Posts tagged Melbourne
A Warehouse Conversion with an Edge

Pitch Architecture + Developments has transformed a remnant of Richmond’s industrial past into their bright and social new office space

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Located on a tranquil tree-lined thoroughfare among residential homes in Melbourne’s vibrant and multicultural Richmond, an old commercial kitchen warehouse has been converted into an open-plan and characterful office space by and for Pitch Architecture + Developments. ‘As architects, we spend a lot of our time in the office, creating, drawing and problem solving. It’s important that the staff work in a functional and relaxing environment so they can feel comfortable and relaxed enough to create, push boundaries and maximise their potential,’ says Alex Chan, business director of Pitch.

A large graffiti mural by local street artist SET IT OFF of Maddie, Jedy and Betty, the company directors Bo and Alex’s three dogs, adorns the building’s exterior. ‘Our approach to work is accurate but easy going at the same time, the journey in architecture and construction is often demanding, so why not enjoy ourselves in the meantime,’ Chan shares when asked about the mural.

Inside, the design team has created an open-plan layout with a large kitchen and a games room, with most of the first floor space reserved for a communal relaxation area, all of which reflects the studio’s character and philosophy of ‘relaxed, efficient and collaborative with a flat office structure’.

The bare concrete surfaces were replaced with organic design features such as a curving stairwell, a raised platform floor of raw birch plywood and a large cylindrical void that feeds natural light into the main office space.

The pared back and simple palette was chosen to highlight the site. ‘Being in an old commercial kitchen warehouse, we wanted to use natural materials to reflect the rawness of the existing fabric of the space, while using the natural tone and texture of the materials to add warmth and diversity to the space,’ Chan explains. ‘Birch plywood flooring, joinery and wall panelling pair with natural seagrass sisal flooring to create a strong contrast with the existing brick walls and give a warm and relaxed vibe.’


‘We love the rawness and natural changes of these materials over time. The unpredictable nature of marble patterns and plywood’s variations through colours and tones make us appreciate that no one piece is the same. In some way, this is also how we see every staff, client and job as different from one another; we appreciate and celebrate the differences,’ Chan concludes.

Text / Babette Radclyffe-Thomas
Images / Ben Hosking

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Beauty in Imperfection

Melbourne-based Taiwanese contemporary artist Zhu Ohmu explores the concept of slowness and the handmade in an era of instant gratification and mass production

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Taipei-born Zhu Ohmu (born in 1989) graduated with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in 2011, in Auckland, New Zealand, before moving to Australia, where she currently lives and works. Despite having no formal training in ceramics, it has become her primary means of expression and investigation.

One of Ohmu’s major projects is Plantsukuroi, a series of sculptural vessels with fascinating fluid forms. Inspired by the concept of biomimicry, the artist used her hands to imitate the process of 3D printing, unveiling unique creations as a result. ‘My hands are able to build forms that the present-day ceramics 3D printer can’t. This is because humans are capable of the patience, care and inquisitiveness necessary for an intimate relationship with clay,’ she explains.

This approach embraces the Japanese philosophy of wabi-sabi, in which accepting imperfection is a basic principle. ‘It’s a worldview where the considerations of beauty contrast with the Western ideals of grandness and flawlessness, and contrast to the current throw-away culture where disposables are favoured over durable goods that can be repaired,’ Ohmu explains. ‘I think wabi-sabi can teach us to tread lightly on this earth, and challenge us to step out of consumerist thinking.’

Inspired by nature, the internet and ideas from the past, the artist — who also works in photography and paper- and web-based mediums — is particularly interested in ‘what it means to live in the Anthropocene, the current geological age where human activity has been the dominant influence on the Earth’s ecosystems.’ Conscious of the big challenges of our time, and especially the ecological ones, Ohmu creates to impact others. Even if the objects she makes are indisputably mesmerising, the purpose of Ohmu’s work goes far beyond the grace of its aesthetics. It is art that questions, and its creator hopes to spread awareness about the future of society and humanity.

Text / Karine Monié
Images / Courtesy of Zhu Ohmu

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Calm & Collected

Architect Paul Conrad’s family home is an elegant and ordered take on a classic townhouse

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In Malvern, a leafy inner suburb of Melbourne filled with late Victorian and Edwardian houses, architect Paul Conrad – director of architecture and interior design firm Conrad Architects – took inspiration from classic townhouses ranging from the Georgian architecture of Bath to the Neo-classicism of London, to redesign his family home. The result is an understated, contemporary spin on a classic style.

‘The design approach is contemporary in style but influenced by a broad spectrum of historical references,’ Conrad explains. Being his family home, it also reflects the architect’s personal tastes. ‘Hornsby Residence is particularly special to me, and being both architect and client it was an amazing opportunity to deliver on my vision without too much compromise.’

Conrad’s vision for the house follows a highly controlled grid pattern defined by a colonnade, with distinctive axial paths of movement through the house and between internal to external areas. ‘The geometry of the floor plan, the orientation of the rooms, and the quality of natural light they received were the most critical elements to the design,’ he says. There are two primary zones: a formal area in the front and an informal area to the rear. Sets of French doors open out onto the external areas to create a flow between indoor and outdoor spaces, such as the front courtyard which acts as an extension of the formal living room and the rear courtyard used for entertaining.

Though all the rooms share a pared back aesthetic, according to Conrad, ‘there was a strong desire to create a different mood in each of them.’ This is perhaps most evident in the juxtaposition between the formal and informal living rooms, where Conrad used varying ceiling heights, floor levels, lighting fixtures and windows to effect. A more vertical proportion was created in the formal living room by tightening the plan dimensions and raising the ceiling height. The room was structured according to a symmetrical plan – the fireplace, furniture and even the trees in the adjacent courtyard, all sit on a central symmetrical axis. On the other hand, in the informal living room, he raised the floor to compress the ceiling height and brought in less formal furniture pieces to create a more intimate ambiance.

A neutral materials and colour palette runs throughout the home, reflecting what Conrad describes as ‘restraint and an attraction to natural materials that improve with age.’ Materials such as marble and natural oak were chosen for their sense of calm minimalism.

The home’s subdued ambiance is enhanced by the artworks that fill the space, such as a single-line drawing by Frederic Forest which hangs in the bathroom. ‘I love the way the work explores exactly the same ideas as the space in which it sits,’ Conrad shares. An artwork by Shannon McGrath and Marcus Piper that explores the interplay of light echoes the architect’s own characteristic use of light.

From its considered layout to the muted palette and well-curated design and art pieces, the Hornsby Residence melds a classical appreciation of beauty and detail with strong lines and a minimalist aesthetic. Conrad offers his own conclusion: ‘‘The aesthetic could be described as having a contemporary expression, a classical sense of rhythm, a Georgian sense of proportion, a minimalist expression of detail, with a European layering of texture and material.’

Text / Babette Radclyffe-Thomas
Images / Derek Swalwell

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Q&A with Clare Cousins

The Melbourne-based architect talks with Design Anthology about problem solving and design thinking, sustainable housing and heritage

Clare Cousins. Photo by Jes Lindsay

Clare Cousins. Photo by Jes Lindsay

Aesop, Fitzroy. Photo by Trevor Mein

Aesop, Fitzroy. Photo by Trevor Mein

For its 2018 iteration, Business of Design Week in Hong Kong partnered with the city of Melbourne, inviting a host of venerable Melburnians to contribute to a week-long programme organised around the theme ‘Think · Collaborate · Create’. Among these was Clare Cousins, who just last year was awarded the American Institute of Architect’s Presidential Medal.

Cousins established her eponymous studio in 2005, and since then she has designed projects of varying scale and purpose. Cousins was also one of the first investors in Nightingale Housing, a sustainable multi-residential housing model. Here, the architect leads the project as both designer and developer. She has recently undertaken, along with seven other practices in Melbourne, her own Nightingale project within the city’s Nightingale Village Development in Brunswick. She is also the National President of the Australian Institute of Architects.

Design Anthology: Your work spans residential, cultural and commercial spaces. Are there common themes that run throughout these, and conversely, what differences in approach do these three types of spaces require?

