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Walsh St House by Robin Boyd

Homes

Today we’re breaking with our usual format just slightly, to bring you an intimate look inside one particularly special Australian home.  The ‘Walsh St House’, or ‘Boyd House II’ as it is sometimes known, was designed by revered Australian architect Robin Boyd for his own family in 1957, and exists pretty much today just as it did whilst the Boyd family lived here, right down to the furniture, artwork and books!  The house is now the home of the Robin Boyd Foundation, who raised considerable funds to purchase the property in 2004 in order to guarantee its preservation – here, the foundation host various student programs, events and seminars to keep the spirit of the space alive, and educate future generations about Boyd’s work and the merits of good design.  Luckily, we’ve had the great fortune of being able to photograph this unique Melbourne home recently, thanks to an introduction by one particularly enthusiastic mid century design fan, who also happens to be a well known local comedian.  Of course, I’m talking about Tim Ross, best known in the biz as ‘Rosso’!

12th March, 2014

The iconic Walsh St House in South Yarra, designed by Australian architect Robin Boyd for himself and his family in 1958.  Photo – Eve Wilson, production – Lucy Feagins / The Design Files.

The iconic Walsh St House in South Yarra, designed by Australian architect Robin Boyd for his family in 1957. Above – downstairs dining room in main house.  Artwork on wall – ‘Solstar’ by Melbourne based painter Asher Bilu.  This painting was selected by Robin to hang in the Australian pavilion at the Osaka Expo in 1970. After the Expo,  it was returned to Melbourne and Robin and Patricia loved it so much they decided to buy it!  Sculpture on dining table by Inge King.  This piece was the first ‘maquette’ (ie study) prepared for a sculpture called ‘Joie de Vivre’. This sculpture is now in the foyer of the ICI building on the corner of Nicholson and Albert Streets in East Melbourne.  Photo – Eve Wilson, production – Lucy Feagins / The Design Files.

Downstairs sitting room in main house.  Artwork to left by Geoff Laycock, artwork to right – ‘Man on Sofa’ by Tony Woods. This painting was bought after Robin opened an exhibition of Tony’s paintings at Australian Galleries in Collingwood, a gallery owned by Tam and Sheila Purves who were clients of Robins. When hanging this painting at Walsh street, Robin arranged to have the sofa re-covered to match the painting!  Photo – Eve Wilson, production – Lucy Feagins / The Design Files.

Downstairs sitting room in main house.  Artwork to left by Geoff Laycock, artwork to right – ‘Man on Sofa’ by Tony Woods. This painting was bought after Robin opened an exhibition of Tony’s paintings at Australian Galleries in Collingwood, a gallery owned by Tam and Sheila Purves who were clients of Robins. When hanging this painting at Walsh street, Robin arranged to have the sofa re-covered to match the painting!  Photo – Eve Wilson, production – Lucy Feagins / The Design Files.

Sitting room in the ‘Children’s Pavilion’ (ie the children’s quarters, across the courtyard from the main house).  Original chair prototypes by Grant Featherson.  Photo of Robin Boyd on desk. Photo – Eve Wilson, production – Lucy Feagins / The Design Files.

Original Harry Bertoia Diamond chair in the lush central courtyard at Walsh st, set between the main house and children’s pavilion.  Photo – Eve Wilson, production – Lucy Feagins / The Design Files.

Comedian and mid century design enthusiast Tim’Rosso’ Ross at the Walsh Street house in South Yarra, where his comedy show ‘Man about the House’ will take place later this month for Melbourne Comedy Festival!   Photo – Eve Wilson, production – Lucy Feagins / The Design Files.

Sitting room in the ‘Children’s Pavilion’ (ie the children’s quarters, across the courtyard from the main house).  Original chair prototypes by Grant Featherson.  Photo – Eve Wilson, production – Lucy Feagins / The Design Files.

Upstairs mezzanine in main house.  Artwork – ‘In the Studio (Psychologically Challenged)’ by Melbourne based painter Tony Woods. This painting originally hand in Robin’s office in Albert street.  After his death, the painting was brought to Walsh street by his wife, Patricia.  Photo – Eve Wilson, production – Lucy Feagins / The Design Files.

Upstairs mezzanine in main house, featuring an original Grant Featherston SR161 Contour sofa circa 1951, with its distinctive contoured wing back and buttoned upholstery. With adjacent balcony and views out to the leafy courtyard, this room served a dual purpose – it was both Robin and Patricia’s bedroom, and was often re-configured as a sitting / lounging space for guests when the Boyds hosted parties here.   Photo – Eve Wilson, production – Lucy Feagins / The Design Files.

Upstairs balcony adjoining Robin and Patricia’s bedroom.  Butterfly chair (find similar at Angelucci Twentieth Century in Melbourne).   Photo – Eve Wilson, production – Lucy Feagins / The Design Files.

Main bathroom, with soaring ceiling and incredible natural light – situated at the front of the house on the top floor, this is the highest point of the building.  Photo – Eve Wilson, production – Lucy Feagins / The Design Files.

