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Something to hold on to: at home with painter Vicki Lee

"Beauty is a feeling. The scent, the colours, the flowers, the food, the drinks, the art – I feel excited to be alive when I strip everything but the senses back.”

Painter Vicki Lee has spent her entire life in pursuit of creative expression. “When I think back on my childhood, one of the strongest memories I have is constantly wanting to make things. I would obsess over a piece of rope and collect shoe laces and string to make something with it at the end of the week.” But the path to artistic liberation wasn’t without its necessary detours – Lee spent a stint as a practicing solicitor, and then fashion designer, before gravitating back towards her roots, “making things based on the feeling”.



A desire to cultivate a world imbued with feeling compelled her to open her eponymous Surry Hills gallery space in 2019, and it continues throughout the North Bondi home she’s created with her husband, photographer and collaborator Ted O’Donnell, and their two daughters, Yokie and Opia. “Our little nook is kid heaven,” she describes. “The beach is a few [minute’s] walk and there are parks on every corner.”



A true painter’s canvas, the house’s whitewashed walls are adorned with works of great sentiment – an Edward Weston print on one side (“I always see landscapes in his female nudes”), a Paige Northwood painting on another (“I get a lift when I look at this work because of its deep connection to the land”). “We have an artwork that Yokie and I did together,” Lee says. “I tell her that the skill of a painting, and of life, is knowing when to charge forward and knowing when to stop. She doesn’t listen to me, of course. I love it. Knowledge can only really come from making all the mistakes yourself first.”



“I caught Opia scribbling over our Ryan McGinley print with a sharpie. I had it reframed, of course, but you get the idea. Nothing can stay chic in our home with the wild ones running around.”

More proof of feeling is evidenced in the coloured flecks of paint dotted throughout the house, “No matter how hard I try, I can’t seem to contain myself when there is paint around. It’s an unhealthy urge to spill it,” she explains. As well as in the use of scent to shape the energy of the home. “The way a space smells is everything, it sets the tone. We almost always have coffee on the stove,” Lee says. “I am loving the Korean Red Cedar incense by Subtle Bodies. Ted shot a video for Dior in the Dior house in Grasse and brought me back a candle that was Picasso’s favourite scent when he used to stay in the manor. Every time I light it, it is a special moment.”



In perhaps the most obvious indication of Lee and O’Donnell’s passion and profession, the living space is brimming with art and photography books – a long-time obsession for the pair. “I was addicted to buying coffee table books in my 20s. It was my go-to when I had a terrible week or a bad break up. I would justify it because it is better than spending the money on alcohol,” Lee recalls. “One time I was in Paris and had just seen the Gerhard Richter show at the Pompidou and I had forgotten my wallet. I had just enough cash for either one ticket to Richter and a ride home or one ticket to Richter and the Viviane Sassen In and Out of Fashion book. Of course, I bought the book and walked for almost two hours to get back to my hotel.”


“Ted and I love to have other artists’ work hanging in our home. We have a couple of pieces we love together of our work, ones that trigger a beautiful memory of when it was made.”



But despite the memories derived from possessions they have “slowly and often accidently” acquired, the true warmth of this home is down to something deeper. “When I come home, I feel the love of our family in our cute little spot in the world. Technically, our home is interchangeable. It is the love that I come home to.”


“The ceilings are original art deco engraved. The level of detail in the ceiling is beautiful. It reminded me of apartments in Paris.”