Modern Shed Life: Design Foraging, DIY and Building a Design Career from the Ground Up

Melissa Tonkin

Interior Stylist and Photographer


Instagram: @teamtonkin

Home Hack

Only buy king flat sheets so you can use them on any size bed, including children’s beds. It means you can move them around the home and create more variety in linen designs. On a single bed, just tuck the sheet under the mattress on the side that is against the wall and leave the other side hanging to the floor for a nice drape.

A Home That Doesn't Feel Like a Catalogue

Only have things that you love in your home, definitely. Spend time pinpointing what your style is and what you want from the space before buying anything. This is the best way to not waste money on things that you won’t like, especially when trends change. A space should have personal elements, such as vintage pieces, heirlooms or travel souvenirs, so it doesn’t feel like a catalogue. It needs to be unique to you.

"A space should have personal elements, such as vintage pieces, heirlooms or travel souvenirs, so it doesn’t feel like a catalogue. It needs to be unique to you."

Living in a Shed

Our shed home is 90 square meters and my studio is 16 square meters. The basic structure of standard windows and box-like spaces limits the dimensions to create a variety of designs. There’s a constraint of space to move things around whilst styling, which means I pull furniture and homewares inside and outside during shoots. If only you could see behind the camera! It doesn’t look as beautiful as what is in focus! It’s a great workout though!

Extreme Foraging

I am an extreme forager! I collect things from the side of the road all the time! I have a pair of pruning shears in my car at all times and have made my husband wrestle many a fan palm branch and be severed by pampas grass whilst cutting in the dark. If I see something in someone’s garden, I am not shy to knock on their door and ask if I can cut something off their plants! I do that all the time with bougainvillea and cacti. Once I went to a lady’s door to ask for an off cut of her mature cactus but didn’t have my pruning shears; she got her kitchen knife onto it!

Proud DIY Moment

It would have to be the doors of my inexpensive wardrobes that I covered in burlap. I wanted something unique and beautiful on a budget. These cost about $100 for all four! It’s amazing what you can do if you give it a go.

Entrepreneurship with Kids

I don’t know if I do find balance. My kids have learnt to be very flexible. Sometimes they’ll get home from school and everything will be organized, and sometimes the house has literally been pulled apart for a shoot. They are used to coming home and their rooms are completely different from when they left for school! Every day is different, so I pretty much just work with whatever is in front of me at the time. I’m probably a little bit too relaxed, but it works for us.

Productive, Creative Work Spaces

My work is at home, so there is a crossover with my styling. I need bright spaces with a lot of light to feel productive. I am inspired by the personal elements in my home. My sister made my brass wall hanging. My dad made my daughter’s doll house and the wooden box shelves in my living room. I come from a creative family, and these pieces will never leave my home. I also love my vintage fan lamp sent to me from a vintage curator.

How It All Started

I never sought out to start a business; it just organically happened. I began as a mum who needed an outlet and just started photographing my own home and posting on Instagram. That then grew to small businesses sending me homewares to include in my photos, and then to set designing for companies and getting paid. Now, this is my sole business, and I find great joy in doing what I love for a career. The biggest thing to remember is to give the world uniquely who you are. No one else can do that.

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