Clare Cousins: I think the commonality is the process that we go through. I don’t see aesthetic or material patterns in our residential work, but we have a method that runs throughout: the analytics, the listening to the nuances of a brief, the context, the constraints, the budget and the sustainability initiatives. For us, that process is important. Whether it be a small institutional project, a house or an apartment building, the process doesn't really change. I think that's where an architect should use their design thinking, to analyse the needs and then piece together a kind of three-dimensional jigsaw puzzle to solve a problem. I think problem-solving and design thinking is what’s really exciting. Then there’s the tenacity and the patience required to start a project and deliver it often four or five years later — I think that’s interesting.  

Very rarely do we have a ‘light bulb moment’. Our work is very iterative and consultative; we always have the end-user in mind. And if we're designing a space and we don’t know who the end-user is going to be, then we think of ourselves as the end-users and ask ourselves if it’s somewhere we would like to live or work. That’s such an important perspective, but it’s not used all the time. Sometimes there’s more of a focus on aesthetics or materials. And while we want our spaces to be beautiful, it's not our primary objective.

For me, a successful project is when we reflect on the building and observe its simplicity and appreciate the logical and thoughtful approach. It can take us a long time to arrive at that point. To me, that’s evidence that a design really works — when it looks almost effortless.

How did you approach Nightingale Housing, and what issues specific to the Australian context does the project address?

I think a lot of the issues Nightingale addresses are global issues too. For example, affordability in urban areas is a challenge. In Australia, unlike in European or even Asian cities where space is a premium, we’ve been spoilt with space so there’s an embedded desire to live in a house as opposed to an apartment. The challenge is to reframe apartment living as something desirable, not just for younger and older people but for everyone.

I was drawn to the project for many reasons, one of them being the challenge to provide the amenities of a house within an apartment. I think good design can deliver more efficient, smaller spaces, with efficient storage and all the qualities that you need in a home but without unnecessary wasted space. Nightingale was born out of the first case study of such an apartment, because there was an amazing appetite for it; people hadn’t seen this before. Nightingale Housing is the brainchild of Jeremy McLeod (founding director of Breathe Architecture) who reflects on Scandinavian apartments from the 60s, which were simple, egalitarian, sustainable and robust.  

In order for apartments to have low running costs, we’ve incorporated embedded networks to purchase wholesale renewable energy, incorporated large solar arrays, and shared facilities like a communal laundry area on the roof. Nightingale is about the fundamentals that make a great place to live and community.

I think the architect-as-developer model is interesting. If the developers are selling things that they think people want, then you’re offering something that’s based on a different set of values, one that’s not necessarily driven by profit but is meeting actual needs.

There was a pattern where developers were listening to real estate agents instead of architects. They were looking at historical sales and the criteria of property valuations, like the number of bathrooms and so on. Nightingale challenges that. We asked, ‘Do you need two bathrooms? Or would you prefer one well-designed family bathroom?’ And even if there were multiple bedrooms in the house, everyone said yes. That’s not for everybody, but what’s liberating is the ability to think about homes in a different way. We have the opportunity to do things differently and put the occupants first rather than the marketing or sales and profit, and actually ask people what they want.

This project seems like it could meet the needs of people living in many major world cities where space is limited and urban density growing. What advice would you give to architects in other cities in terms of implementing a model like Nightingale Housing?

We want to emphasise sharing of intellectual property; one of the principles behind Nightingale is that other architects wouldn’t have to start from scratch. This was about creating a shared collective community, banding together as architects and sharing what we’ve learned and the work that we’ve done. There’s a huge amount of work and intellectual property that's gone into Nightingale, even in terms of governance and financial structures and the finer workings. I think it’s important to communicate and share that information, and my advice would be to tap into the network and resources available.

As National President of the Australian Institute of Architects, what are some key themes or common concerns you see arising?

I’ve travelled quite extensively this year, to Europe, Asia and the US, and what’s interesting is how global the profession’s issues are. While issues vary based on the scale of practice, there are common issues in larger practices, particularly with procurement and how the services of architects are sought.    

Procurement of architecture has a new focus on risk mitigation whereas the focus should be on the quality outcome of projects. In Australia, on large projects, most architects are novated to the builder during the design development stage of the project. The architect’s new ‘client’ is the builder and the architect no longer has a formal relationship with the original client. Speed, cost and risk seem to be the main priorities, which is a concern for the profession and for the built environment as a whole.

We need to use architects’ expertise in design thinking to solve problems – sometimes the outcome might not be a building, but the need for more open space. Architects are concerned with the built environment, advocating for what people and communities need.

Another issue, one that’s perhaps different to Europe, is the lack of value placed on the longevity or legacy of our older buildings and public buildings. We’ve been advocating for the preservation of modern heritage buildings, which we’re calling ‘new heritage’ because they're not antique but they’re important public buildings. Policy makers and politicians are becoming flippant with the desire for new buildings and projects.  It’s really important that procurers of buildings, be they public or otherwise, think long-term and look at how these buildings will serve the community in 50 or 100 years. It’s important that they are flexible so that they can be adjusted to people’s needs, rather than knocked down and replaced. We also have examples of mid-century, modernist and brutalist buildings of which very few are protected. We’ve been advocating that architecture is intrinsic to the cultural fabric of a city. Think about Venice: the architecture there is so evocative and emotive.

I think all cities struggle with the tension between heritage and growth or development, because we have density and population growth, but aside from that it’s easier and quicker to build something new than it is to restore and develop something. And so, we have to remind policymakers and decision-makers the importance of preserving our cultural fabric. People generally appreciate the intrinsic value in preserving beautiful old homes, even though it’s often cheaper to rebuild than renovate. They can be adapted to incorporate more natural light to allow for contemporary living.  We need to remind people of the importance of preserving these buildings because once they're gone you can't recreate them.

As told to / Simone Schultz
Images / Courtesy of Clare Cousins Architects

Brick House. Photo by Shannon McGrath

Brick House. Photo by Shannon McGrath

Brick House. Photo by Shannon McGrath

Brick House. Photo by Shannon McGrath

Aesop, Fitzroy. Photo by Trevor Mein

Aesop, Fitzroy. Photo by Trevor Mein

Flinders High Noon. Photo by Shannon McGrath

Flinders High Noon. Photo by Shannon McGrath

Flinders High Noon. Photo by Shannon McGrath

Flinders High Noon. Photo by Shannon McGrath

Aesop, Fitzroy. Photo by Trevor Mein

Aesop, Fitzroy. Photo by Trevor Mein

Flinders High Noon. Photo by Shannon McGrath

Flinders High Noon. Photo by Shannon McGrath

Kerferd Road. Photo by Lisbeth Grosmann

Kerferd Road. Photo by Lisbeth Grosmann

Nightingale. Photo courtesy of CCA

Nightingale. Photo courtesy of CCA

The Channel. Photo by Shannon McGrath

The Channel. Photo by Shannon McGrath

The Channel. Photo by Shannon McGrath

The Channel. Photo by Shannon McGrath

Q&A with Meaghan Dwyer

Principal at John Wardle Architects Meaghan Dwyer spoke with Design Anthology about place and space design, and how architecture contributes to the social, cultural and economic fabric of a city

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The recent 2018 edition of Business of Design Week saw Hong Kong partner with the city of Melbourne under the theme Think · Collaborate · Create. As a Principal at Sydney- and Melbourne-based John Wardle Architects, Dwyer’s practice is exemplary of these thematic pillars. Here she gives insights into how the practice works across education, cultural and public sectors to embrace and enrich a project’s broader context.

What does the term ‘Civic Generosity’ mean for you as an architect?

‘Civic Generosity’ is a phrase that is used constantly in our practice. It refers to the priority we place on creating buildings that make a positive contribution to the public realm. We believe that every project should in some way improve the public life of the city, regardless of its type or scale. It’s just as possible for a commercial project to provide a new public space, or make a sensitive response to heritage fabric as it is for a public library to do so. 

A recent example of this is the nearly complete Ian Potter Southbank Centre, the new home of the Melbourne Conservatorium of Music. The passer-by can see directly into the main orchestral rehearsal space through a series of windows to the public street: a series of small porthole-like windows are positioned at varying heights across the front facade; a six-metre-wide oculus allows views into the main orchestral rehearsal space; a large timber shutter that rolls into place can be opened and closed at the whim of the concert master. 

As a Principal at John Wardle Architects you have led several projects focused on the arts: art galleries, schools of art and architecture, and buildings for the visual and performing arts. How do you approach and design buildings that inspire creativity? And in terms of education, how can a structure enhance learning?

