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tiny space, big ideas

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RIGHT Nandor chair, $120, Ikea. chair,

s e lv e h s n e p o n o s k o colourfulerb-ochanging artwork = ev

Cleverly contained (above) Rex’s 79 sq m loft-style apartment may be small on space, but it makes up for it with thoughtful furniture and rug placement. Depth is added with floor-to-ceiling bookshelves.

AN ARTIST’S EYE for colour and detail is defi nitely a plus when decorating, but it’s not essential to achieving a thoroughly individual look at home. Just follow San Francisco artist Rex Ray’s simple “house rules”, which successfully keep his home on the right side of remarkable. 94

Rule 1: steer clear of cliché

“I like being a radical,” Rex says. “A friend of mine describes me as ‘neo-modern’ – an amalgamation of design influences.” It’s this mix that helps to keep Rex’s place from falling into the trendy trap. His top floor apartment reveals a spirited mix of midcentury mainstays and museum-worthy contemporary art. It forgoes pretence for comfort, flash for whimsy. Design classics such as the 1966 Warren Platner dining room setting are mixed in with so much surprise that there is never the risk of cliché. Such unexpected elements include a display

of 10-cent vintage paperback books, a Bender wind-up toy from the animated series Futurama, and vintage “Q” and “A” metal typography. “I stopped collecting these letters when I realised they were becoming a craze,” Rex says. 

Biblio file (right) Rex considers his books an interactive form of decor; the shelves also function as would-be curio cabinets. The woven leather Piero Lissoni “Frog Seating” chairs are veterans of Rex’s mid-century furniture collection. “I keep thinking I should get rid of them, but I like their look,” he says. “When you’re a collector, there’s a constant one-upmanship between you and your objects.”

writers leilani marie labong & bianca tzatzagos photography ken gutmaker illustration amy lees styling mikhael romain

Small can certainly be stylish. And here’s the proof! Check out this guide to achieving an extraordinary interior… no matter where you live!

ABOVE Replica Isamu Noguchi coffee table in Walnut, $695, Matt Blatt.

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The shining (above) The entrance is covered in metallic wallpaper by Cole & Son (“Woods” 69/12150; see “The light-reflecting paper makes the space much lighter,” Rex says.

Sell the old before you buy new – it’s the very best way to curb clutter. Try online auction sites like, hold a garage sale, try second-hand dealers, or even donate to charity. It’s always best to ring around first to gauge interest in the item you wish to sell.

Rule 2: constantly edit “Clutter haunts me,” Rex says. “But I prefer to think that everything here is nicely edited.” For example, open shelving in the kitchen is reserved specifically for attractive (but still functional) pieces – and the display is further highlighted by a charcoal feature backdrop. Less aesthetically pleasing kitchenware is hidden away in cupboards under the benchtops. The dining area is


demarcated by two dramatic starburst elements: a vintage 1948 George Nelson Ball Clock and a chandelier, both of which were found at a local vintage furniture store. “I’ve been scavenging for furniture for 25 years. Once you get an eye for the stuff it isn’t as daunting,” says Rex, who often trades his own furniture for newer pieces to keep clutter under control. 

ABOVE Replica George Nelson Ball Clock, $125, Matt Blatt. RIGHT Stainless steel dining chair, about $850, Bisque Interiors.


Zone poem Each area of the open-plan space is defined by different wall colours (a mix of paints and wallpapers) to create individual nooks and give the home an overall richness by layering varying textures, colours and patterns. The pale-green painted walls on one side of the kitchen are teamed with timber cupboards, rustic concrete floors, a glittery Warren Platner dining setting and a dramatic black mosaic tile feature wall.

steel table mainkinesg for striking d

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RIGHT Tulip table lamp, $95, Matt Blatt. BELOW Wellness heatset rug (1.6m x 2.3m), $449, DecoRug.

= ll a w s s a l g d le t t o m t a h t e r u t a e f y k n u f diffuses light

The great divide Rex’s bedroom features a jazzinspired painting by Fahamu Pecou and a contemporary credenza by designer and architect Christopher Deam. Beyond the mottledglass divider, which Rex designed himself, is a partial view of the artist’s most prized possessions: a highly textured acrylic-oncanvas artwork by the late Sam Tchakalian and a travertinetopped credenza by Florence Knoll.

Rule 3: be realistic

Everything in Rex’s house, from vintage fi nds to the new Ligne Roset “Togo” love seat, proudly bears evidence of wear. “I’m not willing to tiptoe around my house,” Rex says. “I have a dog, so keeping the apartment pristine isn’t practical. All of my furniture is a little banged up and worn in. I like it that way.” The small size of the space means entertaining has to be kept fairly simple, like a movie night and takeaway, where friends vie for limited seating. The generously sized Noguchi coffee table in the living area might seem like an indulgence in such a small place, but it becomes the perfect spot for an impromptu lunch (with floor seating, naturally!). Rex’s thousands of art tomes, historical biographies and political manifestos might look like they take over the house, but in fact they are all carefully contained on the library-style shelving that lines the apartment. The books’ multicoloured spines become another decorative feature in the home, providing a wonderful contrast to the stark white walls and different wallpaper features throughout the apartment.  98

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mixing up patterns is a bold and stylish decorating technique

LEFT Provence stool in Dark Brown, $250, Hermon & Hermon.

Rule 4: layer bold… with more bold!

Dual purpose Two small paintings and a wooden sculpture turn the master bathroom into an art gallery. The Gridlock table by Delinear often plays the role of magazine rack, and, occasionally, clotheshorse. Pattern power (left) The black-and-white Missoni Home towels in the studio bathroom echo the mosaic tiles and prove that mixing patterns is a bold and stylish decorating technique.

ABOVE Graham & Brown “Exotic” wallpaper by Julien Macdonald, $150 a 10m roll, Chee Soon & Fitzgerald. LEFT Replica Eames Group Aluminium chair, $795, Matt Blatt. For stockists, see page 161. 100

Don’t let small spaces put you off being bold with colour and pattern. In Rex’s intimate 79 sq m apartment, unlikely friends are forged between the bathroom walls and some serious art. While the rest of us may not own original paintings, there’s no reason why you can’t achieve a similar look with your favourite prints. The bathroom is the perfect place to contemplate a feature wall – it’s a small space that often gets overlooked. Colourful bath towels are an easy and obvious injection of “bold”, but what about a floating narrow shelf to house – amongst the soap jars and paperbacks – a sculptural figure? In Rex’s second bathroom (see left), the silver in the wallpaper sets off the chrome fittings, while the timber cabinetry takes the glamour back down a notch.


Artist’s eye at work Rex’s studio is on the ground floor of his building, meaning work and home are always conveniently connected. This is where he creates his wood-mounted paper collages, some of which are in the permanent collection at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.

As well as sizeable portfolio or paper collages, canvas works and resin panels, Rex Ray has designed album covers and/ or tour posters for a long list of musical entities including David Bowie, Björk, REM, Robert Plant, Pearl Jam, Joe Satriani, Pink Floyd, PJ Harvey, Tom Petty, Beck, Prince, Radiohead, Scissor Sisters… the list goes on. Visit to see them all.

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Rex Ray Loft  

A peek inside artist Rex Ray's San Francisco loft.

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