In Their Residence: Marcello Donati

7 min read

Marcello Donati, the visionary behind Fitzroy's Whitlam apartments, defies expectations with his dual passions as a skilled butcher and accomplished architect. This unexpected fusion has captivated the local community and industry alike.

Immersing ourselves in Marcello's world, we're enveloped by his unwavering love for creativity and deep-rooted family tradition. Whitlam Place apartments, nestled in the heart of Fitzroy, beckon with their magical charm, yet blend seamlessly into the locale.

Step through the neon-lined terrazzo-paved entrance and enter Marcello Donati's Penthouse, where he warmly welcomes us. Inside, his beautiful art and furniture collection are framed by expansive glass windows that seamlessly merge the interior with nature's embrace and a magic-like oculus reminiscent of a James Turrell installation. It's a transformative atmosphere, with the sounds of rainbow lorikeets and swaying silver bark trees – transporting us far from the bustling streets of Fitzroy.

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Step inside the Whitlam Place Apartments.

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Pass through the entrance adorned with neon-lined terrazzo paving, inviting you into a vibrant apartment.

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Step into the realm of Marcello's penthouse.

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The Oculus evokes the essence of a mesmerising James Turrell art installation.

Our conversation with Marcello delves into his experiences, revealing unique insights into his cross-disciplinary pursuits–

Q: Marcello, thank you for taking the time to chat with us. Please introduce yourself to our readers by sharing a bit about your background, family, and the journey that led you to where you are today.

I grew up in a classic terrace house in North Carlton; we had a great childhood roaming the streets and coming home just in time for one of Mum's incredible dinners. We then moved to a more grandiose residence in North Fitzroy, and I have spent the past 17 years in Fitzroy - firstly at 200 Napier Street, a tiny but magical workers' cottage opposite the town hall and just a stone's throw from my current abode.

This little house was my first project, an anti-renovation of sorts that resulted in more of an undoing than a typical addition. The few existing walls were removed to allow the house to open itself to the garden and utilise every millimetre (laughs).

This house was the base for an ongoing series of pop-up dinners that Joe Rubbo (of Readings Bookstores) and I have been doing for years in numerous guises and locations. It is a very special place for me and is full of wonderful memories of all persuasions!

My family have run Donati's Fine Meats for over 50 years, and I have been a part of that shop since I can remember. I would work after school, weekends, and school holidays. I then studied architecture at RMIT and would probably be in the shop more than I should have, but I loved it and found it rewarding and engaging.

It has been and always will be a big part of my life. It just feels natural and right - like only a family business can.

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Marcello Donat finds solace on his balcony retreat.

Q: How do you skilfully blend the art of butchery with the world of architecture at Anon Studio? How has your intriguing background influenced your innovative approach to design, and how do these seemingly different professions inspire and influence each other?

It's funny because the two are more interconnected than you imagine. The clientele at the shop come from all walks of life, but many are interested or work in the art, design and music fields, leading to robust discussions chaired and directed by my dad, Leo. This 'education' has further propelled my ideas and interests to areas I may not have otherwise investigated. Donati's is one of the last bastions of unfiltered debate, which is all too rare nowadays.

The two contradicting professions allow me the space and time to develop and critically analyse the decisions and thought processes behind architectural work.

Q: Can you recall a significant moment or experience in your career that has profoundly impacted your growth as an architect? How did it shape your perspective and approach to design?

There are many, but one that continues to inspire me is Achille Castiglioni's studio in Milan. The playful way that Castiglioni combined existing forms, objects, and ideas by putting them together to work in a new way. He understood each element and exposed the magic of how these parts worked together to achieve the unique, surprising, combined effect. There is no part of any of his designs that is superfluous, yet they are seductive and incredibly beautiful.

This is the pinnacle of design and what separates fashion and trends from timeless quality. Ideas last longer than finishes.

Q: What is it like working on something you, too, will live in? Does it change anything about the design process? 

When things become personal, it's a whole different thing (laughs); however, in saying that I would never consider doing anything I wouldn't want or think myself living in.

Q: What is your absolute favourite part of your home?

The natural light and volume of the space are constantly in flux. The space is illuminated and animated by the surrounding natural environment. The giant iron bark trees are constantly in motion, the rainbow lorikeets cheekily play in them, and my balcony is full of terracotta pots accompanying the seasons.

The kitchen is a critical focal point as I'm obsessed with cooking and entertaining, as evidenced by the floorboards' patina in this most trafficked zone (laughs). Every surface of this huge marble kitchen surface is typically covered with food, plates and glasses when entertaining. Even though I try to keep my cooking very simple, I'm not afraid to make a mess or stain the marble (it's all a part of having natural materials that show how they've been used).

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From Marcello's balcony, a picturesque scene unfolds - ironbark trees adorned with a plumage of rainbow lorikeets.

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The ironbark trees juxtaposed against the Whitlam Apartments create a captivating natural ensemble.

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The balcony comes to life with an array of terracotta pots that transition with the changing seasons.

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Marcello's stunning kitchen, adorned with a marble bench stands as a beloved centerpiece of his home.

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Marcello's kitchen is an embodiment of natural materials, each thoughtfully showcasing their authentic applications.

Q: We are in awe of your personal collection of artworks and furniture – this plays a significant role in the interior design of the apartment. Could you delve into the process of curating it? Did it come together naturally, or was it a deliberate vision on your part?

