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