Jess Kneebone’s Cosy East Melbourne Home

Images by Tasha Tylee

This week we had the pleasure of chatting with art director and stylist Jess Kneebone at her sunny home in East Melbourne and meeting her beautiful golden retriever Vincent. Jess’s impressive body of work has been on our radar for quite some time and includes collaborations with notable photographers such as Rory Gardiner and Pier Carthew. We spoke to Jess about her creative interests (which include furniture and product design), restful mornings at home and travel plans for the rest of this year.

“I’ve been living here almost 18 months now. I love the floor-to-ceiling windows, polished wooden floors and cute art deco features. The natural light, particularly in my bedroom, was a big draw-card. The whole space isn’t large and there are parts that are a little dilapidated, but it feels like home.”

Jess’s table is dressed with an IN BED 100% linen tablecloth in Marigold Stripe.

“My Dad’s camera, a simple Asahi Pentax from the 1970’s is very special to me as I learned most of what I know about photography by experimenting with it. There were whole rolls of film lost, under-exposed moments missed but many memories preserved. This camera has seen a big, beautiful chunk of my adult life and remains my favourite to use, even today. Late last year (2021) I asked Melbourne designer Nicole Lawrence to make me a coffee table. I adore her designs and wanted something in a more textured, elemental finish. After some back and forth, she found a material and asked to experiment with it. The result is incredible. I love imperfections, and gawk at it a lot. I was gifted a first edition of Helen Garner’s Monkey Grip, published in 1977, which if you reside in Melbourne, you must read. I hope to give a copy to all the children I have one day. When they are adults, of course. When I first moved into this place, I purchased an original artwork by Lisa Go Lightly who’s figurative oil paintings are rather photographic. I love the summer silence it captures; bodies paralised by heat sharing long pauses in-between important things, which oddly, seem to end up counting most. I try to remind myself of this sentiment; life happens in the in-between.”

Jess’s bed is dressed in IN BED 100% linen bedding in Chestnut, Pinstripe Navy & White.

“I love the large, north-facing window [in my bedroom]. How could you not? If I don’t have an early start time, I have coffee in bed, cuddle Vincent and stare out that window. There’s something about a sunrise for me, a sense of possibility. As I’m renting I can’t really do much but I painted my walls earlier this year, I’m not the best at sleeping so it was an attempt to add warmth to the room. My bedside table is quite special, I designed and made it myself. I had some help with the frame, thank you Ben Warner, but after tracking down discontinued tiles and defective timber on Facebook Marketplace, I thought it would be fun to play with ‘dead’ materials and see what I could try to revive.”

“I’m also very attached to my five year old fiddle leaf, it was a birthday gift that has not only survived but thrived. I like having signs of life inside and indoor plants and florals achieve this. My childhood home had a large, somewhat unkempt backyard and it was always the best place to be; the hero of the house. Hence, the notion of bringing natural shapes, textures and forms into interiors rings true for me.”

“I’ve always been interested in photography and visual composition, but didn’t realise I could make a career out of it, until it happened. When I completed my Masters of Communication Design, I worked in graphic design (Communication Design) for a little while and didn’t love being behind a laptop. But in that time I was fortunate to get exposure to some incredible photography briefs, and really fell in love with that component of branding. I reached out to creatives whose work I admired (still admire) and was soon assisting both photographers and art directors. I’m most indebted to Rory Gardiner, as he suggested after assisting him one day, I should style an upcoming shoot for him. He put me forward for a couple of projects, they were published far and wide and from there the emails started rolling in. So I’m really thankful to Rory, who is an all round legend, enormously talented guy and now a good friend.”

I’ve always been interested in photography and visual composition, but didn’t realise I could make a career out of it, until it happened.

“I get to visit some pretty incredible homes and work with beautiful local and international pieces of furniture, so I’m gob-smacked regularly. One of my first big projects was Studio Bright’s Ruckers Hill, shot by Rory Gardiner. It was 38 degrees that day, and we were all sweating like onions in a pan, but there was a special atmosphere and when the photos came back from Rory, we were all astonished. It was after this that I felt more sure to push forward with this as a career.”

“I have imposter syndrome a lot, maybe I always will, but after this shoot, something shifted for me. Last year The Local Project commissioned me to style Nik Karalis, CEO of Woods Bagot's home at St Andrews Beach, which is/was one of the most interesting pieces of architecture I have seen to date. More recently, Pier Carthew and I buzzed around the Arts Centre at dawn, photographing fashion pieces when the light was golden. For me, it’s as much about the process as it is the final photo. But Pier managed to make the final photo’s for this shoot splendidly aureate.”

I have imposter syndrome a lot, maybe I always will, but after this shoot, something shifted for me.

“The best ideas usually arrive unannounced and during a rudimentary activity; like having a shower. I have a lot of showers. I’ve recognised now that creating space for this is imperative to the whole process. So when I start a new project, be it an editorial architecture / interiors photoshoot, a furniture or homewares campaign or a still life studio shoot, I try to immerse myself in it as much as possible (research, research, research) and then step away. I’m drawn to unpolished, imperfect and natural forms, and try to achieve strong composition with as few pieces as possible, so my approach is more minimalist than maximalist. I always have multiple projects happening at one time and enjoy the activity in my mind, but once we’re closer to shoot day, it’s mainly logistics and coordination involved in bringing it all to life. When the light is right and the mood is high, there’s nothing better than seeing it through the camera. I count myself lucky to work in photography and that I get paid to do something I love.”

“I’m a sucker for a good read, enjoy cooking (mostly for other people) and make a habit of watching films. Cinema is probably a huge influence for me; I love Luca Guagagnino’s work, adore Tom Ford’s films and Sofia Coppola can do no wrong. You could say I’m prone to romantic nostalgia or have Golden Age syndrome, perhaps. I’m a very curious person and find conversation the greatest way to learn new things so socialising is important to my well-being. That said, work has often come first for me and I am struggling to find that work-life balance since Melbourne’s lockdown ended last year.”

Jess’s bed is dressed in IN BED 100% linen bedding in Chestnut, Pinstripe Navy & White.

[For the rest of 2022]
I’d like to explore more outdoor photography briefs. Australia’s landscape is both expansive and impressive and perhaps overlooked in our local, photographic vernacular. I’m also working on some product designs of my own, and planning to take an overseas holiday which will be such a privilege after the past few years. I’m still ruminating on where to go but Europe and the Himalayas are at the top of my list. Stand by.