The 1980s were a period of great social, economic and political upheaval.The decade involved the Berlin Wall being torn down, a global recession and the rise of the personal computer, video games and MTV, plus power dressing and quirky stuff, too, such as the Rubik’s Cube.
Architecture experienced a pronounced shift away from modernist design principles that promoted simplicity, minimal form and functionality to a postmodern style, which marked a return to greater use of ornamentation and elements borrowed from earlier periods, often with a bit of intended wit and humour.
Completed in early 1985, this house on Hawthorn’s much-prized Scotch Hill is, in many ways, a classic example of the era.
Although the architect John Davey claims he didn’t consciously design the house with postmodern architecture in mind, the period nonetheless influenced him in ways it wouldn’t today.
Most notable is the prominence of columns both inside and out.
There are a good many – recalling classical Greek and Roman architecture but stripped to a basic cylindrical form – incorporated as much for their structural support as their aesthetic value.
The decorative gabled roof lines, metal trimmings and soaring convex bump are also a product of the period, serving as garnishes rather than having any specific building purpose.
But while the house retains enough of its postmodern charm and is recognisably from an earlier period, it has been updated, too.
Gone is the extensive latticework throughout. Like the columns, it had both a practical use as a sunscreen and, with the balconies particularly, an aesthetic quality.
”The lattice had a softening effect,” says Davey, who admits he wouldn’t use the decoration these days. ”The diaphanous screen broke down the mass of the building slightly but still retained a solid form behind.”
With the absence of the lattice, a more tonal, olive-coloured render has replaced the original silver-white, lending the house a softer, more subdued appearance.
Interestingly, architectural styles aside, Davey says the layout still functions as well today as it did 27 years ago. Replacing a nondescript brick Edwardian, the house – designed to accommodate a family with two teenage boys – is divided into two separate two-storey sections.
The front was for the owners’ children and the back for the adults. A steep, terracotta-paved driveway – to overcome the sharp slope of the block and the need for stairs – leads to a central courtyard with mature crepe myrtles and a carport between both sections of the building. The front quarters are essentially self-contained, with their own entrance – once open to the street, now shut off by a roller door – and courtyard, which can accommodate a car.
There’s another purpose-built garage alongside, which was the only part of the original property not demolished. Downstairs is a large retreat-cum-living area with open fireplace, bar and storage, now used as a cellar. Accessed by a spiral iron staircase, two bedrooms – one with study area and each with walk-in wardrobes, connected by an airy en suite with marble vanity – sit above.
A gallery-like walkway links this front section to the main, back part of the house, which is also accessed from the central courtyard. There is the familiar free-flow of kitchen, dining and living areas, although the lounge is sunken and carpeted, creating some division from the slate flooring, another ’80s feature.
Upstairs are the bedrooms, the main with a metal balcony (once lattice), en suite – featuring a step-up bath – and walk-in wardrobe.
The columns – rather than solid walls – contribute to an open feel, and a void above the family area, coupled with the mezzanine (a metal balcony again instead of lattice), adds to the sense of spaciousness. Davey also created space externally by stepping both back and front sections of the house. In the back, this allowed room for a pool and for the original owner to retain the tennis court.
”Architecture is continually changing and evolving but the house, aesthetically as well as its form and function, still works pretty well,” Davey says.
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