Have you noticed the groundswell of support for mid-century architecture lately? First it was Sirius (in Sydney), then the Lind House in Melbourne (temporarily safe, hurrah!). It seems all across Australia, we’re finally wising up to the inherent value of homes and buildings designed in the ’50s, ’60s and even ’70s. After all… this era was a remarkable and formative time for Australian architecture, and when these houses are gone, they’re gone for good!
One couple who have spent the past (almost) 10 years advocating in their own way for Australia’s mid-century history are Patricia Callan and Peter Bakacs. The pair have been running Modernist Australia in its various forms since Trish founded the website in 2008. It’s a truly FANTASTIC site, and an incredible resource for mid-century enthusiasts. Well worth following on social media, especially as a home buying resource, or simply for a daily fix of mid-century eye-candy!
The husband-and-wife duo both have fine art backgrounds, having studied Ceramic Design at Monash in the 1990s (Pete focusing on clay, and Trish on hot glass blowing after a year of Sculpture at RMIT).
When Pete is not commuting to Melbourne a few days per week for his full-time job as a web designer, or handing that side of MA, he likes to paint (with a mid-century slant, as you might have guessed!). The talented artist is actually opening his first solo exhibition, ‘The Fast Can’t Lose‘ at Outre Gallery in Melbourne today!
The one-woman marvel behind ALL Modernist Australia’s editorial, Trish, works part-time in an unrelated field and on the website every chance she gets. ‘Hence it is not the full site it could be…’ she adds modestly, ‘however, the kids are off to school next year, so we’re hoping to ramp it up a little!’
The family lived in Seddon for 13 years, but moved beachside to a roomier home in Ocean Grove in 2013, with their twin girls who are now aged five. Fittingly, the Modernist Australia headquarters is their amazing 1979 Besser brick home, which was designed by architect Eoin Barnett.
We recently visited the duo at their beautiful home, and had a chance to chat to Trish about their brilliant website.
How did you go from studying Fine Art to launching the Modernist Australia?
Studying fine art sets you up beautifully to work in call centres and admin jobs for years which is what I have done (though I made art in fits and starts). Pete went back to uni and studied multimedia at RMIT, and now is a lead designer at a tech company. Having kids of course takes up time, as does having day jobs, but the busier we are, the more we get done, if that makes sense!
Was there a specific moment that inspired you to launch Modernist Australia? And how has it evolved?
I first focused on mid-century modernist (MCM) homes creatively with an art project in the late ’90s. Being a real estate browser for years I became frustrated that so many architect designed homes were not being sold for their design and craftsmanship merits. This was the 2000s, when MCM styling and furniture was becoming big, but the architecture – the houses these items were coming from – were (and still are) being sold for scrap.
Having a web designer at my disposal, I decided to make a small website to house my rants and showcase the homes which were disappearing before our very eyes. This has evolved into about four different versions of website, forays into holiday rentals and a bit of guest blogging, radio appearances etc.
For someone who isn’t so familar with your site, can you explain what MA is all about?
Modernist Australia (MA) uses existing real estate listings to showcase great MCM, mostly domestic, architecture across the country. It can be used in several ways: as a home buying resource or for design and renovation ideas, as platform for preservation advocacy or for straight up eye-candy. We are fairly broad in what we include as ‘Modernist’, but stay within the perimeters of classic mid-century; 1940s – 1970s. As non-experts ourselves, we aim to elicit broad discussion, because good design is for all, staying accessible and (hopefully!) funny.
Who else is involved in producing all that wonderful content?
MA is essentially my show; I choose the homes, write the commentary and post them up and manage the social media. Peter helps with the technical aspects – the web design, the stats, any issues which may arise with images etc.
How do you source homes and stories to feature; do you have a particular process or criteria?
I’ve learnt in which suburbs MCM houses most commonly appear, and I web search broad areas of the country with keywords, but mostly now people send us homes they have seen or are selling for inclusion on the site. And we have literally hundreds of homes just this year we could have listed but have not been able to fit in. I try to keep it as nation-wide as possible and show a variety. It would be easy to post nothing but million dollar homes from just Melbourne but that doesn’t reflect the breadth of work, nor philosophy of Modernist progressives who wanted good design to be part of everyone’s lives.
What do you hope to achieve from running MA?
