An extensive range of architectural styles from our past and present greatly shape the character of our City. This lifestyle series, written by one of Australia’s most prolific architecture and design writers, showcases exceptional architect-designed houses within Boroondara in celebration of the many personalities that make up the City we love.


Text by Stephen Crafti, Photography by Derek Swalwell

Interior designer Mardi Doherty has always had a thing for the 1980s, from the minute Memphis became a major design movement at the start of that decade. So when one of her clients showed her snaps he had recently taken of an ‘80s house in a wide and leafy street in Hawthorn, her heart literally skipped several beats.

Designed by Cocks Carmichael Architects, the striking white brick rendered home presented a ‘welcoming mat’ of a glass brick curved wall at its front door. Doherty had worked with this client, a builder, on several of her high-end domestic projects, as well as on his own beach house.

While the client and his family reacted in a similar way to the home when they first inspected it, few could see what they saw. “It had a fairly monotone interior. It was extremely grey. You could say that it had a commercial feel to it,” says Doherty, who left the home’s exterior, including the brick paving surrounding the swimming pool, intact. “The form is still truly remarkable,” adds Doherty, pointing out the staggered window frames that feature on both the northern elevations on the first and ground floors. “I love the geometry of the 1980s, particularly strong in this home. The forms are as unexpected as the way natural light enters each room,” she says.

Although Doherty and her team of interior designers didn’t interfere with the ‘bones’ of the Hawthorn house, they did rework areas such as the kitchen, together with the main bedroom suite located on the first floor. One of the home’s shortcomings was the modest galley-style kitchen that was connected to a relatively small alcove for informal dining. “The kitchen seemed to be slightly disconnected to the open plan living areas. 

There was a high return on the kitchen bench that also cut off the sight lines to the garden,” says Doherty. While the kitchen is still in the same location, Doherty designed a new kitchen island bench, complete with an extension table made of timber. A lacquered black column supporting this table loosely pays homage to the Memphis period. New joinery in the form of perforated steel increases storage in the kitchen. And what was once a meagre alcove for dining is now a home office nook for catching up on paperwork. “We designed the joinery (study) in response to the concertinaed rear façade,” says Doherty.

The formal lounge, located at the front of the house, was also sensitively reworked. While the open fireplace was retained, originally clad in terrazzo tiles like the floors, it was lightened in effect by recladding it with chevron-patterned tiles and complemented by a new copper flue. “We wanted to give this space a slightly lighter feel. The copper also reflects the light,” says Doherty, who also used copper to create more impact on the graphic staircase. “Previously, there was simply a stainless steel handrail that was completely open and not up to today’s building standards,” says Doherty, who included new glazed balustrades.

While the children’s bedrooms were lightly touched with new built-in graphic joinery, the main bedroom suite experienced the greatest makeover. Previously a composition in grey, it was simply separated from the ensuite by a translucent glass wall. “It felt quite corporate rather than a bedroom you’d find in a home today. It needed a little more glam, and of course, significantly less grey,” says Doherty, recalling the grey wall-to-wall carpet that formerly existed. Again, a chevron patterned timber bedhead/wall, complete with built-in side tables, was installed. And in the upgrade, the ensuite bathroom and walk-in dressing area were reworked.

One of the most dynamic spaces in the house is the passage leading to the main bedroom, with its staggered walls (echoing the rear façade) and the new bold striped carpet in deep aubergine and bone. Backlit to accentuate each alcove, there’s an adrenalin rush as one traverses this walkway. Other colours used in the home also enliven the spaces. Soft jades and teals, reminiscent of the 1980s, have been thoughtfully used to express structural columns, as well as in feature walls and customised joinery.

For Doherty Design Studios, projects such as this one rarely make it onto their ‘whiteboards’. “From the outset, we didn’t want to interfere with the architectural integrity of this home. But it was tired and needed to respond to a family with different needs and expectations,” adds Doherty.