How Ceramicist Tantri Mustika Transformed a Studio Apartment Into An Art Deco Paradise

Welcome to The Makers. Each week, we celebrate innovators, artisans and crafters of all types by taking you on a private tour of their creative spaces.  For this instalment,  we head to Melbourne, where ceramicist Tantri Mustika lives in a sun-drenched studio apartment. 

Tantri Mustika was never supposed to be living in this flat. The ceramicist wasn’t even supposed to be looking at it when, late last year, she went to a viewing “on a whim,” she recalls.

Sure, Mustika was looking to move. But this gem of an art deco studio apartment in East Melbourne was well out of her price range. Which made it so much harder when Mustika walked through the door and instantly knew this had to be her home. “I mean, it has a bloody curved wall and a tiny arched nook,” she enthuses. “It’s an art deco dream that ticked all the boxes aesthetics-wise – and all the practical stuff too.”

Cut to many frantic conversations with the real estate agent, negotiating the price down, and in November, Mustika picked up the keys to the apartment. “If I could stay here forever, I totally would,” she exclaims.

The studio flat is small but perfectly formed, with big windows overlooking a small nook off the main room, where Mustika has installed a long table and bench, fitted specifically for the space and finished in black and white mosaic. As this is a rental, all of Mustika’s improvements are temporary, but she thought this one out perfectly: the table doubles as a breakfast spot, a home office and an aperitif corner for sundowners. And given the flat’s lack of storage space, the bench doubles as a hideaway for everything she doesn’t have room to keep on display.

Mustika has styled the interiors carefully, making intelligent use of the apartment’s existing space. A cosy ochre-coloured couch slots perfectly along one wall, facing the bed made with Bed Threads linen in Oatmeal and Terracotta, while a beloved chest of drawers, restored courtesy of a labour of DIY love many years ago, sits in one corner. Along the mantelpiece, Mustika has arranged some of her enviable ceramics collection.

She is always looking to add more ceramic pieces to her home. “But I truly don’t think I have any space for anything else in my house currently,” she admits. Though, she does have one thing on her wishlist: “I do really so badly want a Calacatta Viola marble Harpers project coffee table,” she reveals. “A gal can dream, right? Maybe when I grow up I can have one.”

Hi Tantri! This series is called The Makers. What is it that you make?

I make ceramic homewares and functional sculptural pieces, most commonly recognised by my colourful terrazzo inspired finishes and clay marbling.

How does the act of “making” relate to your personality and who you are?

I started making ceramics as a way to combat day to day stress and anxiety. I can be quite frantic as all of the people close to me know very well, so I find that making with my hands really grounds me and can centre me when things feel like they are a bit all over the place. I have realised over time then the less I make things with my hands, the more flustered I become in general. I would say for me, making things with my hands is almost a method of active meditation.

My work reflects so many different moods that I may be in whilst making, so sometimes my pieces are really bright and full of lots of colours and other times I make subdued, simple and neutral toned works. I think this kind of working style means that my work is always changing batch to batch and often I end up with lots of random pieces in the mix as I usually make something that I have seen in my dreams fairly quickly to get the idea out of my head and into reality. These then either make the cut to be explored more or simply become a marquet of a thought/idea passing or a stamp of a particular time.

Tell us about your career journey to date. Did you always know you wanted to pursue this line of work?

I had absolutely NO idea that I would ever be doing ceramics as my job! I was working as a hairdresser when I finished school and after over a decade of hairdressing, I felt the creative spark for me had been lost.

I was seeking a hands-on hobby and I stumbled across clay. Soon after I was completely obsessed and I guess I just never stopped mucking around with the stuff! I enrolled myself into a couple of short courses and obsessively made ceramics in all of my spare time. Soon enough I had made some pieces I was really proud of and I decided to make a website (100% thinking nothing would come of it!) and people ACTUALLY bought things!

Next, stockist emails started flooding in and within a year I had narrowed my hours at my job down to only two days to free up my time for ceramics until finally I just had to take a leap of faith and quit my day job to pursue ceramics! That's the really cut-down version of what happened, but truly it has been a WILD journey! My business turns four years old in June and I am pinching myself that in such a short time I have ended up in my dream studio space and have a little retail store plus I get to teach people the thing that I love doing the most! IT’S CRAZY!

Shop Tantri's look with Oatmeal and Terracotta in our Build Your Own Bundle.

Talk us through your creative process. Where do you start?

Usually I come up with new ideas in my dreams or in the middle of the night when I can’t sleep or as I am making... An idea of a different way to do something, a new shape or a variation of something existing will come up. I then will always do a really quick scribbly sketch to get the idea out of my head and often a few days later I will get a chance to sit down and revisit the scribbles. I will refine the ideas into a few more considered drawings with more in-depth notes.

I then usually make a first version of the piece and once fully fired I spend time with it (often take new things home and just live with them for a while to see how I feel about the piece) and think about how I could make variations of the idea. This is how most of my new works or ideas come to life. The most important thing for me in my process is at the end of the day I have to LOVE what I am making. Otherwise it feels a bit pointless to me, so I guess this is why I had this mad stretched out way of living with the ideas before they actually make it to becoming a collection of works.