We want to influence mainstream thought by reminding everyone that these houses are beautiful, practical places to live and for the first thought to not be to knock them down. We’d like to see the same desire for MCM furniture and decor afforded to these brilliant, considered residences. I’d especially like the wider public to start thinking about design, even for new builds, to be for actual living not just surface appeal.
The highlight for us has been the resonance of ideas and a growing community who have found each other. The confirmation that we are not alone in our appreciation for this era of design, and that many people are interested in creative output which is stylish but also skilfully created and lasting – not just buying trendy ‘stuff’. The only drawback is being able to keep up with it all. I suspect some people think we are an organisation, though it’s really only me and so I have to constantly juggle emails, social media messages, requests for renovation help, listings and social media stuff at a certain pace to keep the momentum going.
How have the online content and social media revolutions impacted upon MA ?
We have about about 70,000 page views, per month, but social media has made us who we are. We began the Facebook page around 2011 (14,200 followers) and Instagram began only a couple of years ago (9,700 followers) and both are without question the best method to alert everyone of new content. Social media also provides a platform for commentary which we don’t have to moderate, everyone is very nice and respectful – thankfully!
As you are authors of a website about incredible homes, we’d also love to hear more about your special dwelling?
With twin toddlers we had been looking to move out of the city for more space and fresh air. We had glanced at a few homes down this way and nearly forgotten about this one. Pete came down by himself for an opening and called me immediately and said we had to buy it.
Like many late Modernist brick homes it has a pervasive calmness. Designed to capture sunlight in the day and a moody darkness at night. The carpet, concrete and timber ceiling means it is never clattery or echoey, just soft and cosy all year round. Plus the kitchen is almost identical to the one in my childhood home. As it was only a beach house before there wasn’t much to do but move in our things, though we have built a bungalow out the back as Pete’s studio/home office. We don’t want to crowd the space so everything is fairly considered, be it from the op-shop or more high-end name pieces. We have a couple of paintings: a Jon Langford, which was a wedding present and a small Ray Crooke, which we also love.
What or who are some other Australian websites, MCM enthusiasts, and creative people you enjoy following?
1. I am always following the local MCM community, specifically Victorian Modern (on Facebook) by architectural historian Simon Reeves who is hilarious and learned in equal measure (watch this space for a possible new contributor to MA!), project home expert Steven Coverdale at MCDA (on Facebook) and any local preservation groups we can find.
2. I love textiles, so right now am very keen on American fashion label Ace and Jig, lots of drooling and not much buying unfortunately.
3. We are huge supporters of our local creatives and craftspeople. Geelong and the Bellarine has a great mix of some very cool kids and old-school purveyors and we want them to flourish. Places like: Union Street Wine, Frank and Dollys, The Pivotionan Cinema, and Boom Gallery.
Can you list for us some of the top resources that you turn to when you’re in a need of creative inspiration?
1. Music is a huge factor in our lives (oh to be able to buy records every day!) and depending on what I’m writing, what Pete is painting or what breakfast the girls might be eating, there will always be something playing to accompany that.
2. I regularly check Architecture AU and the annual Houses Awards to get excited at the next bunch of architects and their work. It makes me happy about the future.
3. I will always return to some of my favorite design publications from the mid-20th century, especially my collection of Sunset books from the ’60s and ’70s. It’s astounding how architecturally wonderful the ‘everyday’ suburban homes in these books are.
What’s next for Modernist Australia?
Who knows?! Everyday is a new idea.
We do have a lot of inquiries about sympathetic renovation and we’d certainly like to help more with resources for that. But there are also book ideas, podcast ideas, festival ideas, complete commercial sell-outtery or maybe we’ll pack it all in and I’ll start painting too.
BELLARINE PENINSULA QUESTIONS
Your favourite place on the Bellarine?
The Barwon River Estuary and Barwon Heads/Ocean Grove beaches.
… And our little house; we never want to leave!
Where was the best meal you recently had in your area?
Basil’s has been the recent winner. We had a lunch with friends and kids recently and could have stayed all day. The Paddock in Wallington and coffee from White Hart in Ocean Grove are also consistently great.
Where would we find you on a typical Saturday morning?
Thinking I should be going for a glorious long walk on the beach, but actually typing up a listing for MA and planning breaky at one of the above.
What’s The Bellarine’s best kept secret?
The north-facing Corio Bay views and Salt Lounge in Queenscliff for damn fine cocktails.
‘The Fast Can’t Lose‘ by Peter Bakacs
October 6th to 15th
249 Elizabeth Street, Melbourne