It was a sunny Saturday afternoon in Melbourne, when any number of competing activities were on offer: DIY opportunities and the obligatory snag from Bunnings; AFL matches; kids’ sport; new-release movies. Instead of doing any of these things, about 100 stylish Melburnians – and me – descended in our numbers on a quiet and unsuspecting house in Park Orchards. This was no ordinary Saturday, and this was no ordinary house. This property is perhaps the most marvelous example of Mid-Century Modern architecture to hit Melbourne’s real estate market in the past ten years. I haven’t stopped thinking about it since.
The real estate agents seemed to be taken aback by the interest the property had generated, and how could it not? Walking around, it was obvious that the Mid-Century Modern architecture aficionados were out in force: you could hear people talk in hushed and admiring tones about the feature stone wall, the swooping roofline, and the relationship between the garden and the interior. The admiration was tinged with apprehension: without heritage protection, would this property be safe?
Built in 1952, this real estate jewel reflects the simple lines, and modest living, for which mid-century modern architecture is rightly famous. It has three bedrooms (one with a walk-in robe) and only one bathroom. In keeping with the modest scale of the home the bathroom is cleverly designed and is split amongst three spaces: a separate area for a bath and vanity, a shower room and a separate WC. By our contemporary standards these rooms seem a little pokey as many houses today have at least two spacious bathrooms. This home was built before the ensuite bathroom became a standard inclusion so there was some sense in dividing up the only bathroom into three smaller functional rooms to allow multiple family members to use the facilities at the same time without conflict.
There is a largely unrenovated and completely functional kitchen (with original timber-veneer built-in cupboards), an informal, and a formal sitting space and dining area. These last two spaces, enjoying spectacular floor-to-ceiling glass windows, are separated by a beautifully crafted slate wall housing the (real) fire place. On one side the kitchen overlooks the informal sitting area, featuring the inside of the stone wall which is such a feature of the entry porch, and highlight windows.
The other side has stronger separation with sliding glass doors built into both sides of an overhead cupboard which is reminiscent of the way Harry Seidler separated the kitchen to the dining in the Rose Seidler house. The other end of the kitchen side leads to a practical, family-sized laundry. The kitchen shows its age when you venture outside to a covered porch and see the fridges which are too big to fit within the modest kitchen space.
The outside seems to come inside just inside the entrance hall which connects to a lightwell/courtyard space. While not large, it floods the centre of the home with light as two sides of it have full height glazing. Running along the third wall to the lightwell, which echoes the stone from the entry is the monstera deliciosa, sharing the space with a quiet Buddha sitting amidst a cacophony of shiny rocks.
Running along the length of the house is an east facing balcony. From there you can admire – The Garden.
Sitting on a 2000sq.m block is one of the most beautiful private gardens I have ever seen. You have the sense of being in a small botanical garden, fixed in time in the 1960s. Palm trees, agaves, blue spruces, cacti, succulents, giant bird of paradise, cypress trees, grass trees and jade plants sit within artfully curved garden beds bordered with volcanic rock. The garden is as beautiful as the house, but the agent hardly mentions it in the listing. The block has a slope from the front boundary to the rear, which does not detract from its beauty. While the slope would make backyard cricket tricky, there are plenty of family time opportunities with a veggie patch tucked at the side waiting to be revitalised.
An unexpected feature of the property is the three-car garage, as well as a two-car carport. According to the agent, the garage was created out of the house in the 1980s to accommodate the hobbies of the owners’ sons who were very engaged in their motor-cross sport.
I overheard a few mutters about the master bedroom being too small, and while it is cosy by contemporary McMansion standards, it certainly looked like it functioned well. What the mutterers failed to realize is that due to the design and location of the triple garage it would be very easy to convert it to additional master suite accommodation, with a generous en-suite and walk-in-robe without having to extend the existing roof line or increasing the footprint of the home. Even with the loss of the triple garage there is still a double carport, that could be converted easily into a garage, and lots of available land for other parking options.
The house was built by the current owners, and designed in conjunction with an architect relative, Raymond Jones. According to Modernist Australia, and architectural historian Simon Reeves of Built Heritage Pty Ltd, “Raymond Jones was a Geelong-born, late 1940s architecture student at Melbourne University who worked under the illustrious tutelage of Robin Boyd, Roy Grounds, John Mockridge, and Frederick Romberg”. It is a special home as it was designed to echo the modernist architecture of Palm Springs in the early 1950’s and has been beautifully integrated with its landscape. It is remarkable that as the vendors are also the original owners the home has not been updated to reflect current fashion, and is a time capsule from 1952.
When completed in 1950, Harry Seidler’s Rose Seidler House was the most talked about house in Sydney’, and was the first home built to modernist principles in Australia. This home, which followed shortly afterwards, would have been one of the first Melbourne homes built to the same modernist principles, and does have echoes of the Rose Seidler House in its design. I am surprised that this house has flown under the radar, unrecognised and relatively unknown for so many decades.
So what of the future for this remarkable home? It is currently on the market for sale and not for auction. The size of the land, and the lack of any sort of heritage protection, will mean that the property would be of interest to developers who would like to build six (or maybe even more) townhouses. Sadly, the siting of the home, and the slope, means that it would be tricky to maintain the home and subdivide, while still maintaining the relationship with the garden.
While Park Orchards is not a well known suburb (and unknown for mid-century modern architecture), and it has been considered a bit far out for those who have heard of it, the close location to the junction of the Eastern Freeway and Eastlink means that Melbourne’s CBD is commutable. The home really needs a buyer who is a fan of mid-century modern architecture, who is also passionate about the garden and the decades of love that have gone into it, so that it can be saved from demolition by developers.
The original owners have continued to tend the garden themselves. That explains the love and devotion that you feel emanating from the property. It is a house and garden looking for new owners to love and care for it into this next century – it deserves nothing less.
This home is one of the purest mid-century modern homes that Secret Design Studio has ever seen on the Melbourne market. To contact the agents handling the sale go to the website for this listing (but be quick)!
The sale of the “Jones House” designed by Raymond Jones, 1952, 516 Park Road, Park Orchards is being managed by Philip Webb Real Estate, Doncaster East, (03) 9842 1477.
If you would like to arrange a pre-purchase inspection, or to discuss design opportunities to improve or enlarge this home (or any other mid-century or post war home) then please contact me to make a “Dr Retro House Call” appointment.