Alistair: Posted on Tuesday, 31 January 2012 1:45 PM
Secret Design Studio is just finishing a sympathetic addition to a home in a bushland setting that has all of the hallmarks of one of the many Pettit and Sevitt homes that were built in the 1960’s and early 1970’s. Most fans of mid-century modernism would know of the success and fame of the modernist Eichler Homes in California. Australia has our own version of the Eichler Homes success story in the Pettit and Sevitt Company.
It is remarkable that these two independent companies were mirroring each other’s success at the same time, but in two countries on either side of the Pacific Ocean. Joseph Eichler used well known architects such as respected architect and Wright disciple Robert Anshen, as well as A. Quincy Jones and Raphael Soriano. Brian Pettit and Ron Sevitt used well known architects Ken Wooley, Michael Dysart, Harry Seidler and Melbourne’s Neil Clerehan.
Wikipedia neatly summarises what makes an Eichler home, “Eichler homes are from a branch of Modernist architecture that has come to be known as “California Modern,” and typically feature glass walls, post-and-beam construction, and open floorplans in a style indebted to Frank Lloyd Wright and Mies van der Rohe . Eichler Homes exteriors featured flat and/or low-sloping A-Framed roofs, vertical 2-inch pattern wood siding, and spartan facades with clean geometric lines. One of Eichler’s signature concepts was to “Bring the Outside In,” achieved via skylights and floor-to-ceiling glass windows with glass transoms looking out on protected and private outdoor rooms, patios , atriums, gardens, and swimming pools.
The interiors had numerous unorthodox and innovative features including: exposed post-and-beam construction; tongue and groove decking for the ceilings following the roofline; concrete slab floors with integral radiant heating; luan panelling; sliding doors for rooms, closets, and cabinets; and a standard second bathroom located in the master bedroom. Later models introduced the famous Eichler entry atriums, an open-air enclosed entrance foyer designed to further advance the Eichler concept of integrating outdoor and indoor spaces.”
Pettit and Sevitt homes are from a branch of Modernist architecture that has come to be known as the “Sydney School”, and shares many of the qualities of the Eichler Homes. However the palette of materials were quite different: brick veneer construction, Gyprock interior wall cladding, Monier concrete tiles, Stegbar windows and other components and methods typical of 1960s Australian home building.
Between 1950 and 1974, Joseph Eichler’s company, Eichler Homes, built over 11,000 homes, most of which were in California, with no significant amount of work outside California. According to the Pettit and Sevitt website about 3500 were built in the 1960s and ’70s and mostly limited to Sydney’s North Shore and Canberra.
Secret Design Studio cannot find any information about Pettit and Sevitt homes that were built south of the border in Victoria, however the Pettit and Sevitt style was so popular in Sydney that it was emulated, with mixed degrees of success, by other home builders of the time.
Lucas Morris Homes, which was later part of the Englehart Group put a Melbourne spin on the “Sydney School” in the Templestowe/Doncaster areas, using a similar architectural language but with local materials, such as Daniel Robertson bricks. The Lucas Morris interpretation of the Sydney School was adopted by Englehart Homes who continued to build variances of this style, such as the Englehart “Kiah” into the late 1980’s.
In his biography by W. Isaacson, Apple’s Steve Jobs credited living in an “Eichler Home” when growing up as the main inspiration for developing an aesthetic sensibility for the modernist and for the simple. Unfortunately Pettit and Sevitt cannot claim such a long standing similar cultural influence, apart from being used for Bruce Beresford’s 1976 movie of David Williamson’s 1971 play, “Don’s Party” which was set during the 1969 Australian federal election. Don’s Party was held in Don’s house which was a Pettit and Sevitt home, but unfortunately Secret Design Studio cannot tell from the stills which Pettit and Sevitt home starred.
The good news for fans of Pettit and Sevitt is that the brand has recently been relaunched in Sydney by the wife of Ron Sevitt, Val Sevitt and her two children, Carol Sevitt and Colin Sevitt. Even Ken Wooley, the architect who was responsible for many of the original designs has revisited them to bring them into the 21 century, enlarging them slightly. For more information on the welcome return of Pettit and Sevitt go to the website:
Or watch the video which Secret Design Studio has uploaded into our Youtube video channel.
|Brief documentary about the history and recent rebirth of iconic Australian project home company Pettit+Sevitt. Produced and directed by Eliza Sevitt.|
Secret Design Studio is very happy to promote Pettit and Sevitt as they are an important part of Australia’s 20 century architectural heritage, and they represent a smaller, well designed alternative to the production builder’s McMansion for new home buyers in Sydney.
Secret Design Studio was approached by an owner of a Pettit and Sevitt style home on a steep bushland block to look at options to add a studio/retreat space. Like many homes of the period the house had gone through a number of owners since it was built in the early 1970’s so the current owners, who were unaware of the Pettit and Sevitt heritage, didn’t know who the original builders were. The home had many of the features of the Pettit and Sevitt Split Level with some minor changes for the steepness of the site, but instead of using the standard white, bagged and painted brickwork it had a mottled, clinker style brick with a lot of colour variety, which blends in well with the bushland setting.
After discussions and reviewing a number of options, including under the existing deck, pushing out to the rear, Secret Design Studio and our clients decided that the best use of the site, space and light would be to build on top of the existing free-standing garage that had an underutilized concrete deck roof to provide a 6m x 6m footprint for the new studio. To complicate matters a new pool had been erected behind the garage and the pool deck was 1.5metres above the garage roof. The client wanted a better transition and visual link between the studio and pool.
The client’s house shared many of the features with Ken Wooley’s own house in Mosman, that he designed in 1961, and won an RAIA Wilkinson Award in 1962, but on a much smaller Pettit and Sevitt scale.
Internally there were also elements that reminded Secret Design Studio of Wooley’s 1964 Baudish House, especially the rich palette of natural materials such as the clinker bricks and stained timber.
The answer to the 1.5m difference between the floor slab and the pool surround was to repeat the split-level of the original house but on a smaller scale. An open balustrade would separate the two levels providing views down into the bushland valley and across the pool.
The new studio building mirrors the existing house in many ways, including a cathedral ceiling, generous timber framed windows and generous eaves over external doors, but on a much smaller footprint. Secret Design Studio is also pleased that the eaves and ceilings are timber lining boards, reminiscent of Ken Wooley’s Baudish House External materials proved a challenge as the clinker bricks for the garage and house would have been impossible to match.
Due to the bushland setting two of the elevations had to reach BAL 40, and two BAL29, which are the new requirements for Bushfire Attack Levels (BAL) that have been introduced that Pettit and Sevitt would never have had to contend with. Fortunately Secret Design Studio was able to source a James Hardie planking product from fibre cement that matched the profile of the weatherboard features of the original house and a timber window manufacturer whose windows matched the Pettit and Sevitt style and met with the Bushfire Attack Level requirements. As well as the meeting the Bushfire Attack Level requirements there were also environmental considerations governed by BASIX that had to be met at an early stage, with lots of insulation and low-e glass.
These additional levels of regulations and requirements will add extra cost and complexity to Pettit and Sevitt houses as they are refreshed and revisited by Ken Wooley and the Sevitt family. When the question is asked “Where are the Pettit and Sevitt builders of today?” the answer is that they are back, but it is a whole new ball game. Secret Design Studio wishes them the best in their new business and hope that they can provide lots of Australian families a quality design alternative to the terrifying McMansions of the production builders.