The magic happened slowly but surely at interior designer Jono Fleming’s small-space Sydney apartment

Jono, you’ve been living in this two-bedroom apartment in Sydney for about six years — what’s the backstory? I was looking to buy a place but wasn’t quite ready to tackle a house or a renovation, so I was mainly looking at apartments, but so many of the new builds I saw lacked personality, and they all had  very small kitchens. So I started focusing on ‘designer’ apartments, and when I came across this one by SJB in a gorgeous spot in Waterloo, I knew it was a winner and bought the last available apartment off the plan. They’d already started construction, so I took a bit of a gamble and hoped for the best, but knowing SJB, I knew I was in good hands — and I wasn’t wrong!

ABOVE Jono (left, pictured with his 3D-renderer partner Ryan McGregor) says the secret to creating a great gallery wall is going slow. “If you want a layered collection of art, don’t rush it. Add artwork to the wall when you find pieces you connect with.” Among the works in the living area (where Jono has trained a devil’s ivy right up to the ceiling) is Sunset Cenotaph by Tym Yee for Palette by Jono Fleming (top left). The seating here is a Kelly chair and Valley sofa by Jardan.

Were you able to customise any of the finishes? There were a few options to choose from off the plan, such as the beautiful parquet flooring, which I chose to continue throughout the apartment, including in the bedrooms, for a spacious, seamless feeling. I went with light marble benchtops rather than a darker granite finish, and there was the option for a fireplace, but I didn’t think we needed it in this climate and I wasn’t keen on having a large, immovable feature in the centre of the living room wall.

ABOVE Palette by Jono Fleming’s limited-edition artworks come printed on canvas and framed. Hanging in the kitchen is Split Pomegranate by Rachel Stevens, in a vignette formed with a Desert Rose vase by Home Republic from Adairs and a jug by Sit Still Lauren Ceramics.

With this refined backdrop established, how did you tackle the fun bit — adding your own special touches? It’s wild to me how much my taste has changed. When I arrived here, I had a Pinterest board on which I’d saved a lot of Scandinavian-inspired looks. I really thought that I could pull off a minimal, sleek, European effect, but I was wrong. When I moved in, I had a beige sofa, a black-and-white beni ourain rug, blush accents, a fiddle-leaf fig and a reindeer hide slung casually on a dining room chair. It was very chic, but it wasn’t very me.

ABOVE A Samsung The Frame TV displays an ever-changing array of digital artworks above a Balmain buffet by James Lane decorated with finds including a Teiko vase by Clay Canoe and a Sydney Opera House sculpture by Nat Rosin. The planter on the Yeh wall table by Menu is by MAC from Nikau Store.

Curating a meaningful interior takes time though, right? How many looks has this  place seen since you moved in? Over the years, I started to get more comfortable with my own design choices and began to add more colour — through cushions and art, and eventually larger furniture items. It’s been an organic evolution, rather than a journey through specific looks.

ABOVE An altered vintage coffee table stands on layered rugs by LRNCE (top) and Pottery Barn. The bouclé Monet ottoman is from Life Interiors.

How does sustainability play into your décor decision-making? Although I definitely accumulate lots of ‘things’, I like to use the excuse that they’re work-related purchases, plus I’m conscious of supporting local businesses rather than mass-production stores. It’s firstly a quality issue — if you buy quality pieces, they won’t be landfill after six months — and it’s also how I bring personality into my home. I treat each object, vase and shape as a piece of art, and not much is for display only. Everything is useful and nothing is too precious that it has to be saved for a ‘special occasion’, so nothing is wasted.

ABOVE Jono’s other art tip is to get works framed by an expert. “I used to have a pile of things that I thought I’d frame ‘later’ and inevitably they’d get creased or it’d never happen. But by getting things professionally framed, you can elevate even the most affordable piece of op shop or poster art, and it helps preserve it. The power of a frame — don’t underestimate it.” Some of the artworks in the dining area are Florence Uzi (Pink) by Magnus Gjoen (top left), with Cabazon Dinosaur by Jacqui Turk just below it, and Stormy Skies by Rachel Stevens for Palette by Jono Fleming (top right). Sphere candles by Candle Kiosk are arranged on the table with a pedestal bowl by Simone Karras and an Arco candleholder from Place at Home.

