Blue­prints for suc­cess

Some of the 20th cen­tury’s most gor­geously de­signed Aus­tralian homes have les­sons to teach us even to­day

Sunday Herald Sun - Stellar - - /living - With NEALE WHI­TAKER

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, inar­ti­ MCM HOUSE din­ing chair, $460, mcm­ RAJA HOME­WARES mir­ror, $90, ra­ja­home­ ICONIC: MOD­ERN AUS­TRALIAN HOUSES 1950–2000, $59.99, mur­

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.

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