Inside Melbourne’s Community-Focused Skye House Apartment Building
‘Calming, homey, friendly, cosy, friendly, and connected.’
Dana Thomson is one of the (unfortunately too few) Melburnians who can describe their apartment in these words. She’s the owner of a ‘Teilhaus’ studio apartment in Skye House, designed by Breathe, and located in The Village developed by Nightingale Housing in Brunswick, Melbourne.
Dana’s home is one of seven Teilhaus apartments in Skye House. The creation of this typology by Nightingale was inspired by the Fitzroy Cairo Flats designed by Acheson Best Overend in 1935 to provide maximum amenity across minimal floor space, and at an affordable price.
Dana and her husband Sacha Karsten moved into their Teilhaus apartment in Skye House upon the building’s completion in 2022.
The couple first learned about Nightingale when looking for a home that was ‘cheaper, smaller, more sustainable and community-minded’ than the majority of properties on the market in Melbourne and surrounds.
They initially looked into co-housing communities, but found Nightingale’s centrally-located projects to be the best fit. ‘We loved that the architects had carefully designed the building to promote neighbourly connectedness and energy efficiency,’ says Dana.
Dana and Sacha entered the ballot (applied to all Nightingale buildings) for to purchase a studio apartment, and were allocated a Telihaus apartment in Syke House.
Teilhaus is Nightingale’s name for their studio apartments that means ‘part of house’ in German. These small spaces (24 square metres) are cross subsidised by the building’s larger apartments to allow more first home buyers and those with limited financial means to enter the market. In 2020, the Teilhaus apartments sold for between $275,000 and $335,000.
Dana and Sacha say their home is a far cry from the apartments and share houses they’ve previously rented, which often had condensation, mould, and very little storage. They love their new home’s natural light and bathing under the brass oversized shower head every morning, but what they appreciate most is the building’s sense of community.
‘In our previous apartment building I tried to build a community vibe but there was a really high turnover of residents and no shared hangout spaces. It’s so much easier here,’ Dana says.
Dana enjoys practising yoga on the rooftop at sunrise with her neighbours, and walking the neighbours’ dog alongside her own, Strudel. ‘He now gets twice the walks as we take each other’s dogs out together!’
Further interactions with neighbours are facilitated by the communal spaces and facilities in Skye House, which include a bath house (that provides residents with baths in addition to a shower in their individual apartments); common room; rooftop; laundry room; gardens; dog run; bike parking; and a basement garage for GoGet share cars. (Nightingale projects are located close to public transport and deliberately devoid of private car spaces to keep costs down and discourage car use.)
It’s always a good sign that a new housing development has met its targets, when one of the stakeholders moves in. Architect Madeline Sewall is the director of houses at Breathe — the architecture practice who designed Skye House — and she now lives here with her dog, Poppy.
Madeline previously rented an apartment in the nearby The Commons building, which was also designed by Breathe, and served as the prototype for the Nightingale Housing model.
‘I’ve worked at Breathe for nine years so I was around for the very beginning of Nightingale Housing’ says Madeline. ‘It’s been incredible to watch Nightingale grow from an aspirational idea to an independent not-for-profit of 20 people. Having seen the quality, liveability, and community of the apartments firsthand, I knew early on that I would love the opportunity to buy one myself when I had my first home deposit together.’
Madeline’s 78 square metre apartment features a north-facing terrace, adjoining living area, and two south-facing bedrooms.
‘The living, dining and kitchen is open plan and has a lovely generosity within its efficient plan,’ she says. ‘To the north, from my living area, the outlook is mostly sky and garden, and when I’m out on the balcony, I can see and wave to other neighbours in the village — which I love. From my bedroom to the south, I can see a small glimpse of the Melbourne skyline and lush gardens to the light courts below.’
A bench seat runs the length of the living and dining room to the north, providing extra space for seating and display.
‘On level three, all of the apartments have a step up from the living room onto the balcony because it provides the building envelope with enough space to insulate the roof of the apartments below us,’ explains Madeline. ‘It’s the perfect spot to get winter sun and provides extra seating to the apartment when there’s a crowd.’
All residents have now moved into the Nightingale Village, which already feels like an established and beloved part of the Brunswick neighbourhood.
The Village has been highly awarded, recently winning four awards at the Victorian Architecture Awards including the prestigious Dimity Reed Melbourne Prize and the highest award for sustainability.
See more features on buildings in the Nightingale Village: Evergreen designed by Clare Cousins Architects; Leftfield by Kennedy Nolan; and ParkLife designed and developed by Austin Maynard Architects under the Nightingale Housing model.
To learn more about Nightingale, check the The Design Files Talks podcast interview with Nightingale co-founder Jeremy McLeod.