Our practice has indeed been fortunate to design many buildings for the visual and performing arts, and creative industries – while we don’t set out to inspire creativity necessarily, it’s interesting for us to think about our work this way.

Our practice doesn’t take a formulaic approach to design, instead we undertake a fluid creative process that allows us to draw threads from our past work, while all the time weaving in new ideas. We do this within a framework of shared values; perhaps there’s a natural affinity between with the way we work and the creative pursuits of our clients. We always begin by listening carefully to the client in order to understand their aspirations. It’s also second nature for us to think about how the building will inspire and delight those who’ll eventually be using it.  

We have an interest in all kinds of making, not just the way materials are bought together during construction, but also in the methods of the artist and craftsperson, and indeed contemporary fabrication methods. We explore history and respond carefully to the specific characteristics of the locale in which we design, and we share our projects through articulating narratives that can be easily grasped.

Our practice has completed numerous projects for many universities across Australia over nearly two decades. Over this time our work has evolved in pace with the remarkable transition that has occurred as Australian universities see an increase in student numbers, and grapple with the shift to online or blended learning. The imperative to attract and retain staff and students has never been greater. And so, the university campus is evolving. The library, for example is no longer a repository for a book collection, but a place where students go to be part of a learning community and to access a much wider array of resources

Our Melbourne School of Design project explored the concept of ‘built pedagogy’, which is the ability of built form to be an implicit teaching tool. As the home for the Faculty of Architecture, Building and Planning, this building is the site of learning for our future built environment professionals. The vast design hall that sits at the center of this building is enclosed with a roof constructed solely from timber and glass – an exemplar of the emerging timber construction technology at that time. A series of sensors throughout the building monitor carbon dioxide levels to provide data for a long-range study of indoor air quality. Services and structure are intermittently revealed, and the scribbled markings of the steel fabricator are left on the underside of a stair. A wing of the building that cantilevers over an external workshop demonstrates the maximum extent that can be safely engineered – an important lesson for young architects!

I like the concept of ‘explanatory buildings’. Could you speak about the concept, and why it’s important for you to distil the project’s purpose into the design? 

We coined the phrase ‘explanatory building’ to describe a building that reveals or frames an aspect of their inner workings. This idea is closely aligned with the concept of ‘civic generosity’ in that an explanatory building contributes to the public life of the city through improving legibility and providing visual contact between those within the building and the passer-by. 

This concept has struck a chord particularly with universities because it’s very much aligned with their aspiration to open their campuses out to the street, and engage more closely with industry and community. While the university sector has led this transition toward transparency, we are seeing other institutions follow. Our recent work in the health and justice sectors in particular demonstrates a similar preoccupation.

Conversely, do you find people using the buildings in ways that you hadn’t intended or considered?

We appreciate the importance of designing robust buildings that can accommodate change over time; afterall, there is nothing more certain than change. Our buildings, particularly those we design for universities, often have large areas that can be reconfigured and so we see endless iterations of how a space might be utilised. Other spaces, studios, workshops, galleries and the like, are also designed with some capacity to respond to different needs. The studio becomes a gallery for the end-of-year exhibition. The workshop is used to fabricate small handheld models and full-size prototypes. We often think of these kinds of spaces as providing a shell that is completed by the activities that take place within.   

It also happens that people use our buildings in unexpected ways. Fortunately, the outcomes can often be considered a measure of success! It seems that the Melbourne School of Design has become the preferred place of informal study for students of all faculties, not just those of the Faculty of Architecture, Building and Planning. 

The Learning and Teaching Building at Monash University is used for formal teaching during the day, and it stays open to students over extended hours for informal study. What we hadn’t considered was that students would stay in the building all evening, and order UberEats for dinner – every night there’s a steady stream of deliveries arriving at the front door! 

With reference to Macquarie Point in Tasmania and the idea of ‘cultural industries’, how do these work to regenerate neighbourhoods and bring people back in?

Macquarie Point is immediately adjacent to Sullivans Cove, the location of the original Hobart settlement, and a short distance from the city centre. The nine-hectare development site represents a great opportunity to reimagine the disused railyards as a vibrant mixed-use precinct. Our brief was to envision a place that would be embraced by the local community and contribute to the public life of the city.

The masterplan proposed the retention of the rail sheds. It proposed a continuous pathway around the waterfront, and new parklands that recall the original shoreline and acknowledge past occupation by indigenous Australians. A substantial open space at the heart of the site is designed to protect from the cold winds, and capture the warmth of the north sunlight. And mindful of the imperative that any masterplan must support economic prosperity, it provides development opportunities for local developers and a planning framework that would support small-scale tenancies for artisans and local producers. 

Tasmania has a long and rich history of invention – perhaps through necessity, given its distance from the rest of the world. Today it boasts a widespread community of makers and local food producers. Hobart is home to the Nant Distilling Company that produces the internationally renowned Nant Single Malt Whisky, and the Museum of New and Old Art, the largest privately funded museum in the Southern Hemisphere. Tasmania is enjoying increased domestic and international tourism; a small-scale and vibrant precinct with good amenities and access to ‘makers’ will attract the tourists who disembark from the cruise ships that dock at Macquarie Point.

As told to / Simone Schultz
Images / Courtesy of John Wardle Architects

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Q&A with Rob Adams

Professor Rob Adams, director of city design and projects at the City of Melbourne, took time out of Hong Kong’s Business of Design Week to share with Design Anthology his experiences and insights about Melbourne’s transformation and regeneration since the 1980s 

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The 2018 edition of Business of Design Week saw Hong Kong partner with the city of Melbourne under the theme Think · Collaborate · Create. The Australian city has undergone considerable transformation since the 1980s, and is an intriguing and inspiring model of urban regeneration. 

During the week-long conference we had the chance to speak with Professor Adams, who is also a member of the World Economic Forum Global Future Council on Cities and Urbanization. With more than four decades of experience as an architect and urban designer including 35 with the City of Melbourne, Professor Adams’s contribution to the city’s regeneration is significant.

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Design Anthology: Placemaking is at the heart of everything you do. What are the key factors that shape your approach to designing a space for people?

Rob Adams: I think the most important thing about any public space is that people need to feel comfortable there. That's an easy thing to say, but what does it actually mean? Often the spaces that work well are the ones that have activity around their edges. As architects and designers we'd love to think that it’s what we put inside the space that matters, but that’s not always true. If you look at some of the best public spaces, they might have very little going on in the centre — it’s what happens around the edges that provides activity. If you've got the right things around the edge of a public space, it’ll work on its own. You don't have to programme activities in it — of course it's always nice to do that — but if a space is totally reliant on programmed activity it'll fail, because there isn’t enough time or money to maintain a permanent programme. So, the first thing is to look at the activity around a space and consider how it works and if it enriches the activity within. If you get that right, you’ve gone seventy-five per cent of the way to creating a good public space.

Scale is also important. Sometimes we think spaces must be big, but the bigger space the more people you need to make it feel active. Often smaller public spaces work better than the big ones. And it’s important to consider the elements; a space needs to be comfortable, so it should factor in the things that people need to be comfortable, whether that’s shade or shelter. And then there are some smaller subtleties. In a public space without benches or chairs, people usually gravitate towards the edges as opposed to the centre, so you’ve got to ensure that the edges of public spaces aren’t always commercialised or require people to buy a meal or a drink in order to use it. There are many of these small balances. Public drinking water is important if it’s a hot country, there are trees, arts and culture — joy. You want to legitimise loitering.

What about legitimising certain spaces, like Melbourne’s reclaimed laneways or the regeneration of Docklands as a residential area? How do you change perceptions of certain areas in a city, and where people are prepared to go and not prepared to go?

I think we're all urban designers. I think urban designers would like to think it's a profession, but when any person moves to a city their senses are usually attuned to how they navigate that place. We tend to take in information very quickly when we walk past a place: is it interesting? Do I feel safe? Is there something that I’d like to do there? Or it a dead end, or a dark corner? We consider all the factors I spoke about earlier. We don’t realise we’re making these judgements, but we do them instantly whenever we walk around a city. And as we walk, we make snap decisions about which way we want to go and why. In Melbourne, the service laneways looked just like that — there were rubbish bins and so on. We just removed the rubbish bins and allowed people to externalise their trade into the laneways. In some we allowed public and street art. And suddenly these laneways became trendy places that people wanted to visit. You really don't have to change much. The mystery of my life is why we find it so hard to design a good street.