What’s been the single most crucial tool or strategy you’ve used to further your business?

So lame but honestly: Instagram! I pretty much don’t know how I would have started a business without it.. Like.. How did people do it before???? I think just being able to show what I am up to in a candid way as well as connecting with people and being able to have conversations with real people about what they like or don’t like has been a huge power tool! I wouldn’t say I am very strategic with anything I do really.. I just kind of do it as I am going, but Insta is definitely the way I have connected with so many individuals and businesses it’s truly wild how small the world is on that platform.

What’s been the most challenging lesson learnt so far in your business?

Learning how to achieve healthy work/life balance (admittedly still trying to figure this out) and realising my own limits. I have to essentially retrain myself to say no sometimes. After years of pushing yourself to burn out it becomes unsustainable to keep saying yes to absolutely everything and overextending yourself. Exhaustion suffocates creativity, something I constantly have to remind myself of.

What’s been the best thing that’s happened to you since you started your business?

Definitely finding myself with the opportunity to move my studio to Collingwood Yards and opening a shop! 

Do you have a single piece of advice you’d give to your younger self or someone looking to pursue a similar line of work?

Follow your gut and don’t take on negativity from external sources. Just don’t listen to that stuff. Be yourself (something that is naturally always evolving – that’s normal). Don’t look too much at what everyone else is doing, work hard and be confident in your abilities. It's the only way to meet your true potential! (Soooo corny I know, but so true!)

ALSO! You’re never too old and it’s never too late to just try something new so just DO IT!!! Especially if it makes you feel happy. That's more than a single piece of advice but hey, there’s so many things I wish I could have told the younger me it’s not even funny!

Shop Tantri's look with Oatmeal and Terracotta in our Build Your Own Bundle.

Now, the home stuff. How did you initially know this was the space for you?

I just got ‘THAT’ feeling. As soon as I walked in the door I KNEW I wanted to live here. I actually looked at it on a whim thinking I couldn't reeeeaaalllyyyy afford it if I was being sensible, but as soon as I stepped through the front door I just needed to make it mine and I bargained the real estate agent down and compromised on my budget a little and that was that!

Did you do any renovations or make any big changes after moving in?

This is a rental property so although I couldn't make any changes to the house I did build myself a breakfast nook specifically measured out and made to fit into the little space I had to work with. I had to think about maximising the small space to its full potential and although it could have ended up being something completely different in style to what it is, I had to think about how I could make something that I felt was pleasing to look at and live with, but also served a practical purpose. Both the table and bench seat have hidden storage!

What was the thought process behind the way you’ve styled the interior?

I wanted somewhere that makes me feel inspired to be in and feels homely. Somewhere that I can be comfortable and relaxed. I am so busy working that when it comes to enjoying my home space I want to spend minimal time cleaning, so getting organised has been a key feature to this particular house.

Storage is very minimal so I had to be a bit creative and create hidden places for things that are functional but not particularly nice to look at. These cute to look at additions definitely make it easier to keep clean and tidy. In terms of the ‘aesthetic’ of my home.. I guess it's evolved as it's pretty much a collection of things I have collected over the years and haven’t grown tired of. I would say the style is a bit of a mish-mash of all different kinds of things from all different eras that somehow come together in a way that works in the end.

What are your favourite pieces in the home?

My chest of drawers that I saved from about twelve layers of paint. Restoring it was quite the traumatic DIY undertaking, but for a $50 op shop find she turned out alright. After SO many hours spent scraping, sanding and getting mad at an inanimate object I will NEVER ever get rid of it!!!

My mosaiced breakfast/WFH/storage nook that I made for myself especially to fit into the tiny space, and my colourful boucherouite rug.

Shop Tantri's look with our Rust bath and hand towels.

Which is your favourite room in the house?

I live in a studio apartment so I guess the whole place is my favourite room! Haha! I do really love the ‘living room’ area on a sunny afternoon though. The couch gets a good sun drenching in the afternoons. I would say that's a pretty nice spot to be if I am lucky enough to be home at the right time.

What are your top tips for a well-styled bedroom, and home generally?

Keep it simple. It’s a sleep sanctuary so only have the things that you absolutely need in there and a couple of pieces that you really love and not much else. For the rest of the home, I like styling a space so it is lived in yet simple. Do what makes you feel happy rather than styling to trends or what a magazine or a blog says your house SHOULD look like. Inject your own personal style and character by having your collected treasures and beloved belongings throughout your space.

I always like a splash of colour amongst neutrals. I feel this creates a nice visual balance in your home and keeps it calm whilst still being fun! Lastly I find that living plants always tie it all together. One thing that I ALWAYS look for when I look for a home is good lighting! You can pretty much work anything with good natural light!

Do you have any projects coming up you want to talk about?

We are finally holding workshops again in the studio! So If you’ve been thinking of getting your hands into some clay watch this space! Also, my new retail store is now open at Collingwood Yards so if you’re in the area, come and say hi!

For more from Tantri, follow her at @tantrimustikaceramics and tantrimustikaceramics.com

Love this home tour? Colour and Creativity Rule In Designer Susan Alexandra's New York City Apartment

Discover more of Australia's most beautiful homes in our series, The Makers.

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