Artist and designer John Lacey's natural talent and...
Into a new century
Renovating an interesting, solidly structured old house seemed a good move for Melbourne couple Stephen and Tanya. Clearly, the Mendals’ quest for an abode to suit their family’s lifestyle in a new century was extremely successful but the experience proved to be a steep learning curve – to say the least. The ultramodern look of this stunning family home entirely belies its age and origins.
Amazingly, it was built in the 1960s and on first sighting it Tanya described it as “yellow brick with a flat roof – and arches everywhere”! “But its ‘bones’ were good,” she continues. “It’s solid double-brick and the architect said it was too well built to pull down. Naively, perhaps, we originally thought the renovation process would be simpler than it was. We got a bit swept up in it I guess.”
After six weeks, however, the builder actually asked: “Why don’t we just pull it down?” Tanya and Stephen’s response was that they wouldn’t have designed it the way they had if they’d started from scratch. And, as the builder himself also pointed out, they don’t build things now the way they used to back then – so if they had begun again it wouldn’t be the same at all. And the way it is they have exactly what they’d hoped for.
“We wanted something quite industrial looking both inside and out – but not cold,” says Tanya, so they put timber on the ceilings instead of on the floor – which is concrete – and did the same with panelling on the walls. The wood they used is spotted gum, which softens it beautifully, giving the place a most unusual feel, and creating an attractive effect in the spacious open-plan living area.
They particularly wanted the interior to flow out to the garden, so all the glass doors open right back and the concrete floors inside extend to meet the same outside in an alfresco sitting area, and on from there to the pool. “It was something of a rabbit warren inside,” Tanya admits, “so we knocked down walls and changed rooms around. We also took out all the archways and squared them off.”
The architect was Jade Vidal from Bower Architecture and he created the entrance hallway as a gallery to display some of the couple’s extensive collection of artworks. From the front door you can look straight down the length of the house to the pool. “Even the pool was ‘renovated’,” Tanya says. “It was originally kidney-shaped, which was common in those days, but we made it more angular.”
Needless to say, the Mendals’ daughters – Gaby, 15, and Asha, 13 – absolutely love the house and the pool is in constant use, especially when their friends come. They all hang out together in the kids’ domain upstairs which has an exterior spiral staircase leading from a huge deck. “They come down it for a swim – then go back up,” Tanya says, “but we almost didn’t have that due to budget constraints. Then we realised that unless it was there, the kids wouldn’t use the deck – so back it went!” And it obviously works a treat.
Contributing considerably to the overall impression of comfort and elegance in this home are the furnishings, in a subtle yet sumptuous way, and this is not by chance. With the exception of a sofa from their previous house, everything came from Globe West, an Australian design and importing company owned by Stephen and his brother, Alan.
The firm specialises in modern design with clean lines in ranges of pieces that combine simplicity, functionality and versatility, and – as can be seen here – the result is not only uniquely Australian, it’s also very easy on the eye. Another outstanding element that contributes to the unique ambience is the artwork prominently on display, and Tanya gives her husband sole credit for this. “Stephen loves art,” she states, “and he has taught us all to appreciate beautiful works of all kinds, so that’s certainly his influence.”
BEHIND THE SCENES
“The original structure was probably the biggest, obviously, but the outdoor area was another because we didn’t give it much thought until we’d got the house itself close to finished. Keeping it within budget was another one as well... “
“Our architect – Jade Vidal from Bower Architecture! We got along fine and we’re now firm friends. We’d definitely use him for this type of project – if we ever do it again of course.”
“The backyard! I love the look of the spiral staircase – which we almost didn’t have, due to budget constraints...”
“The Calacatta marble on the island bench is my favourite thing in the whole house! We were warned by friends not to use it as it can be hard work to maintain but, in fact, I find it very easy to look after. It’s quite strongly veined and we actually went and chose the slab ourselves, so that we had that grain.”
STORY GABRIELLE BAXTER
PHOTOGRAPHY NICOLE ENGLAND
STYLING JAYNE REID