Today I think the problem that is that unlike someone who goes to medical school, for example, where you’re taught to be a general practitioner before you’re taught to be a brain surgeon, we as architects and designers are taught to be brain surgeons before we’re general practitioners. Nobody teaches us about how cities work. They teach us how to design beautiful buildings. We’ve got it the wrong way around. We tend to overcomplicate the design of cities and make it sound as though it's some strange process when it's actually not. It's the general practice. We know streets are the biggest public space in the city, and people are the most important ingredients of a city. So how do you make that place feel comfortable for those people?

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In terms of the proposed regeneration strategies, what kind of support did you get from the government and developers in the beginning?

We were lucky that when we started in the 1980s we were aligned with the State Government. The State has far greater power than us — it’s the planning authority, the road authority and it runs the public transport — and we were fortunate to have that support. When we decided we needed to bring back the residential population of the downtown area, it was driven out of a unit in my division but we actually seconded people from the state to work with us. The developers were less willing; we were talking about a different sort of city to the one they were designing. The one they were designing in the 1980s was one that relied heavily on cars and required ample parking spaces and all the rest of it. And we were saying that’s not the city we want. There was some opposition and in fact, when we started Postcode 3000, a programme to bring residential life back into the city, the developers told us that Australians don’t live in the central city and they were right — at that time there were only about six hundred residences in the central city.

We started the project by looking all the things that would encourage people to convert, say, an office building to a residential building. We found that the land tax, which was set by the State Government, had a threshold of 175,000 dollars. If you took a piece of land and you subdivided into 50 units, then each one of those owners owned a fiftieth of the land. If the threshold dropped below 175 you didn’t pay land tax. If you took an old building and you converted it, you’d pay stamp duty on the current value, not the end value. So people paid an up-front deposit for the land and avoided much of the stamp duty. We just put that all together and suddenly people began to see the value in it. They were saving themselves thousands of dollars on what would be the most expensive purchase of their life.

The crunch came when James Keeran from Macquarie Bank walked into our office. This was after the recession in the late 1980s when the property market collapsed and people who owned now-empty office properties were told they’d have to wait for the next commercial boom. We told them that they could turn those properties into residential spaces, and Kerin was willing to try it with one building. He commissioned an architect to design 35 units and he put them on the market, and he sold all 35 units in two months. He was amazed at the response, and he did five more such buildings. Once we had a bank doing it, we just sat back. 

A lot of developers are followers rather than leaders. They do what they think will work, or copy what someone else has made work. But here was a leader, someone who was prepared to try something new. And then the developers came in behind it. 

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Until recently, Melbourne was ranked the world’s most liveable city for seven years running. What do you think were some of the key factors that made it so? 

The Economist Intelligence Unit rating system is designed for executives who may be transferring to other cities. What the rating system looks at is safety, weather, clean water and clean air, accessibility, schooling, and so on.  Melbourne’s lucky because it has many of those things. What I'd like to think has helped is that back in the 1980s when the city was fading and people were moving away, we realised that Melbourne wasn’t a bad city, but that we just weren’t loving the good things. We started looking at the characteristics and features of the city to make the most of them. We took all the elements that made up this funny city and made sure that every action we took reinforced them. So rather than having one large icon, like the Guggenheim in Bilbao, that that would change the city, we said that if we love every one of those characteristics enough for long enough, our city is going to get better. And that’s what we’ve done.

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Was there ever competition with cities like Sydney and Brisbane to attract and keep the inhabitants, the skills and the diversity of Melbourne’s population?

There are always those tensions. Melbourne is a second city; it’s more like a Chicago than a New York. There’s always the question of what’s special about Melbourne and how we keep people here. We have an eye on the premier cities, and in the 1980s, though we were competing with them, we didn’t want to copy them.

We actually looked at Melbourne and said ‘What do we need to do to make Melbourne better?’ We thought that if we make Melbourne better, than maybe people would come here rather than Sydney. And after 30 years Melbourne has achieved that. People are actually leaving Sydney to come to Melbourne, and in fact it’s likely that in the next ten years Melbourne will surpass Sydney as the largest city in Australia. Melbourne doesn’t have the sunshine and beaches to match Sydney or Brisbane, but it’s more of a cerebral city. Melburnians are participants — they love to turn up and attend, be it a football match or an exhibition. So it has plenty of good qualities that we just nurtured. 

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Speaking of the fact that Melbourne is looking to surpass Sydney in populations, can we talk about population growth and urban density as opposed to urban sprawl? What are some of the benefits of urban density and how do you sell it to people who are accustomed to ground-floor homes and gardens?

It’s funny you ask that question, given that we spoke about Cape Town earlier. When I studied at the University of Cape Town in the 1960s, the baby boomers had hit the system and every university around the world was expanding. I travelled in my fourth year and witnessed it in every city I visited. I returned to Cape Town and they had set up the Planning Unit. Zambian architect Julian Elliott was running it, and I knew him well. He said that to respond to the expansion, we needed to ask a different question. We needed to ask how we could use what was already there, already available. They undertook a detailed analysis of how the spaces were being used, and discovered that the lecture theatres were only used for seventeen per cent of the day. So instead of rebuilding, they decided to re-timetable. 

I went back to Cape Town again about thirty-five years after I left and they had trebled the student population on that campus, yet they’d hardly built any new structures. What really stood out was how busy, exciting and vibrant the campus was. It was never like that in my day. I thought to myself that if a university could just re-programme itself and become so vital, why couldn’t the same be done to a city? So nine years ago we conducted a study in Melbourne called Transforming Australian Cities and we did exactly that. We looked at the metropolitan area of Melbourne with its four million people and explored how we could build new developments on the existing infrastructure without expanding the city’s boundaries. We eventually worked out that we could accommodate the next four million people in Melbourne on only seven and a half percent of the land. We wouldn’t build any higher than five to eight storeys, and the project would save 440 billion dollars in infrastructure. That showed me it could be done, but we also had to ask ourselves if the resulting city would be a good one. 

I think good cities require five things:  density, mixed-use structures, connectivity and ease of movement, a high-quality public realm, and lastly, a character that is reinforced to give a unique sense of place. And if you've got these five things, there are three outcomes. Because there’s less infrastructure and people are closer to it, it becomes sustainable. If the city is working better, it becomes financially viable, and when people come close together you recreate the village and it leads to social cohesion and a sense of connection. 

As told to / Simone Schultz 
Images / Courtesy of City of Melbourne

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Living with Art

In this Melbourne home, a neutral backdrop is balanced by strong punches of colour, creating a vibrant yet harmonious feeling

Founded just four years ago, Flack Studio already has a team of eight and its own verb, coined by founder David Flack: ‘To “Flackify” something simply means that we help transform our clients’ vision into experiences,’ he explains. Based in Melbourne (also Flack’s hometown), the studio is now one of best known in Australia.

For this project in South Yarra, just outside of Melbourne’s central business district, Flack Studio undertook an extensive renovation of a three-storey terrace house. ‘The owners, a lovely couple with two cats — Dolce and Gabbana — led the brief and wanted a very classic home,’ says Flack. ‘On every project, we work together with our clients — not under them, not over them — to create something honest and unique. The process of designing an environment is a journey that we all have to go on together.’

Taking this approach, the team gave new life to the three-bedroom, two-bathroom home, all the while keeping the owners’ favoured style in mind. ‘The house was relatively dark, and the clients wanted to bring some brightness into it,’ Flack says.

At the entrance, a black, steel-frame door with clear Flutelite glass from Axess Glass creates an inviting facade. In the living room, a pair of black Utrecht armchairs by Gerrit Thomas Rietveld from Space Furniture sit on the Signorino terrazzo-tiled floor, in front of a fireplace in Silver Cloud granite from Corsi and Nicolai. The custom cherry rug from Halcyon Lake — Flack’s favourite piece in the house — stands out, adding an unexpected pop of bold colour. In front of the charming restored piano, the foot stool by Kelly Wearstler brings more texture to the space, also furnished with the ClassiCon Bell coffee table from Anibou and Edra sofa from Space Furniture. With large glass doors and windows on each side, the blue artwork Lines of Confluence [12] by Judith Wright (Sophie Gannon Gallery) complements the space’s eclectic aesthetic. Sharing the same area as the living room, the comfortable yet elegant dining room comprises Grace chairs and a Concorde table designed by Emmanuel Gallina, all from Poliform.

