Open Studios at the Nicholas Building is one of my favourite Melbourne events. Located on the corner of Flinders Lane and Swanston Street the building is an impressive landmark, but its real interest and beauty lies within – when you walk inside you are transported to another era. The Nicholas Building was built in 1926 and influenced by the ‘Chicago Style’ of architecture. It is well known in Melbourne as a creative hub, tenanted by artists, jewellers and craftspeople. Once a year their doors are opened to the public.
The entrance to the Nicholas Building is grand and decorated with stained glass and brass – very different to the nine floors above which are a myriad of corridors lined with cream tiled walls and wooden doors. Once you step through these doors you find creative and skilled tradespeople who are proud and excited to talk to you about what they produce and sell.
Not all doors are open and some are quite intriguing; like the one with Miss V SYNAN written on the glass. Over the years some of the letters have almost disappeared so that from a distance it now looks like V YNAN. Who is Miss V Synan and why did she have her own room in the Nicholas Building? Normally Google would provide me with the answer to such a question but I had no luck finding Miss V Synan on the web.
At this year’s Open Studios I met a shoemaker who has been commissioned to make leather gloves for the theatre. He spoke about how difficult they are to cut and sew while showing us what he has done so far. Just down the corridor was a man who designs and produces satchels and cases from fabric that he screenprints with his own designs. There was a textile weaver, a milliner, at least two jewellers, a vintage haberdasher, and shops that sell Japanese fabric, vintage buttons and fabric, and even Japanese magazines. They all greeted their visitors with warmth and friendliness. Some even had wine and food to share. All were very passionate about what they do.
In Sophie Cunningham’s wonderful book titled Melbourne she describes the Nicholas Building and the uncertain future of its tenants.
‘Once a building full of bootmakers, dressmakers and button makers, it’s now an artistic hub and the place exudes an energy that is hard to replicate through organisation or force of will. If the Nicholas Building didn’t exist it would be as if the city had lost a part of its soul. That soul is already in danger because it’s not clear how much longer artists will be able to afford to work there, given recent rent rises.’
The Nicholas Building is full of people who are living their dream – every day they go to work to do what they love. I worry that rising rents will mean that there are not too many more Open Studios.