This is a passion of mine and has developed over many years; I bought my first piece when I was 14 and have continued to collect art and furniture ever since. Some parts were chosen for this current space–but many were already owned. They form a quirky family of elements that sit well together but independently hold themselves. Most of the pieces are bought second-hand through auctions. I think the story behind these pieces is essential, and the mix of found items, personal memories and new designer things is much richer than a showroom floor (yuck!).

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Marcello's apartment is a curated masterpiece, adorned with a captivating array of artwork and furniture pieces.

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Starting his collection at 14, Marcello's passion for art and furniture has grown ever since.

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Pieces chosen for his current space blend seamlessly with cherished items from his past.

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The majority of these treasures have been acquired second-hand, each with its own unique story.

Q: What advice or tips would you offer for readers interested in starting their own art and furniture collection journey? Where should they begin, what should they search for, and where should they look?

My life is so much richer for all the searching and learning about art and furniture; I have poured over catalogues and auctions and have talked to other collectors and experts passionate about sharing their knowledge. It is so rewarding to fill your mind with images and thoughts that inspire you, and the search is endless for things that resonate. The main problem for people is that it takes years to develop an eye, and it's important to slowly build a collection and avoid getting swept up in the hype or fashions for the latest hot thing. I recommend going against the grain and looking for well-established career artists who are undervalued or classic modern furniture pieces that can be picked up at auction for a fraction of their retail price.

Above all, be open, take risks, ask questions and be patient. The difficult things will be the most rewarding.

Q: We'd love to learn more about the inspiration behind the design and architectural detailing of the Whitlam Place apartments in Fitzroy. What influenced your creative vision for this project?

There were many influences behind the design of Whitlam Place, some direct and others more subconscious. I'm attracted to strong, masculine, concrete forms that enclose spaces, curate views, and create privacy.

There are many classical elements, such as the tripartite composition of the plinth (upturned arches), semi-transparent, middle (solidity with carved openings) and top (delicate steel and glass containers wrapping around courtyards). The fluted form of the concrete panels is a direct reference to the neighbouring Town.

Hall columns and the patinated copper oxide finish sit beautifully against the tones of the redgum eucalypts that stand proudly in front. This finish will continually evolve and age with the building. This is a concept that I wanted to embrace wholeheartedly, a structure that will continue to change and develop its own patina over time.

There are also moments of whimsy and playful gestures dotted through the building that make for surprising moments.

The oculus in my penthouse is one such example. With a polished plaster interior, it registers the sun as it travels across the sky and creates a broad spectrum of colour changes depending on the angle and intensity. This awareness of the seasons and light is important to connect with your home and heightens the experience and engagement with the environment.

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The concrete panels' fluted design directly references the neighbouring town's architectural style.

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The building features delicate steel and glass enclosures that embrace the courtyards within.

Q: Can you give us a glimpse into a typical Sunday in your life? Where do you enjoy shopping, seeking inspiration, or having a leisurely bite?

As it's my only day off, I like to play up a little on Saturday night and have a slow morning on Sunday before a long, late lunch with friends.

I have always had a very open house for entertaining and sharing food, so it just naturally happens that I seem to only connect with people who love food. Friends often bring things or use my place as their kitchen, which I'm delighted to oblige. Sitting outside on the balcony under the swaying gums is blissful in the warmer months, and gathering around the fireplace is magic in the colder months.

These lunches tend to be very loose, and everyone plays a part in the process; it just happens.

If we are all still here and the light is fading, I might whip up my famous carbonara and put a movie on the projector to end the night. A great way to end a big week.

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Gathering around the fireplace is pure magic for Marcello, especially during the colder months.

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Enjoying a coffee in the morning on the balcony beneath the rustling gum trees is bliss during the warmer months.

Q: Do you have a favourite home or street in Melbourne that particularly captivates you? If so, what makes it stand out?

Napier Street, of course! To walk down Napier Street, you will experience everything that makes Fitzroy what it is. The buildings of all eras, both great and small, rub up against each other, creating a streetscape that represents all the periodic changes that Fitzroy has undergone.

This street has seen it all, studded with small parks, quirky infill housing, towering trees, schools, churches, commission flats, and the majestic Town Hall. And to finish at the much-storied Fitzroy Pool is only fitting for a street with the lot.

Q: Outside of the architectural realm, where do you find inspiration? What are your top four resources for finding inspiration and nurturing your creativity?

  1. Travel - I travelled far and wide last year, spending most of my time in Mexico and Brazil. The energy in Brazil was infectious, and I fell in love with their raw enthusiasm and cheeky passion. I saw incredible architecture, from Pualo Mendes da Rocha to Oscar Niemeyer and Luis Barragan's houses.
  2. Art - I am forever obsessing over artists and continually looking for new works to acquire.
  3. Music - I just went deep and bought myself a serious sound system, leading to a new enthusiasm for listening to things I haven't heard before.
  4. Food - I spend daily thinking about what I cook for dinner and who to share it with. What a pleasure it is to spend time with someone over a simple but considered meal and a martini - frozen gin bone dry with a twist à la Dukes Bar London.

Q: What exciting prospects lie ahead in your career and creative pursuits? Do you have any upcoming projects or collaborations that you are particularly excited about?

For the moment, I'm very happy being at the shop and consolidating my partnership with my dad. But at some point, in the future, I will pursue another project on my terms, not driven by market forces or building costs, as is the current case in the market.

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For a deeper glimpse into Marcello's life and his apartment, stay tuned to our Instagram.

*All photography captured by Joel Noon.

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