In the separate kitchen, Hi Pad stools designed by Jasper Morrison for Cappellini from Cult sit around the Silver Cloud granite island from Corsi and Nicolai. The arrangement complements cabinets in custom natural timber veneer and one in American oak timber veneer in black. The brass Can Wall Light from Anna Charlesworth adds a touch of sophistication while a bronze mirror gives a sense of depth.

‘This neutral palette allows our clients’ continuing rotation of art to be the hero,’ says Flack. ‘Their collection is very colourful so we wanted the interior architecture to feel more recessive.’

Covered in the same hue and material as the cherry rug in the living room, the staircase that leads to the private spaces on the upper floor creates visual coherence throughout the home. A green Numero armchair by Featherston adorns the bright landing area, contrasting with the white walls and red tone of the floor. On this level are the master bedroom with an en suite bathroom, the guest bedroom and a study, while the rooftop terrace, offering exceptional city views, with lounge chairs, dining area and barbecue is the icing on the cake.

Filled with light and art, this house has a strong personality that is subtly reflected through the design choices made collaboratively between designers and clients.

Text / Karine Monié
Images / Brooke Holm

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Sophisticated Minimalism

Shaped by clean lines, fine detailing and intriguing artworks, this Melbourne home designed by Flack Studio proves that a restrained materials palette can make a strong statement

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David Flack’s passion for interior design is rooted in his childhood. At only five years old, he tried to convince his mother to repaint his cubby house and, despite her negative response, he decided to do it anyway. Originally from Bendigo, Australia, Flack’s family owns a construction company and growing up he frequently joined site visits. With such a background, studying interior design at Melbourne’s Swinburne University of Technology came naturally.

After being formally trained at Hecker Phelan Guthrie (now Hecker Guthrie), Flack began his professional career at Kerry Phelan Design Office (K.P.D.O) and then launched his eponymous studio in 2014. At just 33 years old, Flack has become one of the most promising interior designers in Australia, designing — with his team of eight — many residential and commercial projects in his own signature style.

Flack draws inspiration from his travels, but also from art, fashion, design, literature, films and music. Taking a contemporary design approach, Flack names Achille Castiglioni, Vincent Van Duysen and Joseph Dirand among those he admires. He describes himself as a modernist obsessed with the 1970s and 80s, placing importance on volumes, proportions and natural light in all his projects. He also focuses on the use of honest materials — such as stone, timber, steel, glass and concrete — while adding bold touches through accessories and art.

Originally designed by renowned architects Holgar & Holgar, this five-bedroom home in Elsternwick, an inner suburb of Melbourne, exemplifies Flack’s approach. ‘It was important to work with materiality that was empathetic to the existing architecture,’ the Australian designer says. ‘However, we wanted it to feel contemporary and like a further take on its origins.’

Remodeled for a family of four (a couple and their two daughters) who had already been living in the house for several years, the interior spaces now comprise two living areas and a central kitchen, providing high functionality and comfort. As the house is made of concrete, remodeling, flipping around the kitchen — a previously dark space — and connecting it to the dining room and living area required serious reworking of the ceilings, which was the biggest challenge for Flack Studio. ‘We also encountered asbestos within the concrete structure, which caused some delays and impacts onto the budget,’ adds Flack.

The owners — who work in the music and public relations industries — are passionate about art collecting and design, and it’s reflected in their home. A painting by Judith Wright (from Sophie Gannon Gallery) in the bedroom, a floor lamp by APPARATUS (from the CRITERIA COLLECTION), the Maralunga sofa by Vico Magistretti for Cassina and the Thin Black Table by nendo for Cappellini (both from Cult) in the living room adorn the home.

‘Throughout the process the client was extremely active, says Flack, ‘but at the same time, they also very much trusted our process.’

American oak veneer, white fantasy quartzite and oak flooring create a neutral palette, which also incorporates fresh whites, pale timbers and veneer stains. The original tiger-stripe carpeted staircase and colourful artworks bring personality and audacity to the interiors.  

‘It was important for the space to feel as if it belongs in the 1970s… but with a contemporary twist’, says Flack. ‘This house is an incredible mixture of forms and expressions.’

Text / Karine Monié
Images / Brooke Holm

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Heady Huntingtower

Agushi Construction founding director Bear Agushi’s new family home is a testament to his passion for contemporary architecture and design

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The result of a collaboration between Agushi and Workroom Director and architect John Bornas, Huntingtower is the most recent of several projects the duo has worked on together. ‘We’ve worked with Agushi on several projects now, so we know each other well when it comes to our design sensibilities,’ Bornas says of their ability to understand, interpret and compliment one another’s work.

Located in the Melbourne suburb of Armadale, the 3-storey box stands dramatically on the street cantilevering over glass rooms and surrounded by sunken gardens. The home’s uncomplicated street-facing exterior belies the lavish experience within.

Agushi is known for creating bespoke high-end homes, while Bornas is a specialist in contemporary design and interiors. As cocreators, they have designed Agushi and his wife’s ‘dream home,’ with facilities that include 4 bedrooms with individual bathrooms, chef’s kitchen, butler’s pantry, and an alfresco area featuring a swimming pool and outdoor kitchen, and gardens by esteemed landscape architect Jack Merlo. Bornas explains that their ‘approach to the house was very considered and transcends fashion. The connection between the building and the inhabitant is grounded through a rigorous exploration of scale, form, space and material. The delicate palette of materials and intricate detailing bestows elegance and luxury.’

Interior stylist Simone Haag’s judicious selection of outstanding furniture and design objects, which Bornas says ‘helped the home reach its full potential,’ completes the many-layered experience. ‘A narrative unfolds of stunning detail and tactile material, raw steel, dark panelled walls, concrete, bronze, timber and stone, elements that invite you to touch and feel,’ says Agushi.

The relationship between scale, space, material and decor is complex and engaging without being overwhelming. Upon entering, visitors are met with a sculptural steel staircase that sets the tone for the rest of the home, where Bornas explains, ‘each element is chosen to compliment or contrast with another and each is designed with the same level of rigour, down to the smallest detail. This gives the house a sense of consistency that adds to the depth of the experience.’

Text / Simone Schultz
Images / Derek Swalwell

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Let the Sunshine In

A traditional home in Richmond, Victoria, is made over to welcome light (and potential new additions to the family)

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Hong Kong- and Melbourne-based building and interior design studio HOLA PROJECTS worked closely with their clients to re-imagine a modern home befitting a variety of evolving activities and a growing family, while paying homage to the building’s original structures and Victorian features.

The structure comprises a Victorian terrace and an upper-floor addition with bedrooms, an ensuite and a balcony, while downstairs a suite of living rooms includes the dining room and kitchen and extends into the courtyard. Though each space in the house has its own character, there’s an overarching contrast between rich tonality and the natural light that filters in through various apertures: the existing Victorian windows, sky views and slot windows allow light to stream in from all angles. To draw the elements of the home together, a ribbon of deep-green walls weaves through the home from front to back.

The designers incorporated the client’s collection of contemporary artworks and vintage furniture to add powerful bursts of colour and focus points in the home. In keeping with the ‘furnished’ approach, they favoured free-standing lighting as opposed to ceiling mounted fixtures. Of the latter there is only a small a selection of pendant lights, carefully chosen to add a sense of age and grace to the otherwise modern home, and to give a nod to the building’s original Victorian facade and preserved brick gables.

Metallic mesh, chosen for its transparency, levity, and ability to catch and reflect light, is incorporated throughout, and most prominently in the centrepiece of the home: the structural steel jungle gym staircase that spans the two storeys from floor to ceiling. The structure is as practical as it is striking, functioning as portal, hanger and sideboard. It creates the illusion of extended space by drawing the eye upward and allows filtered light to bounce down into the ground floor level.

By carefully considering the environment and the clients’ needs, HOLA PROJECTS has created a contemporary and characterful family home representative of the studio’s innovative approach to design.