With Palette by Jono Fleming, you’ve created an accessible way to add art to interiors — what led you to launch this side hustle? My art collection kind of snuck up on me. I used to see art as a scary prospect — it was always too expensive and too mature, and  for the most part I didn’t know what I actually liked. But I started finding pieces at op shops and getting posters framed, and over time, my collection grew.
Last year when we were in lockdown, I spent time at my family’s farm, pottering around and styling sideboards and bedside tables in lieu of actual work, and realised I wanted some smaller-scale pieces for these interior moments. I looked online and couldn’t find anything at affordable prices that I’d want to invest in, so I approached my best friend’s sister, Rachel Stevens, an extremely talented illustrator, pitched her the concept of creating artworks that were based on classic still lifes and landscapes, and from there Palette by Jono Fleming was born.

ABOVE Beyond a cuppa in the kitchen, Jono and Ryan like to unwind by driving out to Jono’s family’s farm about three hours from Sydney. “The property has been in my family for 52 years, and six years ago, my parents allowed me and my friend Allison Williams of Green Apple Interior & Design to design a farmhouse for it,” says Jono. “Set against the backdrop of a pine forest, it’s home away from home for us now. It’s a house built for entertaining and a great place to decompress and cook up a storm with friends. We’re so grateful to have it to escape to.”

You’ve also used plants to add character to this apartment… It’s taken time to figure out which plants are the right fit for this area. I found it helpful to chat with the people at my local nursery, who were able to help me choose the best options and understand what specific plants need as far as light and water go. I think when people think of low- maintenance plants, they end up at succulents and cacti, which are beautiful but don’t always suit a space. For me, it’s all about combining plants of different heights, textures and shades of green to create a full garden that needs watering only about once a week.

ABOVE The main bedroom is beautified by an Etched Arcadia mural by Anthropologie behind the bed and Nuvolette wallpaper by Cole & Son on the remaining walls. The books on the Arte side table by Jardan are leaning on a Picasso Lamp by Neighbourhood Studio, the David fragment on the wall is by HK Living, the Landscape 7 sketch is by Rachel Stevens and the bedding is from In Bed.

You call yourself a ‘curated maximalist’ — what’s your advice for embracing this aesthetic? Remember that you don’t have to have all of your décor items on display at once. Collections and vignettes help guide the eye around a room, so group pieces together to place the focus on different stories and moments. Arranging pieces you have a connection with will make your home feel like a true reflection of yourself.
Colour can be intimidating, so my suggestion is to start small. You don’t need to paint the walls right away — just put a pop of colour on your coffee table with a great book. Pick colours you really love in the form of cushions, a vase or a candle, then build up to including that colour in an artwork. Explore complementary colours opposite each other on the colour wheel that sit nicely together, and play with different shades and tones. 

ABOVE ”I love my balcony so much — it’s at a point where it’s lush but really manageable,” says Jono of the outdoor area he’s decorated with plants and (from left) a vintage table, an Etta stool from Life Interiors and a Trace chair by Tait.

What colour combos are you into at the moment? I never thought it’d say this because it was never a colour I loved, but I’m having a real lilac moment. I’m sneaking it into my life in everything from décor to clothing — and I’m loving it. There’s a freshness to it, it works really well as a neutral base to build on and it pairs well with so many other colours, while bringing softness to a space. 

At the end of a working day, how does it feel to arrive home here? As a freelancer,
I work from home. I design here, record podcasts here, wrap and send artworks here… so it’s usually all systems go. At the end of the day, I pack it all away and make sure the visible rooms are clear of any work ‘noise’ — and that’s when I get all the lamps in the house going. Ryan and I love our ‘layers of light’ at home, and we have a bit of a lamp addiction. I switch off the big light and get a soft, ambient glow coming from all corners of our living space. It’s calming and changes the mood from a workspace to a home again. It’s all about using different rituals to delineate how we use the space every day.

ABOVE Greenery creeps gracefully over the breeze-block detailing in the common area of the apartment complex. “Waterloo’s about 10 minutes by bus from the CBD, so it’s really close to many design hubs and design destinations in Sydney,” enthuses Jono.

What other at-home rituals do you enjoy? I recently bought an oil burner and I’m so happy with that choice! After a morning gym session, I love to open up the balcony doors to let in the fresh air, then light our burner from Fazeek with my scent du jour, A New Path to the Waterfall by Black Blaze. It smells amazing and there’s something so calming and almost meditative about starting the day with a special scent. It puts me in the right headspace.

What else does living here do for your wellbeing? The thing I love most about this apartment is how much it inspires me. It’s an ever-evolving home, but there’s something so special about it that makes me so happy to be here. From the soft, curvy shapes to the textured fabrics, everything acts like a big hug, and combined with the bold colours and beautiful décor, it’s all the things I love in one place.
I’ve never felt more inspired than I do right now, living and working in this apartment. It’s taken six years to get here, but I think things will be staying as they are for a while.   

Interview Alice Lines
Photography Jacqui Turk


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