Retro folly in mallee country
A striking home designed by Robin Boyd is available for holiday rentals
THE commuter-belt town of Bacchus Marsh, about 50km west of Melbourne, is fertile ground for market gardens and literary imaginations; both Peter Carey and Frank Hardy were raised here. It is less celebrated for its architecture, a blend of goldrush-era streetscapes, kit homes and dream mansions on countrysized blocks of land.
But camouflaged in a forest of bull-mallee a short drive from the town sits a fascinating architectural folly. The Robin Boyddesigned former home of Melbourne doctor Michael Baker is reached via unsealed road through virgin bushland.
The first sight of the property reveals a mortared stone exterior shaded by eucalypts and ringed with what look like mini Martello towers; these are, in fact, cleverly disguised rain tanks to harvest the home’s water supply. Honeyeaters and magpies serenade from the treetops.
Unlike other landmark Australian homes that are privately owned or museums, Boyd Baker House is a holiday rental where guests can indulge their Architectural Digest fantasies. Peter and Mary Mitrakas bought the 14ha property from Baker in late 2006, had it heritage listed shortly afterwards and then furnished its austere spaces with 1960s design statements, such as Eames rosewood lounge chairs and an original Featherstone sofa.
Mary also brought a decorator’s touch to the process; each of the three bedrooms’ colour themes is dictated by a signature piece of furniture. There’s an orange Arne Jacobsen swan chair, for example, the geometric white-on-black of a Ronnie Tjampitjinpa painting and a Hans Wegner sofa. Peter installed retro luxuries, including original Bang & Olufsen turntables (BYO vinyl), and added contemporary amusements such as DVD players and disc collections in the bedrooms.
The home was designed in 1964 and in his book Living in Australia, Boyd described the project as ‘‘like designing a building for Robinson Crusoe’’.
‘‘As well as the usual accommodation for the family, the house was to contain a schoolroom where the children could be taught at home. No public services were available when the building started, although electricity came soon after. Rainwater had to be caught and stored.’’
He built it from local slate and stone, complete with the schoolroom Baker wanted for the education of his and other local children. This space is now stocked with musical instruments and games. Lining the wall are four sleeping nooks with daybeds suitable for children.
The Mitrakases’ art collection — a mix of indigenous and contemporary works — brightens walls throughout the home. The smaller Boyd Dower House was built 200m away to accommodate visiting relatives. It sleeps another four adults. In 1977, a Roy Grounds-designed library completed this trinity of bush originals. Those looking for adventure can go horseriding, hiking or wine-tasting, but there is much to be said for staying put. In the evenings, light the fires, cook up a storm and dine with friends at the Hans Wegner table and Danish wishbone chairs. A thoroughly modernist house party. Kendall Hill was a guest of Boyd Baker House.
The Boyd Baker House in Bacchus Marsh, Victoria