Today’s home in Melbourne is all about vision, and trust. Homeowners Dale Nixon and Rowan Lodge bought their two bedroom Prahran house ten years ago. At the time, it was a somewhat forgettable 1970’s besser brick structure, and didn’t attract any competition at auction. ‘We were the only bidders, as it seemed that many people could not see what lay beneath the shag carpet, vertical blinds and angular forms’ says Rowan. ‘It was the type of real estate listing that had more stock photos of people shopping at Prahran Market or sipping Lattes at the local Café than in fact showing the interior of the property. Always a good sign that you might be into a hidden gem.’ Indeed! Dale and Rowan instantly saw potential. They secured the property, with grand plans to renovate immediately, however a work posting in 2007 to Hong Kong, and later to Germany put these plans on hold until recently.
In 2014, the pair started to plan for a return to Australia, and engaged Melbourne architect Thomas McKenzie of Thomas Winwood Architecture to renovate their home prior to their return. (Brave!) ‘Thom was able to take our mood boards and drawings, and combine these with his humanistic and emotional design aesthetic, and implement a home that provides us with joy every day’ says Rowan.
Through weekly Skype chats at all hours of night, Rowan and Dale communicated with Thomas from their home in Germany, and were kept up to date with the renovation process. ‘We all wanted to create a space that was light filled, beautifully zoned and would provide the backdrop for our collection of art and furniture pieces. At the same time we were mindful that we did not want to lose the nuances of the 1970’s period’ says Rowan. Painting the brick, installing a slate floor and adding restrained decorative elements have all contributed to the success of the result.
Though much has been done here to update the home cosmetically, the basic footprint of Dale and Rowan’s remains unchanged. As with so many homes designed in the ‘50s and ‘60s and ’70s, this is a building that in essence celebrates very ’liveable’ architecture. 1970’s homes are typically utilitarian, making the best use of natural light, scale and functionality. These were features that Dale, Rowan and their architect Thom were keen to build upon. The refurbishment was also inspired in part by the Reed House (Heide II) at Melbourne’s beautiful Heide Museum of Modern Art, which was built in 1968. ‘Discovering this property ignited a fire within us, we realised this was a structure that we could work with to try to create something similar to the emotive aesthetic of Heide II’ says Rowan.
Dale and Rowan’s time spent living in various homes overseas has also greatly influenced the choices they’ve made here. ‘In Germany our home was built in 1650, and we became very attached to the timber ceiling and exposed rafters. Living in a home that was built hundreds of years before Australia was developed by Europeans was a unique experience and very formative for us’ recalls Rowan. On Thom’s suggestion, a new battened timber ceiling was installed in the ground Floor, a type of modern interpretation of the couple’s previous home in Germany, and the materiality of a typical 1970’s home.
It’s clear Dale and Rowan have relished the opportunity to return home and re-acquaint themselves with their home town after a long hiatus abroad. The pair still appear very much to be in the ‘honeymoon period’ with their gorgeous new home, and are thrilled with the results of their renovation, with high praise for Thom, their architect.
‘The house is just a wonderful space to be in, and the interaction of light from the North and West, and how the house responds to this through all seasons of the year gives us great happiness and joy’ says Rowan. ‘It is a home that we hope evolves, and as we add and take pieces away the interior will progress and tell a story of time’.