Text / Simone Schultz
Images / Daniel Aulsebrook

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A Cross Section of Australian Architecture

At the intersection of old and new, abstract and domestic, this Melbourne home received both a restoration and a modern addition

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Built on a 515-square-metre plot atop a hill in the Melbourne suburb of Richmond —where iconic terrace homes dot the streets and warehouse conversions are constant reminders of the area’s industrial history — this multi-generational family home gave the B.E Architecture team the opportunity to explore the past and imagine the future.

The completed building is now comprised of two distinct yet complementary elements: the pre-existing period house — one of the earliest examples of a kit home in Australia — that needed restoration, and a modern extension.

‘As with all heritage projects, the biggest challenge was convincing the local planning authorities that high contrast between old and new was an appropriate design response to the site,’ says Jonathon Boucher, a director at B.E. ‘The new extension is a two-storey sculptural form that twists and rotates from a single point to create setbacks and overhangs. These comply with practical planning requirements and track the sun to create shade for the ground level and courtyard space.’

Each component creates its own vernacular and reflects a different architectural language, generating a dialogue (and also a striking contrast) between light and dark. The existing light-grey timber cladding was reused for the facade of the original house, while vertical metal cladding and mirrored glass shape a sculptural black box that forms the new extension.  

‘This project is a complicated one-off design that is totally specific to the site and to the client’s needs and brief,’ explains Boucher. ‘We asked what architectural story might be told when you contrast the existing heritage values of the site with an exaggerated possibility of what the new, clear, precise and abstract form offers.’

Inside the original structure are a private master suite that opens onto the veranda and private garden, a guest bedroom, library, bathrooms and a laundry. A glazed link — symbolic of the transition from the 19th  to the 21st century — leads into the futuristic extension. Several sustainable design features are incorporated throughout the property: the external surfaces have been coated with low-VOC paint and feature double glazing, wall insulation, cross-flow ventilation and in-floor heating. Large underground rainwater tanks have also been installed.

Boucher believes that the extension ‘is a vibrant addition and a full stop on the existing streetscape’.  On the ground floor is an open-plan communal space with the kitchen, living room and dining area, while on the upper level, extensive windows offer views of the skyline. ‘The elevation that overlooks the city is a dynamic expression of modern sculptural form combined with effortless and precise detailing, and this is where the cantilever and twist is most prominent,’ Boucher points out.

Ultimately, this house is, according to the architect, ‘a literal cross section through Australian domestic architectural history, with two worlds colliding — the old and the new’.

Text / Karine Monié
Images / Peter Clarke

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Domaine Chandon

Foolscap Studio delivers a high-luxe design for Domaine Chandon in Australia’s Yarra Valley

Victoria’s Yarra Valley is one of Australia’s premier wine regions, with Domaine Chandon one of its most highly regarded wineries. As an outpost of the global Moët Hennessey sparkling wine house, it has a strong French heritage to uphold and does this by using the time-honoured méthode traditionnelle to create its sparkling wines. When Foolscap Studio was tasked with renovating the premises, retaining the brand’s old-world charm within a renewed modern context was of utmost priority.

The brief called for the reconfiguration of the interior to deliver an immersive experience across bar, dining, tasting and retail spaces. ‘They were after a contemporary, more hospitality-focused approach to their service,’ explains Adele Winteridge, the Melbourne-based founder and director of Foolscap Studio. ‘So we brought the retail area out of the tasting room and centred it in a fully integrated environment that celebrates hospitality by offering wine by the glass.’     

It helped that Winteridge had a generous volume in which to work, with breathtaking views out over the natural surrounds. Domaine Chandon’s delicately nuanced pink, green and brown colour palette is inspired by the tonal shifts within the landscape, while natural light floods in via full-height glazing, highlighting the fit-out’s exquisite detailing.

The scheme’s driving concept very much takes its lead from the brand’s traditional winemaking method and uses the idea of alchemy to inform the interior’s spatial planning. Winteridge’s layout plays with the acts of compression and release, creating balance between large, open spaces and smaller, intimate zones. The concept is even realised within the central banquette unit’s curves, which in turn echo the undulating landscape outside — a considered move that adds to the design’s multi-layered expression.

 The alchemy idea is particularly well resolved in the material palette, too. For Winteridge, it was about exploring the way materials react to the passing of time and to various processes. ‘The result of our experimentation is reflected in the application of different metals and metal finishes and treatments. Woven and perforated materials, for instance, are juxtaposed with the solidity of opaque substances to allude to the duality of density and lightness in sparkling wine,’ she explains.

Velvet and aged leather upholstery, terracotta tile and timber flooring, and mesh and perforated steel panels are the perfect backdrop for Domaine Chandon’s product. The wine bottles are presented in various vignettes that echo installations within an art gallery, and the fit-out’s artistry is further reinforced by an oversized suspended kinetic sculpture in the main room. The showstopping piece was custom made by Melbourne-based metalworkers and craftspeople in a nod to local industry and manufacturing.

It’s an incredibly striking interior that invokes grandeur as much in its luxe finishes as it does in the bespoke details. After all, Chandon’s parent brand is French-based luxury goods company LVMH. While the overall aesthetic is definitely luxurious, the design’s ultimate success is to be found in its ability to be both welcoming and high-end, all at the same time.  

Text / Leanne Amodeo
Images / Tom Blachford

Curtain Call

In the Melbourne suburb of Kew, this Victorian house honours the legacy of its 130-year-old structure, while a modern addition brings added transparency and functionality. According to Matt Gibson, director of his eponymous studio, the design team opened up and repurposed the interior spaces — spread over 383 square metres — to provide ‘a more fluid and flexible spatial arrangement.’

Built on a 1,000-square-metre plot, the house is surrounded by garden and newly installed sliding glass doors that fully open up. Inside, an airy living area includes a sleek kitchen, which connects to the dining room through a large opening in the brick wall. Behind the dining room, a new cosy family room features darker tones with impressive floor-to-ceiling bookshelves. The family's bedrooms are on the upper level.

‘The process of renovation allowed for the act of revealing, exposing the history of the existing building by tracing the original materials and the history of alterations over time,’ says Gibson. The distinction between old and new is clearly visible and helps to create interesting contrasts. ‘Spaces and eras are distinguishable yet able to bleed into each other, allowing subtle connectivity. Each space, while unique, continues a dialogue that's integral to the story of the whole.’

From the exterior, a uniquely woven stainless steel mesh curtain catches the eye. Just beyond, lead designer and project architect Erica Tsuda built off the Japaneses architectural concepts of hiro-en and engawa — referring to deep verandas in traditional Japanese structures — to create a seamless indoor-outdoor transition and sheltered area for year-round use. The result is 'a free flowing and kinetic foil' that offsets the otherwise-permanence and solidity of the heritage structure, according to Gibson. 'A functional device at its core, the curtain provides an invigorating spatial blurring — layering and overlapping notions of interior and exterior, and through its translucency offers a counterpoint of exposure or enclosure depending on how light falls on it.'

Shortlisted in the Heritage category for the Australian Institute of Architects annual awards, this project exemplifies how architecture can be adapted to contemporary life in a subtle and respectful way.

Text / Karine Monie
Images / Shannon McGrath

Mim Design, Albert Park

A Melbourne classic receives a contemporary redesign

When Mim Fanning’s clients approached her to handle the interior design on their home in Melbourne’s Albert Park, they had a very clear brief in mind. ‘They’re a young professional couple with three small children and they wanted a home that’s timeless,’ says the founder and principal of Melbourne-based practice Mim Design. ‘As well as interiors that reflect both the original and new architectural elements of the house.’ The resulting scheme respects the existing Edwardian villa’s character as much as it complements the dynamic structure of AdeB Architects’ two-level extension. Fanning took her design cue from the new curved exterior, introducing fluid lines and forms throughout the home. These rounded motifs are used to great effect in the sculptural stair and void, and repeated in other custom features no less compelling — including the bathrooms’ mirrors and highlight windows above the period doorways.

Fanning’s fine eye for detail extends to the design’s considered materiality, too. 'As part of their brief, the clients requested a calm, restrained and authentic palette of natural materials,' she explains. The use of timber to punctuate a predominantly grey and white colour palette is skilfully nuanced, adding a sense of curiosity to a design that is highly sophisticated, while a patterned marble in the living and bath areas adds an element of texture.

