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When Micaela Nardella and Melanie Liaw of interior practice Duelle designed A. Gallo, a boutique watercolor paint and supplies store in Assisi, Italy, the idea was to showcase the products on the shelves. What they didn’t expect was for someone to see the shop and think to themselves, I want that in my home. But that’s exactly how Lisa and Wade, an Australian couple with a pied-à-terre in central London, felt when they saw Wallpaper’s feature on the shop back in 2022.  

“The honeyed tones of the millwork and overall atmosphere of the place just spoke to them,” says Liaw, who is based in London, while her business partner, Nardella, works out of her native Milan. Lisa and Wade have a long history of living between Australia and London, but through it all, they’ve hung onto the 400-square-foot apartment, which, when they’re gone for long stretches, they sublet to local students. White walls and IKEA basics were perfectly functional when the space was a full-time rental, but with the couple making more frequent visits to London, they wanted the flat to function as an elegant and hardworking base where they could stash suitcases and ski gear. Here, the design duo shares how they took the blank space and injected it with soothing tones and purposeful millwork. 

Conjuring a Palette Worthy of a Work of Art

The living room, before.

When it came to the apartment’s new look and feel, Lisa wasn’t pining for any reminders of Australia. “On the Gold Coast where the couple live, it’s known for white-on-white minimalism, so she really wanted to experiment with more tactile and moody colors, especially green,” says Liaw. She and Nardella sampled 15 shades before finding the right tone for the living room (Mint Street by Mylands), which embraces the cool, gray London light.

The green theme repeats in the bathroom with an even mintier take for a calming and cleansing feel (Beauvais by Mylands) but is sharply contrasted with Sella, also by the heritage paint brand, in the bedroom. “We wanted it to feel as warm as possible,” says Liaw of the plastery shade. “We always paint the walls and ceilings the same [color] if the height is low for a cocooning feeling.”

Getting Clever About Ski Storage

The bedroom, before.

With their neighborhood being home to some of the city’s best restaurants, Lisa and Wade decided to do away with the kitchen extractor fan and told their designers they didn’t need to carve out a dedicated pantry. What they really needed was a place to stash their winter gear (next door in France are world-class ski slopes). Duelle’s response to their need for storage was a piston mattress base that lifts up and reveals plenty of room for luggage, and—wait for it—detachable panels around the edge along the wall where they can keep snowboards out of sight. The solid oak millwork doubles as a bedside ledge for books.

Clearing the Visual Clutter

Curated shelves are pretty to look at, but as occasional visitors, Lisa and Wade aren’t interested in having loads of coffee-table books and vases to style and dust. “They have wall art for personality,” explains Nardella. So in the living room’s alcove, the designers replaced the open shelving with a panel of floor-to-ceiling millwork, complete with a recessed lip where the couple can display a single sculpture or one day mount a small television. This bespoke touch not only meant saving on fresh plasterwork, it conceals sockets and unsightly Wi-Fi cables. The wood continues behind the sofa, acting as a radiator cover and more hidden storage. “It tidies things up and helps create cohesion,” says Liaw. 

The first time Nardella and Liaw met their clients in real life, the construction crew was ripping off the doorways in order to squeeze the modular sofa through. “Getting that in was an adventure,” says Liaw with a laugh. Compromising on size because of the apartment’s petite footprint was never an option, though. “Everything is full size; I really hate small furniture,” she says. “My advice is always to go as big as you can. If you’ve measured and in your mind you’re scared it won’t fit, it will!”

Finding Cohesion in the Tiny Apartment Chaos

The kitchen, before.

Repeating materials in a small home helps it feel more united. Nardella and Liaw’s shared soft spot for this project is the slab of Blue Roma, a Brazilian quartzite rich in copper veining they sourced from a local stone yard. They mapped out exactly which sections they wanted to use across the kitchen counter and backsplash, and for the tub and vanity.

The bathroom, before.

The designers even replicated the look of the basket-weave–style wood flooring seen throughout the apartment along the bathroom walls by switching up the orientation of the subway tile.