Homes of the Hunter | Colourful haven on Darby Street

Darby Street living looks lovely if you’re Melanie Nicholson.

This is not the Brisbane-born business coach’s first time living in Newcastle’s well-loved street.  

“I joined the air force when I was 17; I was from Brisbane, but they posted me to Newcastle. When I left Newcastle in 2000 I lived on Darby Street,” Nicholson says.  

“But I kept dreaming about Newcastle.”

The apartment complex she now lives in was built in 1981.  

“It’s interesting, half of these are private sales, and the other half is social housing,” Nicholson says.

“There’s a cooperative in Cooks Hill with low-cost housing initiatives. It’s similar to what people are doing in Brisbane’s West end.

“They’re trying not to be a space for multi-millionaires, trying to mix up the tenants so they’re not getting too much gentrification.”

In June 2016, Nicholson moved herself and her business here. The three-bedroom, two-storey abode is clean, fresh and bright. It seems like an ideal home from which to work, although Nicholson works out of the Business Centre as well, where she holds workshops for women entrepreneurs. Nicholson coaches men too, often those who own small businesses.

She knew she wanted a quick transition to Newcastle, and she applied for the Darby Street apartment, before she’d actually visited it. She was one of 30 applicants, but she was the only one who called the agent, and she believes that helped her get the apartment.

The neutral colours of the carpet and walls are balanced with vibrant furniture, paintings, plants and decoration.

Nicholson has a thing for pink and green, and the pillows on her lounge complement the bright painting she bought from an artist in Guatemala.  

“The pillows are from the beautiful House of Elliott; it’s a bit dangerous going in there,” Nicholson says, referring to its tempting homewares.

“In Brisbane, I owned a beautiful two-bedroom apartment, but it was in one of those security buildings; no one spoke to you in the lift. I didn’t know my neighbours for eight years,” Nicholson says.

She was surprised, and even confronted, when she arrived to Newcastle and people would just walk right up to her door and look around the property. Fast forward to almost two years later, and she’s an open book. She got what she wanted; she became part of a community. Her personal trainer even ended up as her partner.

“Everyone talks to you. People always see me on Darby Street and offer me a ride,” she says.

Nicholson doesn’t drive, but she’s travelled to more than 30 countries and has a photo wall from some of her journeys. 

She regularly talks and strokes her plants, who appear to be responding well.

“Only in the last 10 years have I been obsessed with plants. I got two ticks because I was hugging a tree in Byron Bay. I’m completely obsessed with greenery,” she says.

She imported two large tin canisters from India to house her plants, and they’ve travelled with her as she’s moved around. Several of her plants came from High Swan Dive.   

She has two chests from India, one is ornate and was a gift from her mother when Nicholson turned 15. The gong in her dining room is also from India.

“It’s a proper gong; my niece and nephew used to gong it, and we’d have noise complaints,” Nicholson says.

Her upstairs paintings are also travel reminders. The artwork of the nude at the foot of her bed is a French-Vietnamese painting, as is the one in the hall.

Nicholson is also working on her own story. She’s writing a book on the power of neuroplasticity, recovery from brain injury and changing negative thought patterns.

It’s evident through her plants, her aesthetic and her business, that her home is a place of positivity.

A colorful list of things to do in Newcastle is written in chalk on a blackboard wall in the kitchen. The list was written by the previous tenants. Nicholson loved it and asked that it not be erased.

“When I’m having a bad day I think of where I live and I smile,” she says.

Homes of the Hunter is about people and why they love their homes. These properties are not for sale.

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