Class ac­tor

VOGUE Living Australia - - VLIVING - powelland­glenn.com.au @powelland­glenn olsen­gallery.com @olsen_­gallery

Stars — they’re just like us! So goes the ti­tle of a pop­u­lar Amer­i­can gos­sip site that se­ri­alises can­did snap­shots of celebri­ties pur­su­ing their ev­ery­day af­fairs. “They pick up the dog poo”, “put money in park­ing me­ters” and even “drink green juice”, jest the cap­tions ac­com­pa­ny­ing ‘money-shots’ that are framed for their mun­dan­ity. No one buys their nor­mal­ity. But on a chilly spring morn­ing, in­side a re­cently ren­o­vated pe­riod home in prox­im­ity to the St Kilda fore­shore, the Os­car-nom­i­nated and Golden Globe award-winning ac­tor Rachel Grif­fiths and her artist hus­band, An­drew Tay­lor (rep­re­sented in the col­lec­tion of the Na­tional Gallery of Vic­to­ria), are do­ing an ex­tremely good job of con­vinc­ing that they’re con­ven­tional. Grif­fiths, who is make-up free, shoe­less but still ar­rest­ingly soigné, greets at the front door and di­rects pas­sage down a hall fes­tooned with the or­na­ment of an­other pe­riod and the ob­sta­cle of ev­ery­day liv­ing. It com­mu­ni­cates schoolage chil­dren — Banjo, 14, Ade­laide, 13, and Cle­men­tine, 9 — the com­pul­sive con­struct and col­lec­tion of fine art (floors layer with work fed from front stu­dio and friend) and the com­mit­ments of two work­ing par­ents (pro­duc­tion of­fice in full hum) whose en­er­gies elec­trify the air.

The ac­tor stops at the end of the hall­way, grabs an eye­ful of a blue jacaranda in the gar­den be­yond, then veers right into a kitchen lay­ered with a mis­cel­lany of arte­fact, ap­pli­ance and Tay­lor, who presents both in per­son and ce­ramic por­trait. Of this smooth, white ef­figy with droop­ing fea­ture, which sits next to a Peter Booth work on the range­hood, he says, “That was made by one of the kids. I was beard­less then, but if you turn it up­side down…” ››

‹‹ Tay­lor pre­sides over a gen­er­ous gal­ley space that ex­udes all the in­dus­trial aes­theti­cism of a jazz-age Parisian bar. It im­per­cep­ti­bly su­tures the old Vic­to­rian front of the house to a ful­some two-storey ad­di­tion, the sum of which Grif­fiths in­forms was planned by Pow­ell & Glenn ar­chi­tects along the lines of Ital­ian palaz­zos — of­fi­ci­at­ing rooms flank­ing a front foyer that flows to pri­vate quar­ters. “We call it the mul­let house — short front and long back,” says Grif­fiths, us­ing the no-bull­shit ver­nac­u­lar of Rhonda Epin­stalk, the so­cial out­cast she char­ac­terised in 1994’s Muriel’s Wed­ding.

She po­si­tions her­self in front of the pot-belly stove and picks up a poker to stoke its fire, but is chided by Tay­lor. “Don’t touch that!” he says, steal­ing it from her hand. “That’s my job.” Grif­fiths ac­qui­esces and Tay­lor then of­fers cof­fee, promis­ing a “proper Mel­bourne brew” from an ea­gle-badged Bezzera ma­chine that sig­nals the cou­ple’s re­gard for best-in-class retro de­sign and bistrowor­thy ap­pli­ances.

“An­drew is the cook,” says Grif­fiths. She calls two years on the time taken to drill down to the fam­ily rou­tines and rit­u­als that ul­ti­mately cus­tomised a steel-framed is­land bench plumbed for hid­den ma­chines and fit­ted with a fluted glass al­cove for the con­ceal­ment of food-prep clut­ter and cook­books. “The de­sign of the kitchen is 90 per cent me. The break­fast and lunch-mak­ing zone is here,” she adds, open­ing the fridge ded­i­cated to morn­ing meals. “It’s the An­drew zone there — he doesn’t like any­one cross­ing his path when cook­ing — and the bak­ing zone is there.”

