A blog that explores Australian houses. If you love architecture, design, interiors and interesting buildings of all types, The House Hunter is for you.
Category Archives: Melbourne

Ross Street, Toorak


Hassell is an international design agency that’s been doing some amazing stuff in the region (in both commercial and residential spaces), so when they got in touch and let me know I could choose a property they’ve worked on to feature, I was excited. So here it is – the Ross Street Residence, which is located in one of Melbourne’s most salubrious suburbs, Toorak. Scott Walker, head of interior design at Hassell, takes us through the home’s design features.


As an aside, my favourite elements of the home are the oh-so-cool modernist-abstract living area (and otherworldy feature staircase) and the thin, streamlined pool that fits neatly in the house’s flowing indoor/outdoor space. I have always had a thing for narrow pools – there is something I find inexplicably attractive about them.


What were the principal design elements you sought to include in the home’s interiors?

The critical element in the design of the house was that it felt as though it was a retreat from the outside world. Externally, it is closed off from the street while internally it is largely open. Through using classic proportions and materials, the calm interior reflects the client’s desire that the spaces behave like a haven; a sanctuary from the outside world. In essence, we tried to achieve interiors that appear easy and uncomplicated. Of course, simple is never easy. It often means distilling complex issues down to their most basic elements.


How did the collaboration process with Robert Mills Architects work?

The collaboration with Robert Mills was not extensive as our scope was largely focused on interiors and its connection to the pool, the landscaping and the expression of the interiors externally. For example, the front door is a critical element that defines the interior entry experience. Therefore, we designed the door and its hardware. Of course, integration with architecture is important but what became more important was how the interior defined the architecture.



Of course, simple is never easy.”

How involved was the owner in the process?

The clients were integral to the design process and outcome. Nobody knows more about how they live than the owners of a residence. They add nuance to the entire design from planning arrangements to detailing. We are very happy to work with any clients that want to strive for the very best outcomes for their projects, and are happy to test design in terms of not being limited by their own knowledge but rather learn about design.


Were there any challenges?

The detailing and refinement of the detailing were critical in achieving the overall aesthetic of the various spaces. This commitment to refined detailing meant that we continued to resolve design during the construction process, which of course meant that we needed to work hand in hand with the builder (John Morley – Morcon) to get the best possible results.


Were any cost savings made?

Although there wasn’t an unlimited budget, cost was not a driver for the project. The determiner for all of the design was asking ourselves how this detail, material or element connected to the broader aspiration of the residence. We didn’t spend money for the sake of it, nor did we save money to cut corners.


Do you have any recommendations for people seeking a similar minimalist aesthetic on a budget?

Be clear about your own vision and also be realistic about how you live. This house was designed for our clients, and therefore fits their needs. This house is not for all people but rather people who are committed to a way of living that works within and around the design.


Amazing interplay of light.


How was the unique spiral staircase decided upon?

Given that the living area is largely open, it was decided that an element was needed to divide up the space – from the lounge, to the kitchen and to the living area. As an open space, the spiral stair worked well as a sculptural element that sits freestanding as an object in the space. It is as much a sculptural element as it is a vertical circulation path.


How were the owners’ lifestyles and habits incorporated into the design?

The owners’ lifestyles were expressed everywhere throughout the design. From a planning perspective, their desire to entertain placed the kitchen centrally, reinforced by an oversized island bench. Spaces are connected but zoned in a way to establish a sense of place between ‘rooms’. Detailing throughout the interiors reflects the clients’ commitment to well-crafted and designed items. This design isn’t about the best for the sake of the best but rather about not being limited by how other people think things should be expressed. The design has been built to last so its detailing and general aesthetics are classic in proportion and materiality.


Ormond Road, Ascot Vale


I’m a sucker for Victorian renovators, so when I was contacted about this house in Melbourne I had to feature it, even though I didn’t get a chance to fly down there and scope it out. Fortunately, the owners were willing to do an interview with me, and their words pair well with the images in presenting the from-heritage-to-modern story of this abode.


It’s a pretty, renovated place that has a bit of a Sydney vibe to it (or is that just my Sydney bias coming into the frame?). The void in the living area, seen above, draws me in – light and airiness are essential elements of spaces, for me. It has a dash of Victorian charm with some contemporary-industrial sleekness from a new extension.


My favourite space in the house.


The owners, Cathy and Matt De Carolis (a builder who managed the extension himself), were keen to shape the property to their young family without detracting from its character. The house was built in the nineteenth century and still has some awesome original features, including servants’ quarters (major lust!). It was bought unrenovated in 2006. “The house was very rundown when we bought it and it was in need of much TLC,” the couple say.


“The first challenge came when … the whole back of the house had fallen in!”


