It’s All About Light and Colour in Artist Mafalda Vasconcelos’ Melbourne Home

Welcome to The Makers. Each week, we celebrate innovators, artisans and crafters of all types, by taking you on a private tour of their creative spaces. For this instalment, we head to the suburb of Coburg in Melbourne, where painter Mafalda Vasconcelos keeps things fresh and airy in her sun-drenched ‘70s-era home.

Around two years ago, Mafalda Vasconcelos and her partner started looking for a house. The artist, who originally hails from Mozambique and is now based in Melbourne, estimates the couple looked at about 50 different places without any luck. Then, they stumbled upon this little jewel, a ‘70s-era build with “a backyard, a front garden, a deck, large windows and a lot of light”. In the living area, a vaulted ceiling gave the whole space a sense of ceremony. The couple were sold. “This is not our dream home,” Mafalda adds, “but it is an amazing and cosy home to start.”

Over the past two years, the artist has been slowly renovating the building. Because her art practice is so grounded in colour – she trained first in fashion design but now paints portraits and nude studies of women – Mafalda wanted her home to be more of a tranquil sanctuary. Some small changes included painting the walls and ceiling white, and paring back any excess furniture. “Because I work creating ‘things’, I wanted the house to be quite minimal in terms of furniture,” Mafalda explains. “I find that open spaces with less pieces make me and my partner appreciate the house a lot more.”

For that reason, every design detail in the house makes a statement, from the couple’s charcoal grey sofa to their collection of ritual objects and masks, artisanal pieces – like a handmade wooden banana bowl from a Mozambique maker – vintage books and sculptures. “These objects are also very colourful because we love colour,” Mafalda says – no wonder she’s opted for rich Ruby, Pink Clay and Terracotta. White walls, lots of light and plain wooden floorboards serve as the perfect backdrop for all these treasured items to really sing.

“Surround yourself with objects that you love and that remind you of something valuable to you,” she advises anyone looking to decorate their home. Seek out family photos, artworks by creatives that inspire you, books that stimulate your mind and take you on imaginary journeys. “Outside of yourself, your home should be the closest expression of who you are and where you’ve been.”   

Hi Mafalda! This series is called The Makers. What is it that you make?

Hello! Thank you so much for having me! I make portraits and nudes of women, painted or hand drawn. I am an artist. 

How does the act of “making” relate to your personality and who you are?

I have always been very creative and growing up the youngest child and an introvert, I found entertainment and refuge in making things. I used to sell my creations to my family and friends or even at small markets.

Nowadays, making is a form of prayer or meditation. I am not religious; however, I am very spiritual and feel lucky to be able to connect to that part of myself through the act of “making”. There are quite a few “makers” in my family too. So, the act of making is essential to my personality and it is how I connect with my identity. 

Tell us about your career journey to date. Did you always know you wanted to pursue this line of work?

Not at all. My grandmother was a seamstress and taught me how to sew when I was very young. I fell in love with fashion at 14 years old and ended up doing a Bachelor of Arts (Honours) in fashion design. But after a few years in the industry I realised that I needed more freedom to be creative – I loved painting and drawing just as much as designing. So, I decided to quit fashion and start doing illustration and art full time. It has been a wonderful journey.

Talk us through your creative process. Where do you start?

I start my process always with research. I read a lot of books or academic studies about symbolism and about different ethnic groups that have beliefs and traditions similar to my family. My mother’s family is from the Nharinga ethnic group of the North of Mozambique and due to assimilation their culture is almost obsolete. So, I made it my purpose to find as much about them as possible and try to reflect that in my work. 

What’s been the single most crucial tool or strategy you’ve used to further your career?

I’ve done a Master of Arts in fashion entrepreneurship and, even though I am not in fashion anymore, the knowledge applies to what I do today and has really helped me in my career. It has helped me set goals and strategies to follow my dreams.

What’s been the most challenging lesson learnt so far in your career?

To believe in myself. I am still working on that, but it is something I have to work on everyday.

What’s been the best thing that’s happened to you since you started your career?

It’s hard to pinpoint just one thing, there are so many! I’ve managed to work with incredible people; mostly with teams of incredibly talented women, which has been amazing. I’ve worked with Revolve Clothing, NA-KD fashion, ASAP Mob, Local Eclectic, Sony Music, Fubiz, and others. I’ve also been in some amazing group exhibitions here in Australia but also in the US and Canada. The best thing about these opportunities is being able to meet and connect with other creatives.

Do you have a single piece of advice you’d give to your younger self or someone looking to pursue a similar line of work?

My advice is to just go for it and never expect others to do the work for you. If there is a will, there is a way. Believe in yourself and never give up on your purpose. I wish I had started earlier, and I wish I had faith in myself when I was younger. 

Now, the home stuff. How long have you lived in your home?

We have lived in this house for about two years. We have been renovating it for a year and a half and we are still not done yet.

Did you do any renovations or make any big changes after moving in?

Yes! This house was built in the ‘70s and a lot of it was really outdated and needed some work. We started by renovating the kitchen which was really dark and dirty; we ripped everything out, painted it, tiled it, got new appliances and painted the old cabinets white. We also removed all the old tiles that had covered the floor in the living areas; we replaced them with hybrid flooring.

The laundry and toilet have also been renovated since then, giving space to a much nicer and functional space with storage and a lot of light. We also painted all of the walls and vaulted ceiling white. At the moment, we are renovating the outdoor and we still have the bathroom to tackle. We are doing everything ourselves; it never seems to end but we enjoy the process.

What was the thought process behind the way you’ve styled the interior?

Every object in the house is purposeful and, in a way, tells our story. We collect objects when we travel back to South Africa and Mozambique, my family lives there and Africa in general holds a very special place in my heart. So, we have a few wooden ritual objects like masks and trinkets, handmade and artisanal objects and art. We also love vintage books and sculptures.

What are your favourite pieces in the home?

A drawing I bought at a beach at Ilha de Moçambique, made and sold by a young boy dreaming of becoming an artist. A handmade wooden banana bowl made by a Mozambican artisan. A small painting made by my nephew when he was 5 years old. Other than that, my collection of vintage art books is also very special.

Do you have any special décor pieces you’re looking to add?

Not décor in particular but furniture for sure. I’m looking to add a new couch but since I have a naughty dog, it is a bit tricky at the moment – yes, he is allowed on the couch and we do have many regrets on that. We also need a dining table and chairs, but we haven’t found anything that we absolutely love, so we might take our time with that. Or even get custom made pieces here both in Australia and Mozambique. 

Shop Mafalda's look with Ruby, Pink Clay, and Terracotta in our Build Your Own Bundle.

Which is your favourite room in the house?

My favourite room in the house is the living area, where we have most of our vintage books and a collection of very special objects. I love the white vaulted ceiling and the amount of space and light there is. There are two windows looking north, with a very special view of the sky and some beautiful trees which look like impressionist paintings. 

What are your top tips for a well-styled bedroom, and home generally?

My top tips are don’t follow trends and instead, follow your heart. Pay attention to the kind of atmosphere you enjoy and what stimulates that for you.

Do you have any projects coming up you want to talk about?

I was hoping to have another exhibition with my work for early 2021, either in Sydney or here in Melbourne. Now that everything has started opening back up here in Melbourne, and the borders are also open between states, I feel more confident that it will work out.

For more from Mafalda, follow her at @mmvce and mmvce.com

Loved this? Zoe Young's Rustic Bowral Cottage Is an Artist's Paradise

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