Today’s colourful family home in Ashwood, Melbourne is more than just a beautiful place to live. It’s a reminder of how much our surroundings can lift our mood in difficult times, and a shining example of the magic that can happen when friends and loved ones rally around in times of need. This is the home of Sam Johnson, vintage poster aficionado and proprietor of Vintage Posters Only in Armadale, and his two gorgeous young kids Gracie and Charlie. Also in residence are Minxy the cat, and the family chooks, Fatty and Fluffy! The family have been here for nearly ten years.
Sam’s late wife Sharon discovered this late modernist home in the back streets of Ashwood, in suburban Melbourne nearly 10 years ago. As Sam recalls, ‘she found the listing in The Age on a Wednesday, and by the Saturday it was ours!’. At that time, the home was surrounded by orange brick bungalows with pitched roofs – ‘it was a bit of modern Europe bursting out through the A.V. Jennings belt’ Sam says. He and Sharon couldn’t resist it. ‘We named the house ‘Latvia’ after the migrant owners who were savvy enough to commission an architect back in the day’ he says, proudly.
When they first moved in, Sam recalls the home looked a little like a 1960’s Millard caravan – full of texture and quirky details, with an overgrown garden. He and Sharon undertook a careful renovation, leaving the main structure intact, while allowing for light and space, and the addition of a few contemporary modcons. ‘We did not really want to add on a vast, sterile kitchen-living space, preferring to keep the spaces intimate, but light filled, with all the rooms permeable to the outside’ Sam says.
The house has three bedrooms, with a modest but very clever layout that forms a ‘horseshoe’ around a T-shaped front balcony, visible from every room. The whole front of the house still has its 1960’s floor to ceiling windows. Originally, Sam says the old house was also lined with timber panelling, which he loved, but which ultimately made the house too dark. This was reluctantly removed to make way for a bright, cheerful paint job, and the house exterior was also given a contemporary touch, painting the orange bricks (with their amazing raised relief patterns) a dark charcoal grey. ‘However, we kept the windows and trims white – classic 1960s!’ Sam says.
Midway through renovating their home, Sam and Sharon were hit by a major setback. ‘Shazza got quite sick whilst we were in the middle of the renovations, making it pretty hard to put any energy into the house’ explains Sam. ‘The only reason we have this beautiful home is because of my mates’ says Sam, who is indebted to his amazing creative friends who stepped in to help fix up their home after Sharon passed away. They include many familiar names – Sam’s best mate Joost Bakker, Sydney artist and designer Rachel Castle, and Mark and Louella Tuckey, who are amongst his nearest and dearest. ‘I remember one-day thirty people showed up just to pitch in’ says Sam. ‘We had the hottest stylists; Mardi Ola and Louella Tuckey, access to Australia’s top designers; Rachel Castle, Jardan, By Joost, Mark Tuckey, help from Loom Rugs, Angelucci 20th Century, artwork by David Band and beautiful gardens by top landscapers Grantham Clayford, Form Landscaping and Joost. It was pretty overwhelming and really cool. The result shows just how incredible these people are’.
Sharon, or ‘Shazza’ as Sam still affectionally calls her, is still very much a part of this home. ‘I think it is obvious I love all things Shazza. She is everywhere’ says Sam. Sam’s favourite pieces are two neon lights he had made for his kids last Christmas, which spell out their Mum’s name. Gracie’s lights up pink, whilst Charlie’s is blue and yellow.
Given Sam’s business and his passion for antique prints and rare posters, it’s inevitable that some of his favourite prints and posters have ended up on his walls at home. ‘I’m obsessed with everything graphic, I love type and construction, the feel of a clever designer such as Le Corbusier, Picasso, and my latest favourite, Serge Poliakoff’. Sam’s posters grace almost every room.
The house is beautifully sited, perched at the highest point on a little hill, with neighbours on only one side, and an oval with a break of pine trees on the other. ‘It’s a special spot’ says Sam. ‘You don’t feel that you’re in the depths of suburbia. That’s probably what I love most about ‘Latvia‘, this feeling of country living in the middle of Ashwood. It refreshes you, and I think that’s the most important element of a home and the hardest to create. Latvia has always had that sanctuary feeling’.
Massive thanks to Sam, Charlie and Gracie for sharing their very special home and their story with us today.