Shophouse living—the good, the bad and the highly convenient.

As broke uni students there was only one way we could afford to live in Brisbane’s West End—in a one bedroom flat above the one of the many Asian restaurants that lined the narrow, bustling streets. It was magic. We lived off cold takeaway, except for pay day when we’d duck across the road to the local farmer’s grocery store and then cook a ratatouille on the small stove in our kitchenette. With no air conditioning, in the summer we’d open the windows and lay in bed with the tumultuous sounds of city living travelling in on the humid Queensland breeze. The early shift at work meant rolling out of bed, dragging on jeans and a white shirt and heading to the cafe next door, maybe five, ten steps away. Afterward we’d jump on our bikes—because who needs a car when you live in the heart of the city—and get to uni just in time to make our 10am 20th Century Literature class.

Despite the cheap rent and the exceptional convenience, there were times living above a shop was like a splinter you need to dig at with needle. When the smell of cooking prawn crackers after a big night out made us want to reach for a bucket, or when the night before a big exam we were kept awake by party of drunken bridesmaids. Or when the only space for a friend to crash in was a blow up bed that took over the entire living room. And thank God we rode bikes because parking was a nightmare.

Mixed-use living was a blessing and a curse—back in 2001. Today mixed use developments are booming. Partly because unlike the circa 1980s shophouse we were living in—which was designed as a restaurant and the attic upstairs converted for living as an afterthought— new developments are built to cater to residents and businesses. This means soundproofing. It means adequate ventilation so a KFC could be downstairs and you wouldn’t smell it. It means dedicated resident parking so you’re not competing with business customers. It means apartment sizes that allow you to have more than two friends over.

It means all the benefits of our tiny shoebox apartment and university lifestyle with none of the problems.

And now that we’re all grownups, there’s an added benefit. There’s the potential to purchase a business space, and a home above it, which means your commute is about 30 seconds. Perfect for a Canberra winter.

We chat to Philippa who owns a home above her psychology clinic on the Gold Coast to see how living above her business impacts her day.

You’ve been living above your clinic for eight years now. What does your working day look like? 

I have a few types of working days. Most days I get out of bed at 7am, have breakfast, do all the getting dressed stuff and I’m downstairs in the office just before 8am. I generally work through to 6pm, ducking back upstairs for lunch when I’m hungry. It sounds like a long day, but I’m leaving home and returning home at around the same time as I was when I was commuting to work. I just have two more hours I can spend with clients, which equates to an extra $300 a day. That extra two hours I’m spending with clients Monday to Thursday means that Friday I knock off early without impacting my income.

So the lack of a commute has really impacted your lifestyle.

Absolutely. I choose to take my Friday afternoons off, but I could easily work them and end up with a much higher income—I’m also not paying for a tank of petrol every week. But more than that, I hated the commute. It was wasted time I’d rather spend doing something I enjoy.

Other than the lack of commute, and the extra time/money you’re getting, what are some benefits of working downstairs from where you live?

Flexibility. As a psychologist I often have clients that need to see me outside of traditional working hours. With my business downstairs, it doesn’t take a lot of effort for me to see them in the early evening or on the weekend. Where travelling to all the way to my old workplace to see someone for an hour on a Saturday took up most of my morning, now I can potter around, do the washing, vacuum, duck downstairs for an hour to see them and then get on with my day

It was also useful before the kids moved out. When they were sick and home from school I could still work, I’d just duck up every hour or so to see how they were going.

There’s also still a separation from work and home, which you don’t necessarily get if you work out of your house. I can still leave work at work. I turn off the lights, set the alarm and go home, just like everyone else. If I have been flat out and I need to spend some of my weekend writing case notes, I don’t bring that into my living space; I just go downstairs.

I also don’t need to worry about the safety aspect of working from home; there are no clients in my house and they don’t know where I live. This was particularly important for me when the kids were at home, and because of my line of work.

What made you think of buying in a mixed use development?

It was the money. It’s expensive to operate out of someone else’s clinic. It was expensive to buy my own office also, but at least I’m increasing my capital. And when the time comes to scale down my practice, I’ve got the option of renting it out to someone else and receiving income that way.

Is there anything you would change?

Not about the location of my practice—that’s got nothing but positives, except I guess when the air conditioner broke and I needed a new one. Like owning your own home, you’re responsible for all the maintenance. There are times—particularly around tax time, or when I go overseas for a holiday and there’s no money coming in—that I fantasize about the perks of working for someone else. But in all honestly, there’s nothing I’d do different once I made the decision to own my own business. It’s too convenient to regret anything.

Mixed use developments are cropping up all over Canberra. In Kingston’s Green Square there’s the new Atria development, Googong sports Vista, and the Kingston Foreshore is about to be home to an exciting new development with plenty of shophouse opportunities. Follow Perspective to find out more when it launches or email projects@independent.com.au

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