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  • Stephen Crafti

The big reveal

While some homes shout loud with their exterior architecture, others reserve their biggest impact for those who step inside writes Stephen Crafti.

A vibrant artwork on glass by Rowena Martinich forms the backdrop to life in this Hawthorn home. Photography courtesy Peter Clark.

Architecture can be quiet in the streetscape, barely noticed by those driving by. But there’s often a clue when something truly special lies beyond the threshold, resonating long after seeing a house. It could be the use of colour, unexpected voids or, as in the case of the inner-east Melbourne home of the directors of architecture firm McBride Charles Ryan (MCR), an extraordinary ceiling that sets visitors swooning.


Rather than the usual plaster ceiling, perhaps with a few contemporary lights, this one is made from hundreds of laser-cut MDF blocks of varying lengths set into plywood and painted white. Each piece was numbered to ensure the final arrangement resembled ripples as if from a pebble thrown into a pool. “The intensity of the ripples increases as you walk along the corridor, arriving in the lounge,” says MCR principal Deb Ryan. “It’s quite a magical environment when the light from the swimming pool in the back garden reflects on this ceiling.” Ryan explains that the ceiling was constructed as a series of panels that were individually strapped to the beams and glued in place. “We’ve found most people want to take photos. It just seems to have that impact,” says Ryan, who also went all out with the kitchen’s unusual Corian island bench, which is evocative of an iceberg, beautifully conceived to accommodate a built-in nook for flowers or fruit.


The architecture firm Addarc also made a strong statement in a new three-level house in Hawthorn, Melbourne. The home’s palette is dark and moody throughout: the interior colour scheme is a series of mid-tone greys, while the exterior features Quartz-Zinc cladding. A moment of delight comes from seeing an immense custom artwork painted on glass by Rowena Martinich, whose fluorescent striations form a unique backdrop to the open-plan kitchen, dining and living area. The seven-and-a-half-by-three-metre work extends across the entire kitchen, including a door that conceals a laundry and pantry, and out to form the boundary of the property’s north-facing courtyard garden. Martinich’s art makes the place pop, an effect accentuated by the “dark canvases” she applied her stroke to. “We’ve used a dark grey for the wall panels and a mid-grey for the kitchen joinery,” says architect Rohan Appel, who worked closely with his co-director at Addarc, Tamara Dunkley. “The art wall also creates a visual end to the ‘journey’ through the place,” says Appel.


Sculpted walls and a Le Corbusier tapestry at Cove House in Cronulla, Sydney. Photography courtesy Maree Comer.

Cove House in southern Sydney, a 1970s classic designed by architect Reuben Lane, has always been a talking point on its street thanks to the fluid curves of its concrete exterior. But it is only when one enters this house that it provides the full adrenaline rush. While the water views from the home are impressive, they almost pale in comparison with the sculptural concrete walls and voids in the main living areas. “Our brief was to restore the house but also bring it forward for contemporary living,” says interior designer Brendan Wong, director of Brendan Wong Design.


In the living area, there’s an organically shaped wall alcove that now accommodates a Le Corbusier tapestry. And while the work is a wonder in itself, it’s the striking curved walls and faceted timber ceiling, combined with soaring picture windows, that captivate those fortunate enough to visit. Built-in seating adjacent to the open fireplace makes an ideal reading spot, but also allows for moments to simply take in Lane’s vision, one that is expressed through a contemporary lens by Wong. “There’s obviously the ‘wow’ factor, but the renovation also allowed us to explore the finer grain of this house, with the smaller details also creating a lasting impression,” says Wong.


The architecture practice Multiplicity has likewise established a reputation for going well beyond the norm, creating unexpected architecture and interiors — some of which are only discovered once one is through the front door. There was certainly little appeal when the owners purchased what was a fairly basic brick house in Eaglemont, Melbourne, its rather austere 1980s addition at the front masking its 1930s origins. The house formerly served as accommodation for country families visiting loved ones in hospital, and the floorplan comprised a series of bedrooms and bathrooms. The only colour was courtesy of the linoleum floors.


There’s now a hint from the street as to what lies beyond the facade thanks to a new window framed in luminescent green. That suggestion strengthens with a new front door painted Christmas green. And while there’s the strong presence of dark timber wall panelling in the entryway, there are wonderful bolts of colour that unfold, with the intensity and variety of tones heightening as one arrives in the home’s open-plan living area. Large sliding doors appear in soft blues, purple, orange, green, brown and khaki-yellow. The ’30s decorative plaster ceilings in the children’s bedrooms have been painted vermilion and avocado green, respectively, with the chalk-white walls retained.


“It was far too sombre, almost severe. The place didn’t reflect the four individual people who live here, all keen to embrace colour,” recalls interior designer Sioux Clark, who worked closely with architect and Multiplicity co-director Tim O’Sullivan. “Our client loves to collect coloured fabric and was keen for the house to be as vibrantly ‘dressed’,” says Clark, who also chose vibrant tiles for the bathrooms.


These homes are certainly not wallflowers. The strong impression they make is thanks to colour, volume, unexpected ceiling treatments and finer details. Reflects Ryan, “We always try to bring a sense of joy to our work, whether it’s a domestic or commercial project — and that usually comes in the form of something that’s unexpected.”


This Melbourne home dazzles with its custom rippled ceiling and “iceberg” kitchen island. Photography courtesy Louis Petrucelli.

This is an extract from an article that appears in print in our fifth edition, Page 20 of Winning Magazine with the headline: “The big reveal”. Subscribe to Winning Magazine today.

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