Architect John Henry and his wife Deb Ganderton (who works at Greater Melbourne Cemeteries Trust) are the humble owners of the truly remarkable ‘Research House’ in Eltham. A mind-boggling 1,000 cubic metre space, with 6.5 metre high walls and the most jaw-dropping sheer wall of South-facing windows overlooking leafy bushland, this is a home truly unlike any other.
Designed by John, the house was built from scratch, commencing in 2000. Though grand in scale, this is a home built on a budget. John and Deb bought their block for $105,000 in 1998, and then spent around $250,000 building the house. The build took two years – John and Deb kept running out of money, which held things up a bit. ‘We had underestimated the cost of building it, so we had to stop and save some money, but eventually we got there!’ John recalls.
The design itself was John’s vision, a sort of synthesis of aspects of all his favourite buildings across the world. ’What I thought I would do, was go over my 40-year career and pick out all the things I liked about architecture and the buildings from all over the world.’ he explains. ‘Featherston House (1967) by Robin Boyd and Paul Rudolph’s office Manhattan (1965) were the most influential factors on my concept, and I added all the other things I liked to those inspirations.’
Budget constraints forced John to work in the simplest and most affordable way. The house was constructed using a factory-made shed that John customised, with concrete slabs and a steel structure. The home comprises five open ‘rooms’, demarcated by changes in floor level rather than dividing walls. A lot of the interior is exposed, creating a strong connection between the interior spaces and the outdoors. In fact, the house is built right into the hillside, incorporating rocks and vegetation into the design. ‘Inside, there are all these plants and indoor gardens with rocks, it’s a contrast between the very industrial and the organic,’ John says.
And then, there’s the furniture, art and objects – a veritable museum’s worth of collectible, colourful stuff! Most of the art comes from the 1960s, with a lot of hard-edged, geometric motifs, as well as Op Art (optical art), which is John’s favourite because ‘it plays havoc with your eyes!’ The furniture, collected over a lifetime, is John’s most prized collection. ‘I love all of it,’ he says. ‘Trying to say which is your favourite is like picking a favourite child. They are all my favourites!’
John’s the first to admit that his home does have its challenges. ‘It gets hot in summer and it can get cold in the winter’ he laments. During Springtime, the house is at its best, with natural light streaming in, and an endless parade of native birds beyond the windows. ‘It’s like a treehouse, you feel like you are up in the tree tops with all the birds,’ John describes. ‘We have all sorts here – King Parrots, Sparrow Hawks, Kookaburras and Cockatoos in beautiful, bright colours. I never appreciated them all until I lived in this home.’
Though a highly personal project, Research House is now a well known and throughly well-documented property, having won many awards and featured in several publications. Some houses just beg to be photographed, documented and etched into the history books. Happy to oblige!