Due perhaps to their expertise in the construction industry, the couple has the presence of mind to preserve what they could of the house’s charm, while still adapting it to their present-day needs. “Although we wanted to keep as much of the original house as possible, we also wanted room to grow and therefore decided to put a very modern extension on the back, only taking out the original kitchen and bathrooms, and putting the children’s  living area up in the roof.” This fits in nicely with the current trend of building into roof spaces, which seems to be a pretty happening idea in apartment blocks and terraces where the owners are seeking more room to breathe.



The extension took twelve months – which, in the scheme of things, and given how complex renovations can be, seems like a good timeline. “The first challenge came when Matt sent me away for a week with the children to knock out the kitchen … only to ring me to let me know that I needed to find a rental quick as the whole back of the house had fallen in!” Cathy says.


The couple were very selective in the materials chosen, which is crucial to a good quality renovation; too many renovators try to save cash by using cheap materials, with the result often being that the end result looks poorly executed and kind of pointless. Their search for materials included sourcing marble from Ottario De Carolis’ village in Rome.


The couple capture one of the most rewarding aspects of renovating a stately, historic home; “I think the most satisfying part of the renovation is seeing the house come to life again … since renovating the house, there is a real sense of old meets new.”


But there’s always more to do. Thankfully, Cathy only has one small remaining niggle; “The laundry! At the time the house [extension] was designed I had just had baby number four and was not paying too much attention to the interiors of the house. Our laundry cupboards are very narrow so to fold up a sheet and fit it in there is a nightmare. I would actually like to totally gut the laundry in a couple of years and put really big, deep floor-to-ceiling cupboards in there.”



Design Marvels at the 2012 Victorian Architecture Awards: Urban Landscapes, Sustainability and Outdoor Synthesis

Some exciting houses have recently received accolades at the 2012 Victorian Architecture Awards. The residential buildings (which are my chief concern) celebrated by the ceremony highlight the fact that contemporary houses must do more than look pretty in order to gain recognition; they must be designed to complement modern lifestyle standards, with the the aim of synthesising the property with the urban landscape while still retaining a striking aesthetic quality.




The most prestigious residential award, the Harold Desbrowe-Annear Award, went to the above Queensberry Street House by Robert Simeoni Architects. The Australian Institute of Architects described the home as “a comprehensively unique and exciting project that is ‘about privacy and shared spaces; seclusion and connectedness with the city and exploring how light and ventilation can be brought into an inner city courtyard house’.” The house’s facade is imposing, with the dark, patterned brick work capturing a historic edge. The reflective glass allows privacy, but is also used to mirror the streetscape, creating cohesiveness.




The Awards acknowledged both the sustainability and impressive design features of Heller Street Park and Residences, pictured above, by architecture outfit Six Degrees. The medium-density development was built on the contaminated site of a former tip, making it’s environmental choos especially impressive, and is striking as it sits distinctly from the flat surrounding landscape. Angles and texture are used to create visual interest (as you can see!). The terraces and their communal areas were constructed to blur the private/public boundary, creating a sense of shared space. The project won Best Overend Award for Multiple Residential Architecture and the 2012 Sustainable Architecture Award.


Garage + Deck + Landscape project


The last award I’m going to mention is a particularly interesting one, as I’ve formed a bit of a love for outdoor spaces recently. The Small Project Architecture Award was given to Baracco + Wright Architecture for its Garage + Deck + Landscape project. The finished product is breathtaking – while ostensibly simple, it creates a perfect synthesis between the eye-catching landscaping and slanted garage, which is the first attractive garage I believe I’ve ever seen.


Each of the residential projects praised at the awards show imagination as well as fundamental design ethos, which is what renders them so significant. Homes like these will retain their appeal in the future due to both the lifestyle they offer the resident and their immense visual impact.

South Yarra, Melbourne


As in love with Sydney as I am, Melbourne is always fun to blog about because the city seems as though it was made to photograph and comment on. It is an extremely creative city – moreso than any other city I’ve visited, easily.



This stunning house is further evidence of the carefully orchestrated design that goes into Melbourne’s prettiest precincts. South Yarra is definitely one of those – it is one of Melbourne’s shopping highlights, is lined by beautiful heritage homes, and its back streets provide a surprising level of serenity in a suburb so close to the city.


The house featured here was built in 1929, and was originally a pair of duplexes. Famed patron of the arts Sunday Reed lived in one of them for a period.



The property has been architecturally re-designed, which can be perceived in the now generous floorplan (generally speaking, heritage homes’ floorplans are their worst features – cramped, devoid of light, and inconvenient for modern standards of living). Black gloss timber, steel frames, cement rendered walls and polished aluminium transform the house into a modern space, while the refurbishment of original features retains the home’s footing in the past. It straddles the line between historic and contemporary charmingly.



The addition of a pool and a lower garage on the 639 square metre block would be particularly awe-inducing to Sydneysiders, given the fact that South Yarra is a mere four kilometres from Melbourne’s CBD. I’d hazard an educated guess that all three features are extremely rare within Sydney’s inner-inner-ring.


Weekend Round-Up

Okay, so it’s a little late for a post relating to the weekend. So shoot me!


