This website uses cookies to improve your experience navigating our site. By continuing to browse, you are agreeing to our use of cookies.

OK, I understand

An Incredible Adventure In Renovating An Iconic Piece Of Architectural History

Homes

Buying a heritage listed home in need of a complete structural overhaul is an ambitious task, to say the least! But for author Mary Parlange and husband Marc, when you find a place that feels ‘just right, like Goldilocks finding the right bed’ – all of the restoration work is worthwhile.

The Salter House by Walter Burley Griffin (of Canberra urban design fame!) and Marion Griffin is an important piece of Australia’s material history, as one of the only homes that uses Griffin’s experimental ‘knitlock’ system of interlocking concrete bricks. Mary describes how they worked with architects Jane Cameron and Christopher Hewson to knit this heritage into their beloved, unique and peaceful oasis of a home (even it it took a while to achieve!)

3rd April, 2019

The Walter Burley Griffin and Marion Mahoney Griffin-designed home of Mary and Marc Parlange in Toorak. The couple first purchased the home in 2017, soon after moving to Australia from Canada, and knew very little about the Griffins’ legacy! Photo – Caitlin Mills. Styling – Annie Portelli.

The view from the front patio into the study window, which has an interior window so you can see through into the inner courtyard. Photo – Caitlin Mills. Styling – Annie Portelli.

The living room featuring a vintage Hans Wegner chair found in the warehouse Angelucci. Vintage lamp also from Angelucci. Photo – Caitlin Mills. Styling – Annie Portelli.

Mary Parlange is a writer and editor who has covered the latest developments in science, engineering and medicine for more than 20 years. Vintage 70s bentwood leather chair by Farstrup Mobler in Denmark. Vintage ceramic lamp from Angelucci. Photo – Caitlin Mills. Styling – Annie Portelli.

A wall of the master bedroom. ‘Marc saw this painting in a restaurant in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso when he was working in rural Burkina on a research project. The restaurant owner promoted local artists by displaying their work on the walls,’ explains Mary of this painting’s origins. The stool was purchased when the couple were living in Switzerland, in celebration of their 20th wedding anniversary. Photo – Caitlin Mills. Styling – Annie Portelli.

The front (TV) room. Vintage Eames chairs made in Australia in the 70s by Herman Miller, found by Mary at Angelucci. Lamp by Herman Miller. The rug belonged to Mary’s parents, from Belgium. Photo – Caitlin Mills. Styling – Annie Portelli.

Left: Mary showing a remnant of a knitlock concrete tile, showing how the pieces slide together and interlock. The use of these unique tiles meant that there was no mortar used in constructing the walls. Right: In the dining room. A painting from Mary’s parents’ collection, depicting the US southwest landscape, by Peter Meyerson. ‘It reminds me of New Mexico, where I grew up,’ Mary says. The mountain lion is also folk art from New Mexico. The Polar bears are by an Inuit artist, bought for Mary by Marc when they were living in Vancouver.  Photo – Caitlin Mills. Styling – Annie Portelli.

The corridor to the inner courtyard. The cupboard door design is the same as the one used for the windows. ‘The Griffins often designed all the elements of a house, including light fixtures and rugs,’ Mary tells. Photo – Caitlin Mills. Styling – Annie Portelli.

A view from the kitchen into the corridor surrounding the inner courtyard.Photo – Caitlin Mills. Styling – Annie Portelli.

The guest bedroom. The bed belonged to Mary’s mother – forged in wrought iron by an artisan in rural New Mexico. The painting is by Forrest Moses and was also part of Mary’s parents’ collection. Photo – Caitlin Mills. Styling – Annie Portelli.

The Master bedroom. In the shelves are a small collection of Russian nesting dolls (matryoshka). ‘My parents started collecting them when my father (a particle physicist) traveled to the USSR for scientific collaborations’, Mary tells.  Photo – Caitlin Mills. Styling – Annie Portelli.

