Pleasing rhythm to this stylishly understated house.
Rhythm is a word interior designer Dylan Farrell often uses when he relates the story of this house in inner Melbourne. The ground-floor rooms, their palettes alternating in black and white, are like notes on a piano, their ebb and flow creating a harmonious unity. “It’s the assembly of simple ideas, one note at a time into a complex song,” he says. “It’s not showy, just subtle things making an impactful whole.”
He first sighted the six-bedroom, three-level house when the owners Sarah Lew and her partner bought it back in 2015. Its exterior was a modernist take on Italianate style, the rear grandly boasting three tiers of concrete colonnades. Sarah was drawn to the home’s “captivating scale, symmetry and natural light”.
Reflecting the classical references, the bones were solid, but the execution left it cold and unwelcoming. There was no flow from one room to the next, says Dylan. And, while the workmanship was undisputed, the house lacked attention to visual detail. Bulky marble skirtings may have given it gravitas but paradoxically, the doorways were without the architraves to balance them, so were simply openings in walls. And a hallway running from the entry to the rear with the rooms off each side was “like a bowling alley”.
Dylan’s brief, he says, was “to make the house warmer and more inviting, with hand-applied dark finishes and warm timbers creating a sense of intimacy”. And to add movement to the static spaces. Sarah adds, “My vision was for a classic, contemporary home with a chic Parisian modern influence. It had to remain timeless and have an understated elegance. Practicality and usability were also key. We didn’t want a home that looked too pristine to live in.”
Drawing inspiration from French and Belgian interiors, Dylan has crafted a home for the ‘fashion-forward’ couple and her two daughters that’s stylishly understated, yet highly functional. He cites Christian Liaigre – Liaigre pieces feature in the living area – and Joseph Dirand as influences, and describes the result as merging “relaxed, Belgian-farmhouse rustic with a bustling urban edginess”.
Stripping the house of its finishes, he left the floorplan broadly intact. He moved a wall in the kitchen and opened up the hallway, flanking it with glass-panelled steel double doors for a sense of separation and flow. “I wanted to make the downstairs a draw for entertaining,” says Dylan. He created both a trophy kitchen and a roll-your-sleeves-up version beside it, together with a sit-down wine cellar on the lower level where there was once just a bar. Because the clients did not want a formal dining room, Dylan created a cocktail lounge opposite the formal living, offering more flexible entertaining, consisting of a huge round table with four extension leaves.
Meanwhile, he rejigged the upstairs bedrooms, opening them up to create ensuites and dressing areas, together with a sitting room.
He added timber headers to the internal doors to give them a more human, intimate scale. The doors, some pivoting, some hinged, are in steel, ensuring slim elegant profiles befitting the European aesthetic. Their glass panels “mentally close off spaces, but not physically. They block them off, but you keep the air. As a result, the relationship of the doorways along the hallway, once like a colonnade, now feels rhythmic,” says Dylan.
Throughout, he inserted architraves around the doorways to give them more impact, as well as cornices, panels and mouldings, “where the rooms needed a lift”.
French and Belgian influences provide tonal, tailored subtlety, with brushed woods for warmth, rich blacks and greys, and white walls and stone for contrast. Texture adds detail and interest. The finishes palette includes sandstone, marble, waxed black stucco and French oak floors in a herringbone pattern brushed to look old.
Like semitones on a keyboard, the results are highly nuanced. At first glance, the informal living room looks monochromatic, says Dylan, but white, navy, beige, brown, silver, grey and black adorn waxed linen, textured linen and velvet on the sofas and their cushions. Adding to the decorative layers, that room features timberframed Louis chairs covered in caramel leather, a marble coffee table with legs in ebonised timber and a rabbit-skin rug, all on an aged timber floor, while a smoked mirror and etched glass vases add sophistication, as does a metal side table. The limestone Belgian farmhouse-style fireplace, meanwhile, hints back at the rustic.
While these walls are painted white, black waxed stucco finishes in other rooms, such as the study, kitchen and powder room, create chic counterpoints. “There are no black rooms next to each other to create a rhythm,” says Dylan. “Sarah wanted subtlety in form and colour, with no dramatic moments – it was all about shifting tones, texture and sheen. I usually like to use curve balls of surprise colour, but she took an active role and drew me back when she thought it was over-expressive.
“There’s a sense of reservedness, a sereneness and a quietness, with a high level of craftsmanship and a low level of showmanship. It’s all done sensibly, but with a high-end sensibility.” In short, it’s a house that confidently and stylishly moves to its own subtle beat. #
For more go to dylanfarrell.com.