New Life for a 1960s House
Originally built in the 1960s, the most remarkable feature of this home in the Melbourne suburb of Hawthorn was its generous allotment, spreading across two blocks at the rear. While the owners, a couple with three young children, appreciated this attribute, they were literally faced with a wall of rock, rather than a garden outside their back door. “It’s an unusual site, but it was underutilised,” says interior architect Steven Berton, director of Berton Design. “Even the original swimming pool was at the top of the site, completely surrounded by a forest of trees and only accessed by steps,” he adds.
While the sloped site had its shortfalls, so did the relatively plain 1960s house. “It was the type of house you drove past. There were few, if any, redeeming architectural features,” says Berton, recalling the window-paned timber windows with their faux colonial-style embellishments. “There was this awkward pitched roofline at the front of the house that was almost ‘fighting’ the 60s style,” he adds.
Although the owners weren’t sure of what they wanted to achieve with the renovation, one of their main priorities was leveling the back garden (excavating up to three metres of rubble) and putting in a tennis court. When the back garden was fully cleared and leveled, there was room not only for the tennis court, but also a swimming pool and separate outdoor pavilion/cabana. Fortunately, there was basement car parking, so excavating below the house wasn’t an issue.
Apart from installing new windows (void of small panes) and rendering the home, the 1960s ‘footprint’ remains relatively intact. One of the main changes to the home’s floor plan was the extension of the kitchen and living area. Now with generous glazed sliding doors, this family wing is pivotal to the design. Complete with marble benches and splashback, the kitchen is sleek and contemporary. One of the most coveted spaces, nestled to one side of the kitchen, is the ‘butler’s kitchen’, also beautifully detailed in marble. While there’s generous storage for food and utensils, there’s also a built-in bench to allow for catching up on paperwork. “It means that Louise, the owner, can work at the bench and keep an eye on the children in the swimming pool,” says Berton.
“We loved the floor plan of the original house. It was a practical family home. But it was lacking in areas. There was little, almost no, storage. We also needed larger living areas,” says Louise, who lived in the house for five years before deciding to renovate. At first, the brief to Berton was for a new kitchen and living area, but with the home’s shortfalls, the brief grew to include new bathrooms throughout, as well as reconfiguring some of the spaces. “Probably at least 20 per cent of the house didn’t work efficiently,” says Louise, who engaged Berton to work on a previous home. “But that was nothing compared to the garden, which really may as well not have existed,” she adds.
The couple’s brief grew as more was required. But rather than stage the renovation, it was decided to renovate the house the way they wanted rather than take a piecemeal approach. So with the brief came a powder room, considerably larger than the original. And to make this room more functional, it was combined with a storage area and a separate shower was installed.
The Hawthorn house is now more thoughtfully delineated. At the front are the interconnecting formal living area and dining areas, together with a large study. These rooms have been ‘lightly touched’. The formal living area, for example, features a new contemporary marble fireplace with tinted glass over-mantle. And the dining room has a view over a pond rather than an overgrown garden. Berton also lined the study with generous timber veneer bookshelves. “I’ve kept the lighting simple with George Nelson pendants and the walls throughout white,” says Berton, who was mindful of the owners’ collection of contemporary art.
Other changes to the original design included replacing the colonial timber-style balustrade of the staircase with curved plaster. And to increase the natural light, a new skylight was added. The upstairs areas have also been reworked. There are now three bedrooms with a shared bathroom for the two boys and an ensuite and dressing area in their daughter’s bedroom. The main bedroom was also redesigned, with a lavish ensuite and dressing area that takes up what would have previously been a separate room. Berton also included a timber veneer bedhead that conceals storage behind.
One of the most used areas in the house is the flexible space on the first floor, linked to a generous north-facing terrace. Used by the children for watching television, this area is continually flooded with natural light and offers impressive views of the garden and pool. “I used to say to friends that we managed to use every square inch of the house. Now I can say we are not only enjoying the new spaces, but making the most of the entire site,” says Louise.
Text by Stephen Crafti