Torbreck is an iconic building in Brisbane. Well known and much loved by local design aficionados, this impressive multi-storey apartment building was designed by Brisbane architects AH Job and RP Froud, and built between 1958 – 1960.
Young Brisbane architect Aaron Peters of Vokes and Peters moved into his apartment here with partner Rebecca Pouwer in 2013. ‘We’d seen Torbreck on the hill for so many years, and learnt about it over time’ Aaron says. Though they had long been fans of the building, the apartment itself was in what Aaron describes as ‘a pretty deplorable state’ when they first took possession. ‘Much of the existing fabric had been removed or damaged beyond repair’ he recalls. ‘The previous tenant had painted murals over the kitchen, that included supergluing plastic dinosaurs to the cabinets and painting pink love hearts on the floor, it was a joy to demolish!’
Aaron and Rebecca’s intention from the outset was to renovate the unit in a way that would celebrate the history of the building, drawing inspiration from the mid-century modernist tradition. They were keen, however, to avoid simply replicating the original fit-out. ’Almost everything needed to be re-made, the only original element that could be kept were the floor tiles in the bathroom and laundry’ Aaron recalls. Perhaps the most drastic alteration was raising the floor of the kitchen and dining rooms, and creating a partial dividing wall to the living room. This helped disguise prominent structural beams in the ceiling, evoked the ‘sunken living room’ commonly seen in the mid century era, and significantly, it also allowed the installation of a discreet curtain to convert this living room into a functional second bedroom when baby Arthur arrived!
Aaron and Rebecca employed two different builders to do the bulk of the work here over a two year period, but also did a lot of things themselves, including constructing the timber shelves and day bed. ‘Our apartment is a series of little experiments, and we enjoy each for different reasons, but I have to say that the day bed was a particular milestone’ Aaron says. ‘Rebecca later admitted that she was budgeting to have to pull it out and rebuild it because she assumed I’d screw it up!’ he adds!
What really defines this re-worked apartment, aside from the great sense of respect for the era of the building, is a feeling of simplicity and restraint. At its heart, this is pared back and very utilitarian home. There isn’t an inch to spare, and yet it’s perfectly proportioned for this young family – everything has a place and a function.
‘I think we’re very pleased that the new renovation seems to belong in the building’ Aaron explains, when asked what he loves most about his apartment. In fact, when the unit was included in the recent Brisbane Open House event, one of the architects who had worked for Job and Froud came through on a tour. ‘He told me that he thought the work was very sensitively handled, which was the best endorsement we could hope for’ Aaron says!