Celebrated architectural firm Hecker Guthrie have captured the aspirations of an era with their modern ode to high ornamentation.
Asa designer of a beautifully measured ‘emotionalism’ that elicits endless media, Hecker Guthrie has had its style dissected with a frequency and forensic enthusiasm that render its directors bored. “Style is meaningless,” says Paul Hecker. “More and more, we try not to define ourselves aesthetically. But I don’t know what you can say about our work that hasn’t already been said, darl’? Maybe mention longevity?” Alluding to a working relationship with his colleague and studio founding director, Hamish Guthrie, that stretches back to the late 1980s and to the Melbourne office of Daryl Jackson Architects, Hecker defines this meeting place as the hatching point of their “abstemious” design. “Daryl’s was the first architectural office to employ interior designers in a really serious way,” he recalls. “Rigour, pragmatism and good cake informed every design decision.” On cue, Guthrie appears from a concealed back office to declare himself the office junior of this history — “the print boy who made the tea at 11 o’clock and served it with proper cake”. He is the ‘hypo’ yang to Hecker’s ‘hyper’ yin: Guthrie is a by-the-book rationalist whose methodical manner now reveals in the flip-through of historical details that dissect the firm’s revamp of a period house in Melbourne’s Prahran. And his business partner is the big kid, whose wildly digressive nature shows in the quick-flick of iPhone snaps from his recent holiday in America. “Oh my God, the Broad,” says Hecker, thrusting forward photos of the new museum in downtown Los Angeles. “Just look at those giant Jeff Koons’ tulips.” The respective spiels seem unrelated, but both seek to explain the synergy that is sought between an expressive structure and their insertion of new ideas. “One, heritage architecture; two, sympathetic new additions; and three, joinery as furniture,” says Guthrie, enumerating the big ideas that were made into digestible bites for the edification of the Prahran project’s clients and design staff. “When we first walked through the house, we could feel its importance. But we wanted our footprint to be as minimal as possible, so we reinstated absolutely ››
‹‹ everything — columned archways, elaborate skirtings, architraves, cornices, ceiling roses — and rather than filling in the gaps with joinery, we designed storage as furniture.” These freestanding units, abstracting the ornamental decoration of the high Victorian house, were placed in pristine spaces that had been spared the usual gutting and gloss-over. The design team, including Marijne Vogel, cannily resolved the issues of flow (in plan, acoustics and light) with their short-handing of the Victorian conservatory — steel-framed glass doors substituting for solid counterparts. “Every room should have its own feeling and usage,” says Guthrie, turning pages to pictures of the ‘blue room’ — a central living space with a button-backed decorum and steely hue that was determined by the pre-Raphaelite-style stained-glass window dating to the 1880s. “This is the coloured punctuation point that we propped with simple furnishings, so as not to detract from the original detail.” Their approach to flooring was similarly deferential — pale timber boards butting up against service areas tiled in Op Art geometric grids, the encaustic colours of which could have been taken from late Victorian pattern books. This modern ode to late Victorian living continues in the master bedroom’s ensuite bathroom where an ‘Ottocento’ tub — Agape’s abstraction of the classic claw-foot precedent — floats on a sea of marble that repeats in the fireplace and vanities. It is a serene commentary on the Victorian era’s provision for cleanliness — fixtures that were mobile before the commonplace of plumbing — and it screams Hecker Guthrie. But the designers get antsy over implications of a design legacy or look, affirming their mission as one of remaining sensitive to a project’s over-arching architecture and atmosphere. If so, how does one brief for personally resonant drama within these prescripts? “Don’t tell us what you want it to look like,” says Hecker, showing more snaps of created synergies between art and architecture that encompass their talent. “Tell us how you want it to feel.”
this page: in the living room, Baxter ‘Chester Moon’ sofa by PAOLA NAVONE from Criteria; rug from Halcyon Lake; MATTERMADE ‘Range Life II’ table from Criteria; shelving unit and table from Poliform. opposite page: NORM ARCHITECTS ‘Mass Light NA5’ from Great Dane; NIKARI dining table by from Kfive. Details, last pages.
this page, from top: in the bathroom, OMVIVO ‘Latis’ basin; IZÉ light fittings; and YOKATO tapware. Handmade shower tiles from Stonetile Industry. opposite page: AGAPE ‘ Ottocento’ bath by from Artedomus. Details, last pages.