Bal­anc­ing act

En­veloped by a Ja­panese gar­den, this mid-cen­tury mod­ern home in Mel­bourne shows a mas­tery of the art of Zen liv­ing

ELLE Decoration (UK) - - Contents - Words AMY BRAD­FORD Photography LISA CO­HEN

The own­ers of this mid-cen­tury mod­ern Mel­bourne home, en­veloped by a Ja­panese gar­den, have mas­tered the art of Zen liv­ing

Alover of pared-down, geo­met­ric build­ings, Aus­tralian ar­chi­tect Robin Boyd (1919–1971) railed against over-dec­o­ra­tion in ar­chi­tec­ture in his 1960 book, The Aus­tralian Ugliness. Such flaws were nowhere to be seen in his Bridge House, com­pleted in 1955 in sub­ur­ban Mel­bourne. De­signed as a bridge-like struc­ture, it is sup­ported by dra­matic geo­met­ric trusses, with a flat roof and floor-to-ceil­ing win­dows on ei­ther side of an open-plan in­te­rior. But a ren­o­va­tion in the 1980s in­tro­duced walls, and filled in the area be­neath the house with store­rooms and a cel­lar, com­pro­mis­ing the de­sign that had made it seem as though the house was float­ing above the land­scape.

The Liber­man fam­ily bought Bridge House 25 years ago, but waited un­til 2012 to un­der­take a major ren­o­va­tion of the prop­erty. The fam­ily – which in­cludes jew­eller Karen Liber­man and her ce­ram­i­cist daugh­ter Lulu – brought in Mel­bourne ar­chi­tec­tural firm Jol­son to sen­si­tively adapt the build­ing to their needs. The firm’s founder Stephen Jol­son re­mem­bered stay­ing in the house as a child, when it was still in its orig­i­nal con­di­tion. He was there­fore per­fectly placed to set about re­viv­ing Robin Boyd’s vi­sion.

Stephen was not per­mit­ted to al­ter the ex­te­rior, as the de­sign is pro­tected by both her­itage laws and the Boyd Foun­da­tion, which safe­guards the ar­chi­tect’s legacy. How­ever, he did want to re­store the link be­tween the in­te­rior and the land­scape. ‘ We de­signed a cir­cu­lar ter­race, which only touches the house at mi­nor points,’ he ex­plains. ‘The idea was to cel­e­brate the struc­ture in a mod­ern way, while also be­ing sym­pa­thetic to Boyd’s pre­oc­cu­pa­tion with geom­e­try.’ The en­trance to the house is now reached via a se­ries of linked bridges (right) – giv­ing vis­i­tors a feel­ing of walk­ing through the tree­tops – with a round deck that con­nects to the liv­ing room.

Stephen also re­moved the store­rooms and the cel­lar be­neath the house, re­plac­ing them with a lighter, glass-framed space. The Liber­man fam­ily are wine con­nois­seurs, so a new cir­cu­lar, oak-clad wine cel­lar was in­cor­po­rated within the new struc­ture, which al­lows light to flow around it. ‘ We used ev­ery op­por­tu­nity to bring more light into the house,’ he says.

With this in mind, Stephen also re­moved the en­tire in­te­rior of the bridge sec­tion, re­plac­ing the walls with float­ing par­ti­tions that cre­ate sight­lines all along the build­ing. After ex­ten­sive ne­go­ti­a­tion, he was per­mit­ted to re­place Boyd’s white-painted tim­ber win­dows – which had started to rot – with new, black-painted steel ver­sions that frame the white rooms.

Stephen’s prac­tice fo­cuses on in­te­rior de­sign as well as ar­chi­tec­ture, and he worked closely with Karen Liber­man to com­bine her love of lay­er­ing with Boyd’s con­cept of open-plan liv­ing. ‘The whole house has a hand­made, crafted feel that re­sponds to Karen’s per­son­al­ity – she wanted her home to be a nur­tur­ing en­vi­ron­ment,’ he says. A re­strained pal­ette of ma­te­ri­als – in­clud­ing Amer­i­can oak, bronze steel and traver­tine – acts as a warm, neu­tral back­drop, and com­ple­ments the ter­race gar­dens, which were cre­ated by land­scape de­signer Michael Mccoy. Dom­i­nated by bam­boo and or­na­men­tal green­ery, the out­door spa­ces have a Ja­panese feel.

The only re­main­ing trace of the 1980s ren­o­va­tion is a sep­a­rate three-storey build­ing, which houses four bed­rooms, linked to the main house by a walk­way. The build­ing’s orig­i­nal struc­ture is thus freed up for re­lax­ing with fam­ily and friends, and the en­joy­ment of the nat­u­ral world – just as Robin Boyd in­tended. jol­son.com.au; karen­liber­man.com.au

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