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 Trevor Mein
There are a few Guilford Bell homes remaining. However, those in the know can readily identify the late architect’s work, even from a drive-by. Often symmetrical with crisp clean lines, many of his homes built during the 1960s and ‘70s featured the use of recycled bricks.
One of Bell’s last homes to be designed in Studley Park, in the early 1980s, featuring these bricks has been finely reworked for a couple with four children. “My husband Tom was raised in a Guilford Bell house, so we knew of his work before we came across this place,” said Barbara.
While Barbara and Tom could appreciate Bell’s sensibility, her late father, an engineer and also a property developer, was not as enamoured of the design. “He wasn’t a fan of flat roofs and he thought rendering the exposed recycled bricks was the way to go,” said Barbara, who partially took her father’s advice and covered a few of the internal walls with plaster. “It’s probably something that I shouldn’t have done,” adds Barbara, opening a cupboard to reveal the bagged painted brickwork that once featured in the living areas.
However, although a few cosmetic changes were implemented, the ‘bones’ of the house were retained. “The original floor plan was completely intact, with a clear delineation between bedrooms and living spaces. There was still the beautifully articulated pavilion-like structure,” said architect Robert Simeoni, whose brief from the couple was to increase the number of bedrooms, including a new main bedroom suite and retreat to take advantage of the generous north-facing allotment (landscape designed by Catt Stutterheim). A new kitchen was also on the agenda, updating finishes and adding joinery.
Mindful of Bell’s streamlined pavilion with its rhythm of steel columns supporting the northern terrace, Simeoni created a recessive Rheinzinc-clad first floor to the rear. However, rather than just adding a ‘box’, Simeoni discreetly veiled part of this extension behind a new brick wall, also made from recycled bricks. The ‘hit-and-miss’ brick pattern, conceived by Simeoni to slightly veil the new wing, also adds another ‘grain’ to Bell’s design. “I wanted the first floor to appear to ‘float’ above the original pavilion, but also allow it to feel integral to this magical garden.” This new wing, orientated to the north with floor-to-ceiling glazed windows, cantilevers almost four metres in length.
Bell, like many of his contemporaries working in the post-war period (1945), felt that bedrooms should be modest in scale, allowing for more generous living areas. In the case of the Studley Park house, the original bedrooms are compact. However, the two main living areas, one being the kitchen and informal living area and the other the formal zone, are spacious, both endowed with generous glazing to the northern garden with its swimming pool and tennis court. Guilford’s symmetrical joinery on either side of the fireplace remains, as does the fireplace with his signature steel-mesh curtain. Unfortunately, the chunky Berber carpet required replacing, with Portuguese limestone extending in both areas. What was once a drying courtyard to the south of the kitchen has been cleverly reworked to form a butler’s pantry. “Guilford could get some things wrong. That drying area faced south and never received any sun,” said Barbara.
One of the main changes to Bell’s scheme is the new first-floor wing. Comprising the main bedroom, walk-in dressing area and bathroom, all benefiting from the northern sun, there’s also a music/sitting room. An established jacaranda is thoughtfully placed at the ‘knuckle’ of the old and new, creating diffused light in the warmer months of the year. As with Guilford’s signature for symmetry, there are floor-to-ceiling timber doors dividing the main bedroom from the ensuite and dressing area.
Barbara and Tom are pleased they didn’t go further with her father’s suggestions for ‘improvements’. There are still the glazed mosaic tiles from the 1980s in two of the original bathrooms and door hardware has been left intact. However, the contemporary insertions, including a double-height study to the south and the luxurious main bedroom accommodation, has enhanced the family’s pleasure for living in this house. “It’s lovely seeing the lights over Studley Park at night and feeling so close to the garden,” adds Barbara. “Bell was known for his elegant compositions. He knew exactly what to leave out, as much as what to include,” said Simeoni. The same could equally be said of this latest addition to Bell’s design.