Blueprints for success
Some of the 20th century’s most gorgeously designed Australian homes have lessons to teach us even today
Ilove Australian architect Richard Leplastrier’s description of a house as an “outer garment” for the owners’ lives. It’s a beautifully apt analogy, quoted in the introduction to Karen Mccartney’s new book Iconic: Modern Australian Houses 1950–2000 (Murdoch Books, $59.99).
Now, far be it from the uber-modest Mccartney to ever suggest it, but she’s something of an icon herself. What the Sydney-based author and curator doesn’t know about Australian post-war residential architecture isn’t worth knowing, and her published works include the bestselling Perfect Imperfect and The Alchemy Of Things, plus – of course – the original two volumes of Iconic Australian Houses, which have been re-edited to create this single new collectable edition.
“To me, the book rounds up a crosssection of houses by Australia’s most groundbreaking architects,” explains Mccartney, “with lots of contemporary lessons to be learnt from their modesty of scale, ingenuity and integration with landscape. I’m proud to have shone a light on such a variety of solutions as to what it means to design a home.”
The lessons the author refers to are the very same concerns with efficiency and sustainability that preoccupy contemporary architects. Many of the ones she features were visionaries, whose forward-thinking principles are as relevant today as half a century ago, maybe more so.
Mid-century design is well represented in Iconic, but the majority of the 27 houses featured were built between 1972 and 2000. Many of them set my pulses racing, but in the highly hypothetical event of having to choose just one, it would be Leplastrier’s idiosyncratic Palm House, completed between 1973 and 1975. It might have once been dubbed the most impractical house in Australia, but as Mccartney observes, “Impracticality, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder.”
To me, it’s a magical, tropical hideaway – that I once had the good fortune to visit – concealed by palms on one of Sydney’s northern beaches. When I ask Mccartney to choose her favourite, she’s unequivocal. It’s the Marshall House, AKA the Mccartney family home. “It has to be the house we’ve lived in for almost 20 years,” she laughs. “[It was] designed by Bruce Rickard in 1967; living there sparked the original idea for the books and it’s been the most wonderful place for my children to grow up.” It seems even iconic houses are where the heart is. Neale Whitaker is co-host of Foxtel’s
Love It Or List It Australia on Lifestyle, and a judge on Nine Network’s The Block.
“Impracticality, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder”
INARTISAN jug, $69, inartisan.com MCM HOUSE dining chair, $460, mcmhouse.com RAJA HOMEWARES mirror, $90, rajahomewares.com ICONIC: MODERN AUSTRALIAN HOUSES 1950–2000, $59.99, murdochbooks.com.au
HOME RUNS (from top) Neale Whitaker is a fan of Australian architect Richard Leplastrier’s Palm House, “a magical tropical hideaway” on Sydney’s Northern Beaches; author Karen Mccartney’s Marshall House (left and below) showcases natural materials, such as western red cedar, and is set into a hillside.