This project demonstrates Mim Design's deft ability to craft interiors that are modern and elegant yet welcoming. The styling is meticulous, with pops of colour found in the artwork, soft furnishings and chair selection. And the lounge area’s light gray sofa echoes the curves in the nearby balustrade, but more importantly it can accommodate the family of five comfortably (along with their friends and extended family members). In the dining area, the same applies with furniture that’s as hard working as it is good looking.

The emphasis here is on the home’s comfort and liveability. 'There’s a clear design language that can be read throughout the interior spaces,' says Fanning. 'The final outcome meets the brief perfectly, as well as the needs of the family.'

Text / Leanne Amodeo
Images / Sharyn Cairns

Elegant Eclecticism

A home-away-from-home in Melbourne takes cues from the showmanship of an art gallery

On a built-in shelf nestled into a stark white wall, two geometric sculptures are paired with a contemporary piece of art. This scene belongs to a residence in Melbourne’s inner city central business district that, while not an art gallery, clearly takes cues. ‘We looked to gallery-like spaces for inspiration, with a real focus on insertions of key sculptural moments and details,’ says Kylie Dorotic, director of Victoria-based architecture and interior design studio GOLDEN. She responded to the clients’ request to ‘make the apartment something they were excited to come home to’ with a design concept filled with unexpected asymmetry, eclecticism and splashes of drama. The clients are a professional couple whose main home sits along picturesque St Andrews Beach on the Mornington Peninsula. As they frequently make the 90-minute drive into central Melbourne for work, taking a second residence in the inner city was ideal. ‘It’s really used as their own boutique hotel, where they come and go as needed,’ says Dorotic. ‘They’re avid entertainers, so it’s been designed for their inner city network.’

The 83-square-metre apartment is one of 20 residences comprising a boutique development within a heritage building featuring a Victorian-style facade. The home’s material palette references its historic shell with details such as herringbone flooring and Carrara marble, which contribute to an ambience of sophistication. The entryway, rendered in gray wax plaster, adds to a sense of arrival. Bespoke joinery in the living room is elegant in its simplicity. Installed curved walls open up the dining area, which looks out onto the balcony. ‘Because it’s a small space, we’re most proud of the way that it comes together as a whole,’ says Dorotic. ‘We took great care with detail to ensure that it felt like a seamless, intentional and considered extension of the shell.’

As eclectic as the home might be, great care has been taken to ensure that the objects blend seamlessly together, thanks in part to the clients’ meticulous eye for detail and desire for a warm, Parisian inner city vibe. As Dorotic puts it: ‘There’s a fine art to balancing a collection of furniture and objects and ensuring it feels cohesive.’

Text / Leanne Mirandilla
Images / Sharyn Cairns
Styling / Andrea Moore

Victorian Legacy

In the Melbourne suburb of Coburg, a period home receives a mondern update with due homage to its Victorian roots

When serial entrepreneur James Tutton — founder of Moonlight Cinema, Smiling Mind and Plato Project, and director of property developer Neometro — discovered this 1887 mansion on a tree-lined street in a Melbourne suburb, he was immediately drawn to it. ‘Without doubt, it’s very unusual to be on the edge of Melbourne’s buzzing inner north and have a property of this scale with huge, north-facing gardens, a pool and a Victorian tower,’ he says. In August 2015, he approached local architecture and interior design practice Clare Cousins Architects to work on the home’s makeover. For the owner, restoring this historic house to its former glory needed also be balanced with an injection of contemporary features.

One in a pair of Italianate mansionettes built by TJ Crouch — architect and founding member of the Royal Victorian Institute of Architects — the property occupies a substantial 980-square-metre site in Coburg. Set amid garden greenery, the home’s two-storey polychromatic brick facade is eye-catching.

From the outside, the architecture clearly honours Victorian roots, an aesthetic that was also preserved inside while complemented by a modern twist through the integration of bold colours and art. Immediately upon entering, a wide hallway with stained glass windows draw one inward to the home’s interiors, where many original features such as the four-metre-high ceilings with ornate cornices and marble fireplaces have been preserved. At the same time, modern upgrades from marble bathrooms to walk-in wardrobes and a swimming pool with fire pit make the new space  comfortable for contemporary living. Through the whole process, Tutton was highly involved, talking through every detail with Cousins, who took great care to respect the past while looking to the future.

‘From the scale and design detail in the walk-in wardrobes to the imported Belgian linen drapes, the choice of interior colours and the opening-out onto the northern gardens, this is a fresh take on a period home,’ say Cousins.

With its four bedrooms, three bathrooms and five car spaces, the house is fully equipped for family living. The casual meals area is fitted with several original fireplaces for a cosy atmosphere, while an open-plan kitchen featuring stainless steel Miele appliances, ample storage and a marble island opens to a deck, beyond which lies the swimming pool and garden.

‘We like when a space reveals itself slowly, experiencing new views as you move throughout,’ says the designers. ‘We love that our work flows into the areas of landscape, interior and furniture design.’

Last September, just two years after transforming the property, Tutton decided to pursue other adventures and put the home up for sale. With such a precise, beautiful renovation, it comes as no surprise that a new owner has quickly fallen in love with the home, whose story continues. Shannon McGrath

Text / Karine Monié
Images / Shannon McGrath

Inner Peace

Images / Ben Hosking

The Melbourne suburb of Fitzroy is a busy inner-urban area that sports a crop of low-rise, high-density buildings; like the remainder of the ring of suburbs immediately surrounding the CBD, there are 19th-century service lanes and narrow streets fronted by built-to-boundary terraces and shopfronts supporting the bustling street life that colours the neighborhood in rich, urbane and edgy tones.

Just behind the famous main thoroughfare of Brunswick Street stands a row of two-storey townhouses. One of them was stripped down to its bones - of concrete, blockwork, framework and fenestration - in a remake by Melbourne-based Pitch Architecture + Developments. The team was guided by the pursuit of simplicity, an adherence to a minimal palette, and a determination to keep the alterations to a minimum while maximising opportunities for natural light and spaciousness.

Fitzroy Terrace is now a space for expansive living; deliciously light and bright, a deliberate respite from the hard edges of the grungy, bustling city streets right at its doorstep.


Designer Q&A: Hecker Guthrie

Design Anthology spoke at M&O Asia earlier this spring with founders Hamish Guthrie and Paul Hecker of the Melbourne-based interior design firm Hecker Guthrie. Known for their contemporary designs that feature a strong Australian aesthetic and sense of materiality, the duo talk about where this comes from, their unusual design process and also their hopes for Asia.

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Design Anthology: You’re one of the only Australian design firms working in Asia. Why and how is that?

Paul Hecker: We were talking about this before and it’s not because there aren’t some good designers in Australia, because there are. There are some very good designers. I think it’s a couple of things, and dare I say one of the major things is cost. We have the highest minimum wage in the world, so the reality is our design is expensive in an Asian market. The proportion of the cost of what we do, whereas it might 10-15% in an Australian market, might amount to 20-25% in Asian markets because our fee doesn’t change but the build costs do. So when they look at the overall cost, they look at it and go, ‘maybe we should look to more local’.

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How do you find it working in Asia on the projects you have done?

PH: Ultimately, there is no issue working in Asia. I think it’s the client that make all the difference, but that’s the same whether you’re in Asia or Australia — the jobs you love are those where you have a good rapport with your client and you respect each other. Those are the ones that work, the ones you enjoy and those are the ones where you get the best result.

So in Jakarta, for example with the Ismaya group, they were a brilliant client. We didn’t know them before, but they approached us and we had never met them so had no idea what to expect. We didn’t know whether these guys were a hokey one-man band or whether they’d done work before or whether their aesthetic was going to align with ours. And as soon as we looked them up, we went, ‘Oh christ, these guys have a dozen thriving businesses, a thousand employees — these guys know what they’re talking about'. And they came to us because they had done their research, which is fantastic and which often clients don’t do. Often it’s on a recommendation and you say, ‘Well, what do you like?’ and they’ll say ‘Well, we’re not sure’ and you know it’s been done purely based on a recommendation rather than doing the research.

So the Ismaya group was a terrific client. They were a joy to work with through the process. They were up for the challenge, and we had a good time.

Hamish Guthrie: But I think they probably recognised their own limitations with the potential for doing some of their own jobs locally as well. Again, this is kind of reading between the lines of why they came to us, and I think it is that they had a very good portfolio of very good projects, but they probably saw something was lacking as well.