Tay­lor rolls his eyes in ac­knowl­edge­ment and says “she tor­tured ev­ery­one” with her nu­anc­ing of er­gonomics, a pedantry that one day pre­sented in model form with tiny to-scale pen­guins parad­ing around an is­land bench. Such mise-en-scène ma­nip­u­la­tion of the el­e­ments is not surprising given Grif­fiths’ re­cent up­skilling to full cin­e­matic su­per­vi­sion as the pro­ducer and di­rec­tor of Ride Like a Girl — the story of Michelle Payne, the first fe­male jockey to win the Mel­bourne Cup, who fa­mously is­sued post-race ad­vice to chau­vin­ist horse own­ers to “get stuffed”.

Grif­fiths looks from her van­tage through to a din­ing room dressed with mid-cen­tury fur­ni­ture and Tay­lor’s fine art — a paint­ing of the ghost gums that grew out­side his stu­dio while the fam­ily lived in Los An­ge­les. He de­clares the idea of paint­ing such pastoral scene would typ­i­cally make him “puke”, but says that those trees be­came em­blem­atic of their decade as trans­plants in LA. ››

‹‹ They flag the first room in a new wing that masks its moder­nity with what ar­chi­tect Ed Glenn later calls “the ar­chae­ol­ogy of parts” — a flu­ent lay­er­ing of walka­round and walk­through brick walls that sug­gest a big­ger site.

Grif­fiths nods to the high-value La­canche French cooker that fills a kitchen wall and says, “Rooms had to re­spond to all our found ob­jects. My tastes run to the very ex­pen­sive, but I’m also very cheap.” She elu­ci­dates this ad­mis­sion with an anec­dote of the months sucked into the vor­tex of Gumtree — the com­mu­nity web­site that re­warded her two-year search for La­canche sell­ers with a hand­somely priced cooker from a cafe in Port Fairy, in Vic­to­ria’s south-west. Re­call­ing the con­ver­sa­tion she had with the brand’s sup­pli­ers when seek­ing re­as­sur­ance that its pur­chase was with­out prob­lem, she mim­icks, “‘Oh, that would have be­longed to Bob and Marty be­cause it’s the only dou­ble-gas we’ve sold. Oh God, yes, it will last 100 years. We’ll send a plumber straight out.’” Then there’s the bath­tub, adds Tay­lor, shar­ing that the $30,000 Car­rara mar­ble beauty, hid­den out­doors in the gar­den’s back cor­ner, was bagged for one-tenth of the cost af­ter an­other two-year watch of Gumtree. “It ap­peared this Fe­bru­ary — An­drew got it for my birth­day,” says Grif­fiths, who, ac­cord­ing to her hus­band, typ­i­cally de­mol­ishes a script and floats into char­ac­ter while in its warm girth. “It’s my favourite 40 min­utes in the day,” she says. “Peo­ple leave you alone, you are off all de­vices and the blood starts to flow.”

The bath­tub hides on a deck off the main suite, be­hind a barely dis­cernible curved wall that cuts through the site and in­sin­u­ates an in­fi­nite qual­ity to the wider struc­ture. Within the sun-trap­ping gar­den rooms it cre­ated, plant­ings were made redo­lent of Syd­ney by Pap­worth De­sign and Si­mon McCurdy Land­scapes. Grif­fiths winds back to her seven-year-old self walk­ing to the Dawn Fraser Baths in Bal­main and says, “I will never for­get my won­der­ment at the fe­cund in Syd­ney. The ge­ol­ogy of it all; rock hit­ting fra­grant flower, warmth on my skin. I re­mem­ber think­ing, you can live like this?”

But the front gar­den is all homage to St Kilda’s Catani Gar­dens — the stretch of fore­shore fi­nessed by Florence-born en­gi­neer Carlo Catani, who planned for con­ti­nen­tal prom­e­nad­ing with palms, paths, lawns and em­bank­ments of lava rock. “I call it gobli rock,” says Grif­fiths, re­veal­ing that the neigh­bours think it ugly and toss it from their own yards for hard rub­bish col­lec­tion. “You know, I’m not be­yond the curb crawl to col­lect it.”

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