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 Earl Carter and James Coombe

Located in a wide leafy street in Canterbury, this Edwardian-style house fits in beautifully with the period homes. Some are from the early 20th century, while others such as the Californian bungalows are from the 1920s and 30s. However, behind the home’s traditional façade, with its bay window and timber veranda is an award-winning renovation by Architects EAT.

Recipient of an architecture award from the Australian Institute of Architects (Victorian Chapter) in 2010, the ‘Elm & Willow’ house as it’s referred to, shows a lightness that’s not generally found in many period homes. 

Renovated for previous owners, a couple with a young child, the house is now occupied by a new family. “We couldn’t alter the front of the house, given its heritage overlay, but nor would we want to,” says Mo, who appreciates the architectural style of the house. However, for the clients, the house lacked modern amenities, with a faux-80s pavilion-style garden house tacked onto the back. The two large trees in the back garden, one an elm and the other a willow, also seemed too established (100 years old) to tamper with. 

The original part of the house was retained in the renovation, including some of the rich period detailing such as skirting boards and architraves. The home’s Baltic pine floors were also buffed up. Architects EAT reworked these spaces to primarily include bedrooms, including the main bedroom with its ensuite.

And what would have once been a bedroom, with its deep bay window, is now used as a sitting room with garden views. However, past the ornate timber fretwork in the central passage, the renovation moves into the present. 

In contrast to the enclosed rooms under the original slate roof, the new wing, placed between the established two trees (hence the name for the house) is lightweight and features generous floor-to-ceiling glazing.

“In our first meeting with the clients, their words were ‘to live in something that would affect the quality of our lives’,” says Mo, who worked closely with architect James Coombe, associate director of the practice, and their team of designers. “I still recall them saying that that they didn’t want to be looking at televisions in every room, preferring these trees,” says Coombe. 

As the rear garden is orientated to the west and the side garden to the north, protection from the sunlight formed part of the initial design phase. “We were particularly inspired by the work of McGlashan & Everist (responsible for Heide II, designed for arts patrons John and Sunday Reed).

But you could also see the influence of Mies van der Rohe’s ‘Farnsworth House’ (located south west of Chicago and designed in the late 1940s),” says Mo, pointing out the elevated concrete floors that hover up to one metre above the landscape. “We elevated these wings to allow the roots of the trees to be protected, but this also allows water to pass through and penetrate the soil,” says Coombe.

The two trees not only create an important outlook in the Canterbury house, but also provide the footprints for the two new wings, with one of the trees forming a focal point to the courtyard. One of these wings comprises the lounge, while the other includes the open plan kitchen and dining area. A covered walkway or breezeway, clad in black-stained timber louvres, cements the two wings together. “James and I always talk about ‘layering’ in a house. This project really sums up this expression,” says Mo, pointing out the series of vistas from the period hallway through to the new glazed pavilions.

Off-formed concrete ceilings, imprinted with timber forms to create a grain, add texture to the interiors, pared back to allow the landscape to merge. Steel columns, large sliding doors and generous glazing, including louvred glass windows, allow the occupant to feel as though they are almost standing in two camps, with one foot inside and the other outside.

To ensure the addition was recessive in the landscape, Architects EAT also used a restrained palette of materials; an off-formed concrete island bench in the kitchen, with dove grey painted joinery, allows the trees to remain centre stage. “It’s a very simple renovation in terms of its effect. But minimalism is quite challenging to perfect,” says Mo, who continues to perfect his modernist aesthetic with the new homes and renovations he designs today.