Author Mary Parlange moved from Vancouver to Melbourne in late 2017, as her husband Marc took an academic position at Monash University. When scouting for a home in their new city, the couple bid on some contemporary houses, but ‘hadn’t really found the right place.’ After scrolling though real estate apps, Mary stumbled across the Salter House, designed by Walter Burley Griffin and his wife Marion Mahoney Griffin in 1924.
Mary describes ‘when we walked in it just felt right, like Goldilocks finding the right bed.’ Their offer was accepted and as the reality set in, Mary reveals ‘we looked at each other and said “what have we just done?” At the time, we knew almost nothing about the Griffins or the history of the house. We just knew this could become a home.’
The ‘home-making’ process was not a straight forward or simple one, with their builder Stuart McLean reminding Mary and Marc ‘you can’t open a can of worms without expecting to find any worms.’ The couple engaged architects Jane Cameron and Christopher Hewson to redesign the home, which required considerable work! The budget and timeline were revised countless times to accommodate the essential excavation and re-stumping of bedrooms, reinforcing of walls, rewiring, gutting and refitting of bathrooms, and all closets, built-in shelving and door hardware being replaced. Floors were repaired, sanded, stained and finished, and fireplaces were updated.
In addition to these extensive structural changes, interior walls were painted matte white, against an exterior grey. The landscaping was also completely redesigned by Sam Cox, introducing Castlemaine slate, and native planting ‘more in line with Griffin’s landscape philosophy.’
Mary describes the joy of moving through the home, where different ceiling heights create a sense of opening out, and inviting in. The iconic Griffin designed knitlock concrete tiles create a curved ribbing effect, and give the home a distinctive and timeless aesthetic.
For such a unique house, it is almost uncanny how well the couple’s furniture and artwork sits against the Griffins’ design. Beloved items include the bed in the guest room, forged in Pojoaque New Mexico, which originally belonged to Mary’s mother. The home tells a story of the family’s globe-trotting life, with pockets of folk art from their travels peppered through the property. Mary particularly highlights the combination of her parents dining table, paired with the Hans Wegner sofa and chair (restored by Angelucci 20th Century). She explains that everything fits together in this house ‘like it was pre-ordained.’
This stunning renovation was a major undertaking, ‘from the time we moved to Melbourne to when we moved into the house, we lived in seven different apartments and AirBnbs’ Mary admits. But the process has not only delivered a beloved home, Mary has also developed a new passion for the life and work of the Griffins. She explains ‘we have lived all over the world, and this has – by far – been the biggest adventure and most rewarding result.’