PH: I think they also weren’t feeling challenged by Indonesian designers. They had done a lot of very good work, but I think they felt like they were directing the process and didn’t have people that had the confidence to be able to challenge them more. And both of the clients we dealt with had been educated in Australia. And I think working in Indonesia they found that people would just go ‘yes’ and nod their head, and they wanted someone to challenge their ideas and the ways they wanted to approach it.

HG: And chase an aesthetic. This is the theme for the restaurant or the aesthetic of the restaurant and how do we execute it, rather than going on what we would say is a design journey not necessarily knowing where the outcome is at the end of the day, but actually engaging in a process of design. So fleshing out ideas, challenging the client in terms of the brief, and moving through a not necessarily linear process, but more of a natural design process.

I like to think we do bring something else different to the project. And I think there was the challenge of working in Asia with the sort of ‘faster-cheaper’ mentality — things can always be done cheaper and anything you present to them, there’s always a cheaper version of it.

PH: But they were very good. There were certain things that they said: ‘We’re not going to copy. We’re going to go straight to the supplier.’ Again, it’s a big ask in Indonesia because what is expensive in Australia, seems extremely expensive in Indonesia, but we also embraced the idea of making the most of the Indonesian manufacturing world and did a bit of research into its skills. How do we make the most of it? So the things that we really embraced were the steel work, the stone and things like making tiles because they were the bits that they do very well.

HG: Yeah, we really tried to play to the strengths of the region and doing things that you simply can’t do at home.

PH: That’s right. There were things that we were able to do that, unless it’s a casino, we never could have done for a private client. The amount of stone for a hundred-seat restaurant — that just couldn’t happen in Australia.

HG: And those are the things that kind of get you excited working in this region as well — that there is the option to do these things that you can’t do at home. So we haven’t gone out of our way to chase work in this area, but where people have made the effort to come and approach us and seek us out, we’re more than happy to engage in the conversation and hopefully in the project as well.

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Is your creative process from project to project quite similar?

PH: Well we are very process-driven. So, all our presentations look identical in the way they are laid out. We have a process of what we call the 'big ideas'. We start the process with the 'big ideas' because what we’re trying to do is get everyone — the other designers working on the project and the client — we want to get them all on the same page as quickly as possible and we do that by giving everyone the same vocabulary. So rather than presenting a whole series of images and pictures and have a client go, ‘Hm, I think I like it’ you want to give them the ability to say, ‘I love all of those ideas, but I didn’t love that idea and I didn’t love that idea.’ So we’ve developed a process that tries to get everyone on the same page, to gives them the ability to comment, and to have the words and ideas to react to the design — to have a position. Otherwise a client will walk away going, ‘I’m not sure — I’m don’t know whether I liked it or not’. And then they just become more worried because they can’t articulate why, whereas we’re trying to empower the client and the designers in the office.

And when we’re working through the process and another designer comes up with an idea, then we say, ‘Well how does that respond to the big ideas’ and it creates a new big idea, because you say, ‘Wow- that is really good! That will work brilliantly in this scheme, so we will make it work.’ Or you look at it and go, ‘This doesn’t sit within this vocabulary of big ideas’.

So our process is always the same, whether we’re doing a hotel, a residence, or retail or whatever

HG: And the ideas that underpin our projects are very consistent across every project as well. We don’t necessarily know what the final design outcome will look like at the end of the day. People don’t necessarily come to us for the aesthetic, they come to us for the design process and unique outcome at the end of the day.

PH: About six to seven years ago we thought we needed to try to formalise what we do and a lot of processes so that we can get people on the same page. So out of this seminar at the time, we came up with an acronym that is ACE. And it stood for Authenticity, Considered, Enthusiasm. And they’re the three things that need to be embodied in every job that we do.

So with authenticity, it immediately talks to the materiality and those sorts of things: pure forms. And as soon as you veer away from those things you’ve got to have a bloody good reason for it. It’s not that you can’t break the rules, but you want to know what the rules are that you’re breaking.

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Let's talk about the interior design industry in Australia for a moment because it seems to have come a long way in just the last ten years or so.

PH: It’s true. And we’ve ridden that wave.

BR: I guess when we were just starting out our careers, it was predominately the big offices that were doing the design. And there were usually the interior design departments in those big offices, which were doing what we would deem 'traditional interior design'. I guess at the time that we set up the business, it was during a period of diversification in the industry. There were many more breakaway people doing start up companies in design. People I guess breaking that mould.

PH: And now it’s a tsunami — which is fabulous! Have you been to Melbourne lately? It is — it’s going nuts! And I think fundamentally it’s a good thing.

HG: In general, what’s happening in interior design is happening on a number of fronts within the larger creative and manufacturing industries with craft and bespoke product. And there’s a market for it as well, obviously.

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Was it driven by demand or is there an alternative explanation for this recent maturation of the Australian design aesthetic?

HG: I think it was that drive to find that point of view. I think it really was that response by the market.

PH: I think it was born out of a need to prove ourselves — to the world, generally. The fact that we are great travelers as a nation, I think the fact that we are able to look at the world with a certain perspective that we’re not part of Asia proper, we’re not part of Europe, we’re not part of America, we’re not part of South America — just the fact that we are this singular island nation that is reasonably homogeneous but quite distant from everything else, and that we are the world’s best cherry-pickers. There came a point where we didn’t feel comfortable with the way we were portrayed to the world — we are not crocodile Dundee, you know. I think we felt there was something to prove.

HG: You talk to a lot of people who come from a European background and it’s very … people feel like they’re in this world that they can’t necessarily break into or out of and there aren’t these opportunities that there are for Australians.

PH: And we are this new frontier. This brave world of —and again not wanting to sound like the frontier town — but the truth is there is an element of that. For good or bad, I think most people think they can give it a go and give it a shot.

HG: But I think the way we started  was having respect for each other as designer and by aligning ourselves in an environment where we can feed off each other and inspire each other and collectively raise the bar. And again, we weren’t getting big commissions, but we were making the most of all those opportunities. How do we make the most of every project andpush ourselves? These are still ideas that drive us today.

PH: And we are aware that there are like 50,000 people behind us waiting to come to the fore.

HG:  I think we worry less about that now than we did when we were starting out because you have a clearer sense of who you are and your aesthetic and how you approach a project and it’s become less relevant what other people are doing — you can’t offer the same thing to a client. You know, what we offer to a client is going to be completely different to another designer in the market, so we’re not going to try and necessarily compete.

PH: You do just have to stay true to your own course.

HG: And respect people’s decisions to go elsewhere because we’re not offering the same thing.

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Wynstay1

Well it’s interesting to see how much your design scene has developed in just the last decade and to now see those waves of influence being felt in North America and Europe — people are looking to Australia as a design bastion.

HG: There is that continual rise of the Asian design scene, as well. They’re getting more respect in their own countries as well as clients who would have otherwise searched for a designer in Australia, Europe, America or otherwise are now seeing they can source those same solutions internally, in their own economies. I mean if you look to China now, we’re seeing more really good designers coming out of there and Japan obviously has a really strong pedigree of design running through their history and culture for a very long time. But the strength of a designer, whether it be in Australia, Japan or China is those designers who are really responding to the local cultural sensitives, giving their design a strong sense of origin and a strong sense of context.

PH: And I think that is really what we’re rallying against. There is this sort of homogenisation of design and you get to a point that you can’t even recognise where things are from. And to be honest I say we’re lucky because we’re from Australia and we’re allowed to cherry pick, but when you’re from China, for god’s sake don’t cherry pick- embrace your own culture. You have enough good stuff there!

HG: And that’s where it gets hard to describe the Australia aesthetic because our influence is so broad. I mean, we are sort of looking at not only the Asian inspiration, but we’re looking at Scandinavian and Anglo-inspiration from our experience of growing up in Anglo households.

PH: I would say my experience is much more English than it is Australian even. My mother’s from England so my sensibility probably is too.

It maybe not be an aesthetic, necessarily, but those sort of Anglo-domestic references that we tend to go back to which are very familiar at the end of the day. And they are things we’re also looking for in other cultural landscapes that might inform us as well.

And what you were saying earlier about being a 'traveler nation', and so much of Australia does participate in the diaspora at a certain age, but then they do come back, having been exposed to all sorts of sensitives for space and design.

PH: Yes, yes indeed.

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