture should be low and transparent.
Maximise the use of natural light. If there is nothing beautiful to look at outside, make the focus internal. Lighting is a good way to do this, but keep it soft and don't over light a space.
''We used to build lights in, but I don't believe that's the way to go,'' says Mr Munao, who recommends lamps and indirect lighting for a softer mood.
He has no truck with cheap reproductions and those who sell them.
''I think they are leeches,'' he says. ''There is no comparison with quality. Customers who appreciate an original can feel the difference in quality.
''An original is an investment that will last. Some copies fall apart in three months and end up in landfill. It's not doing anything for the design industry. It's a bit shallow if you want the look but you are not prepared to pay for it.
''If the designers don't keep doing them, it all stops.''
Business development manager Jeff Tsang says art gives a space life and colour.
They collaborate with local artist Andrew O'Brien, whose works hang around the showroom.
''It helps clients who want a complete package and saves them going through the galleries,'' Mr Tsang says.
He also advises buying key pieces in neutral tones and adding colour with accessories.