Looking to the children’s pavilion from the main house.  Original Harry Bertoia Diamond chairs in the courtyard. Photo – Eve Wilson, production – Lucy Feagins / The Design Files.

Details from the bedrooms in the Children’s Pavilion, across the courtyard. Photo – Eve Wilson, production – Lucy Feagins / The Design Files.

Details from the bedrooms in the Children’s Pavilion, across the courtyard. Photo – Eve Wilson, production – Lucy Feagins / The Design Files.

Lucy Feagins
Wednesday 12th March 2014

Tim’s affection for mid century design is well documented, and since purchasing his own beautiful modernist home in Sydney in 2005, his passion for the era has only been exacerbated!  ‘I have always collected things, and have had a serious problem with furniture over the years, particularly mid century modern pieces’ says Tim. This enthusiasm soon expanded into a full blown architecture obsession, inspired by the houses Tim recalls from his youth growing up on the Mornington Peninsula.  ‘Mt Eliza in particular had houses designed by architects like Robin Boyd, Roy Grounds and Chancellor and Patrick‘ he says.  When he has the privilege of visiting a fantastic modernist home now, Tim describes the experience as ‘like dealing with ‘architectural missing out disease‘!’ SO true!  I have often wondered what it must have been like to live in a such an exciting time, aesthetically speaking!

The Walsh Street house is an iconic Australian home for many reasons.  Robin Boyd is one of Australia’s most admired and influential architects, and his family home in Walsh street is his most well known work.  The house perfectly demonstrates the design principles championed in Boyd’s book ‘The Australian Ugliness‘, including what he identified as the suburban propensity to build homes on the very centre of a block of land.  Instead, The Walsh Street house demonstrates the advantage of a more introspective layout – the main house and a separate children’s pavilion face inward on the block, enveloping a lush central courtyard, linked by a distinctive sloping roof.

The home maximises its surprisingly modest footprint with versatile, multifunctional spaces which Boyd and his wife Patricia were known to re-configure often when entertaining guests.  The lofty mezzanine with adjacent balcony in the main house served both as the couple’s master bedroom, and as a secondary sitting room when the need arose.  Robin and Patricia’s bed would be covered by a neat upholstered cover to become a daybed for guests to lounge on!  With its soaring sloped ceiling and views out to the courtyard, this would have been a seriously impressive space to entertain – can you imagine walking into such a bold and modern space in the late 1950’s!?

Tim Ross’ passion for mid century design has brought about a very intimate connection to this home, and many others from the era, on account of a hugely popular comedy show he’s been doing for a few years now, called ‘Man About The House‘!  For this project he’s somehow managed to combine all his favourite things into one – comedy, music and mid century architecture.  No mean feat!

Man About The House is about a complete experience’ explains Tim. First and foremost, the evening is an entertaining comedy show (with a little live music thrown in), but it is also an open house, allowing visitors to experience first hand a house or building that has outstanding architectural merit. Tim has performed the show at various architectural gems across Australia – in Melbourne, his venue is the Walsh Street House.  ‘We encourage people to grab a drink and move around the house as if they were turning up at a friends place and check out their swinging pad for the first time’ he says.  In fact, I was lucky to attend Tim’s show here last year and I can attest to this!  The event started with a self guided wander around this incredible home, and culminated with Tim’s performance in the courtyard, alongside his best mate and musical sidekick Kit Warhurst.

Hosting his Man About the House show here, and in similar homes across Australia, has given Tim the chance to engage a new audience in a conversation about design. ‘Obviously the show is appealing for people who have a strong interest in architecture and design, but many people who don’t often walk away with a deeper appreciation for mid century modern architecture’ he says. ‘There is a strong message of preservation in the show, because I believe that buildings that are 50 or 60 years old are as important to save as those that are a 100 or 150 years old’.  Having said that, although each show does include an appropriate level of banter about the house, it’s not an architecture lecture by any means!  Tim’s performance is filled with anecdotes from his childhood in the suburbs, and  cheerful musical interludes with Kit, ‘…and it’s also about me doing dumb things, which is always funny’ adds Tim!

What really makes Man About The House unique is the genuine sense of intimacy that this unconventional performance space provides. ‘There is no backstage, and after the show people tend to hang around and talk, make new friends and of course recognise each other from Instagram!’ says Tim.

The Robin Boyd Foundation have been fantastically supportive of Tim’s show, and will be hosting another series of Man About The House later this month for the Melbourne Comedy Festival.  For a closer look at this very special Melbourne home, do consider getting along to check it out – a great night out, and one of the best ways to experience the charm of this truly iconic Australian home first hand.

For more on Man About The House, there is a cute video from Tim explaining the concept behind the show in a little more detail here.

For more info on The Robin Boyd Foundation and other upcoming events in the Walsh Street House , do check out their website!

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The Design Files acknowledge the Traditional Custodians of the lands on which we work, the Wurundjeri people of the Kulin Nation. We pay our respects to Elders past and present.

First Nations artists, designers, makers, and creative business owners are encouraged to submit their projects for coverage on The Design Files. Please email bea@thedesignfiles.net