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May 28, 2015

Common good

In the north-western pocket of the city, student concert pianist and music teacher Kenan Henderson has achieved a rare trifecta – CBD living, elegant furnishing, and an engaged lifestyle - all on a student budget.

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  • Words: Johnny Von Einem
  • Pictures: Jonathan van der Knaap

Looking out from Kenan Henderson’s balcony, the hallmarks of different stages of Adelaide history are laid out; to the right, the Grace Emily stands stoically where it was built in 1839, next to a recently closed Suzuki warehouse.


For further information on the support available from Common Ground visit

In the other direction, South Australia’s first kindergarten – built in 1906 and until recently home to a security company – sits empty while the next tenants are found.

Looking back into Kenan’s home, the character of the streetscape is reflected inside with the ornate beauty of his ageing furniture politely interrupting the clean lines of his modern apartment.

“I had been subconsciously inspired by the early 20th century feel of the area,” Kenan says of his decorating.

“Around here [it] feels much more relaxed, and I guess what we would see as Adelaide-y. I just had an interest in sort of paring back things, as to what’s really at the heart of the space and the area.”

The lounge is at once stylish and obviously lived-in

The lounge is at once stylish and obviously lived-in

Sourcing the majority of his furniture from auction sites like Gumtree and collecting the items directly from their previous owners allowed Kenan to share in their history.

Everything has a story – the angular lamp, which was bought from an eccentric Frenchman; the coffee table, made from a tree cut down in its maker’s backyard; the narrow desk in the back corner, once a family heirloom, but sold after falling victim to wood burrowing insects.

The room’s focal piece, an intricately detailed sideboard, started life a century ago.

“I got [it] quite cheaply from a lady who was just trying to get rid of it,” says Kenan.

“This was something that had been in her family for 100 years, and she gave me this whole story about how her grandfather had bought it for their grandmother on their wedding day.

“It was made here in Adelaide, there’s a sticker on the back from a company – I think it was [on] Rundle Street.”

Details like these flowers contrast the wood-heavy material palette

Details like these flowers contrast the wood-heavy material palette

There is one noticeable absence in the concert pianist’s home – a piano, which makes proximity to university facilities an important feature of the apartment.

With the Elder Conservatorium just off North Terrace only a 10 minute bike ride away, it’s fortunate Kenan was able to find cheap accommodation within the CBD. His apartment is rented through Common Ground, a not-for-profit organisation set up to provide affordable housing opportunities to low-income earners and people at risk of homelessness.

“I applied and I said ‘look, I’m not earning all that much money, but it would be great if I could live in the city,’ and they brought me in and said ‘you seem like a suitable candidate for this,’” says Kenan.

“I basically live at uni anyway. I practice at uni; I don’t have a piano here, so I have to go there. It has been really wonderful to get an opportunity to economise and be able to have everything in the one space.

“I feel really lucky as a student … that I’m provided for in this way by Common Ground, so yeah, I feel really blessed actually.”

None of the opportunities afforded to Kenan are being wasted.

As a student, he’s an active presence on campus, pragmatic in encouraging his younger contemporaries to engage more with their classical music studies. He’s part of a group that organises regular, casual masterclasses where students gather to play and give each other feedback before heading out for dinner.

Kenan speaks passionately of connecting the next generation to classical music while standing in a room lined with pieces of classical furniture and classical music memorabilia, in an apartment that looks out over a classical side of the city. It’s apparent that he is a man in his element.

“I imagine, for myself, there might be a bit more travelling interstate or overseas in the future, but Adelaide will always be home,” he says.

For the good of Adelaide and the future of its classical music scene, CityMag hopes so.

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