I’ve decided I’m going to attempt to write a ’round-up’ of any properties I happen to see on the weekend, as well as the weekend property sections of The Australian and the Sydney Morning Herald. While I like the latter’s in-depth articles on Sydney property, the former provides a good view of the national market (which can sometimes be difficult to gauge from Sydney – although I always seem to be watching the Melbourne market).


This weekend, Tony and I attended an auction in Waverton. Our main reason for doing so was that I had been going on – and on – about it – a 64 square metre apartment with lock-up garage and balcony right near Waverton’s village and railway station. The best part? It had offers around $400,000 listed as its price range. ‘This might be a good investment!’ I thought to myself, particularly given how ‘slow’ the property market supposedly is at the moment and poor auction clearance rates.


But things didn’t quite go to plan. There were scores of people at the auction, and it ended up reaching almost $500,000 (with an opening bid of $400,000). The rental yield was estimated by the agent as $410 partially renovated (it is completely unrenovated at the moment), and $450 fully renovated, so a rental yield well below 5%.


Below are a few pictures I snapped on my iPhone of the apartment, which was built in 1968.






I’ve picked one interesting article from each broadsheet’s property section to dissect.


Sydney Morning Herald, Antony Lawes, ‘Grass is Not Always Greener in the Suburbs’, February 11-12, pp 8-9.

This story discusses families with children increasingly choosing to live within the inner-city rather than branch out into suburbia. I have no doubt that the city is becoming a more family-friendly location. I think the big factor in this that the article misses is gentrification. Although still harbouring some pretty undesirable precincts, Sydney’s CBD and surrounding suburbs have had substantial demographic shifts.


The sentence that I really disagree with, which quotes talent from UNSW, states that “There is the extra time that families spend driving the kids around because they can’t walk to school or to the shops, which is ‘bad for their health because they’re not as active’”. Firstly, kids shouldn’t be walking the city streets alone. I honestly can’t think of anything more horrifying, particularly around Surry Hills where, although I love it, I sometimes find myself encountering scary people. Secondly, why are the sports fields and shops suddenly so much closer in the city? There aren’t many sports fields near the city. At all. I’ve never seen a tennis court in the city. I think there’s an indoor one somewhere. Maybe. You’d probably be driving your kids to Centennial Park to play tennis. Also, there are shops in suburban areas. Every upper north shore suburb barring Warrawee and Killara has a village. So do many lower north shore suburbs – Mosman (which, being within 10km of the city, is actually  closer to the CBD than a number of the suburbs mentioned in the articles – but suburbs over the bridge seem to be designated strictly ‘suburban’) has an expansive shopping strip. Most suburbs have something, and some suburbs (like Hurstville, Parramatta or Eastgardens) have a lot. It seems a bit ridiculous to assert that the CBD is the only place you can walk to the shops. And why are the schools suddenly closer? That depends entirely on where your kid goes to school. Many kids walk to school from their house. They don’t have to live in the city.


Yeah, I picked that sentence apart a bit, but I just really disliked it.


Also, some of the suburbs that are chosen to be featured in the article don’t really make sense. Chippendale is inner-city, definitely. I’ll take Waterloo at a stretch (I lived at Alexandria for three years, and it wasn’t exactly a stroll into the CBD). But Arncliffe? Canterbury?! Botany? Wareemba? Wareemba is one suburb farther away from the city than my suburb. It’s not ‘far away’ by any stretch, but I don’t think anyone in their right mind would call it inner-city. These suburbs are just that – suburbs. They’re part of the suburbia parents are apparently decrying. Of the 14 suburbs that are listed in the break-out box, I’d consider one to be inner-city. The guide seems to assert that if a suburb is less than 10km from the CBD, it is inner-city. But by that logic, you’d include most of the lower north shore and eastern suburbs.


I think the article is making an interesting point, but it would’ve been great reading about families occupying inner-city apartments and terraces in places like Dawes Point, Surry Hills and Ultimo (suburbs that really are inner-city). While this article asserts that buyers are interested in “city convenience”, from reading the story, I get the impression they just enjoy inner-suburbia, not actual city living.


The Australian, Lisa Allen, ‘A Makeover to Sell is Probably Wasted’, February 11-12, p 7.

This article quotes an agent based in Sydney’s inner-west, who claims that it’s a bad idea to do a big renovation before selling a house. This is contrasted, though, with another agent, who claims that a renovation done well and without too many personal affectations should be worthwhile. I like the balance of opinions. I think it’s a complex issue that depends on the house in question. Minor renovations are considered a winner in the article.


The inner-west agent says that renovating the kitchen and bathroom can be a waste of money. I tend to disagree with that. Unless you’re selling a renovator (which should be priced accordingly), I think sprucing up those rooms is always a good idea if the property is old. An old house has many features that weather time well – high ceilings, ornate fireplaces, timber floorboards – but an old kitchen and bathroom can be off-putting depending on the price range.