Lucy Feagins
Wednesday 3rd April 2019

‘We have lived all over the world, and this has – by far – been the biggest adventure and most rewarding result’ – Mary Parlange.

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.’

View Comments

Similar Stories

Homes

A Cosy Urban Cabin Surrounded By Lush Greenery

The fuss-free North Fitzroy renovation of Cyndi Dawes.

Gardens

Wriedt Garden in Eaglemont

An ever-evolving project, this garden is the result of a 25 year collaboration between garden designer Sharon Harris and her client.
Georgina Reid

Homes

The Schiavello's Grand Homestead In The Goulburn Murray

A swoon-worthy 400-hectare property in Molesworth, Central Victoria is an impressive country retreat for Melbourne's Schiavello family.

This Week

Studio Visit

Shannon Garson's Exquisite Hand Painted Porcelain

A studio visit with celebrated Sunshine Coast ceramicist, Shannon Garson.
Jo Hoban

Homes

The Rainbow Rental

Kitiya Palaskas shares her Pascoe Vale rental, filled with art, plants, textiles and life!

Join The Conversation On Designing A Sustainable Future

Lucy hosts a dynamic panel discussion with three local leaders (and ladies!) in sustainable design – Join us!
Miriam McGarry

News

Australia’s Largest Celebration Of Aboriginal And Torres Strait Islander Art

The Tarnanthi Festival returns in 2019 at the Art Gallery of South Australia.
Sponsored

Exhibition

A New Lens On Mid-Century Icons!

Celebrated photographer Derek Swalwell launches his latest exhibition, Farnsworth + Miller, at Fini Gallery, opening this Thursday!
Lucy Feagins
  2 hours ago

Modernist Australia

A Secret Modernist Stunner For Sale On Sydney's North Shore

After cherishing this unbelievable home for over 45 years, the current owners are ready to hand over the keys to a considerate new custodian...
Patricia Callan

News

Your Chance To Step Inside Tasmania’s Most Iconic Buildings + Homes!

Over 70 buildings in and around Hobart will be open to the public across November 9th-10th!
Sponsored

Art

Muted, Geometric Paintings by Bec Smith

An exhibition of subdued and stunning paintings by Melbourne artist Bec Smith opens tonight at Saint Cloche gallery in Sydney.
Miriam McGarry

A Day In The Life

A Day In The Life Of Anna Schwartz, Gallerist

Passions for art, food and culture intertwine, in the daily routine of this inimitable Melbourne icon. 

Architecture

The Perfect Red Hill Retreat

Templeton Architecture connect a collection of buildings on a rural site into a contemporary country dream home.
Miriam McGarry

Interiors

A New Standard In Architectural And Interior Hardware

Linear Standard is a sleek new range of door handles and hardware, designed in Melbourne.
Miriam McGarry

Photography

Celebrating 10 Years Of Photography With Broadsheet Editions

A new collection of framed photographic prints, from Broadsheet's stable of stellar local photographers.

Interiors

These Are Officially The BEST Rooms In Australia!

Australian House and Garden's celebrate their Top 50 Rooms for 2019.

Art

Flock To The New Exhibition From ‘Bird Nerd’ Leila Jeffreys!

The photographer shares her upcoming show ‘High Society’ opening October 16th at the Olsen Gallery, Woollahra.
Miriam McGarry

News

Billie Justice Thomson Presents Human-Sized Paintings in ‘Big Show’

A show of epic proportions (literally) by Billie Justice Thomson at Modern Times!
Amelia Barnes

Similar Stories

Homes

A Cosy Urban Cabin Surrounded By Lush Greenery

The fuss-free North Fitzroy renovation of Cyndi Dawes

Gardens

Wriedt Garden in Eaglemont

A 25 year collaboration between garden designer Sharon Harris and her client.
Georgina Reid

Homes

The Schiavello's Grand Homestead In The Goulburn Murray

A swoon-worthy 400-hectare property in Molesworth, Central Victoria is an impressive country retreat for Melbourne's Schiavello family.