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This Rare Robin Boyd Original Makes An Extraordinary Family Home


A chance encounter while idly browsing online led Emma Clark Gratton, and her furniture-making husband, Lee Gratton, to embark on their fourth home renovation!

Set amongst sprawling bush on the edge of the Yarra River in Warrandyte, this spectacular 1963 Robin Boyd home has been given a new lease of life, transforming it back to its former glory, and persuading the creative couple, with their children Archer (7) and Jethro (5), to consider this their ‘forever home’.

8th May, 2019

This original Robin Boyd-designed house in Warrandyte is now the family home of writer, strategist and podcast host Emma Clark Grattan, furniture maker Lee Grattan, and their children Archer and Jethro. The original house on the block burned down in 1962, and the owners commissioned Robin Boyd to design this new house in 1963. The house is clad with steel, which is quite unusual for the celebrated architect, but part of the brief was that the house was fire-resistant. Landscaping by Emma and Lee. Photo – Caitlin Mills. Styling – Annie Portelli.

The couple updated the original kitchen, but kept the same custom handles as Robin Boyd used. ‘I soaked them in vinegar and put them back all new in the kitchen’, Emma explains. Drinks cabinet, bench seats, mirror and table made by Lee. Kilim runner from Gumtree. Milk & Sugar Hunter Pendant Lampshade. Photo – Caitlin Mills. Styling – Annie Portelli.

Original wall light and Tasmanian Oak flooring. The couple painted the pantry door to break up the timber in the house. Baskets collected over the years now hide the kids’ sports and winter clothing. Artwork next to the fridge was a gift from friends Ace Wagstaff and Sam George. Steel and timber stools made by Lee. Photo – Caitlin Mills. Styling – Annie Portelli.

The family photo wall. ‘We started sticking up a few photos when we first moved in, but now they’ve taken over the whole kitchen wall!’ Emma says. The house is built so every room has a view of the treetops on the Yarra. Photo – Caitlin Mills. Styling – Annie Portelli.

The living room. Guitars and Victorian ash sideboard built by Lee, weaving by Emma. Leather couch from Grandfather’s Axe. Coffee table and green chairs found on the side of the road and restored by Lee. Galah print by Erstwhile. Ice cream planter from Third Drawer Down. Original chrome wall scones. Photo – Caitlin Mills. Styling – Annie Portelli.

Timber guitars made by Lee. Plush guitar on bottom left made by Emma for Lee’s birthday a few years ago. Photo – Caitlin Mills. Styling – Annie Portelli.

‘Lee got the desk from Great Dane, but it was broken and in pieces so they were going to throw it out. He managed to restore it and we’ve dragged it from house to house’. Lamp is an original Planet lamp bought for a dollar from a church sale in Warrandyte. Clock from IKEA. Geo dresser made by Lee. Photo – Caitlin Mills. Styling – Annie Portelli.

Original bookshelves. Couch from Grandfather’s Axe. The narrow windows face south-west and capture the sunset. Photo – Caitlin Mills. Styling – Annie Portelli.

Cane outdoor setting bought for $50 on Gumtree. Table and kid’s chairs built by Lee. Photo – Caitlin Mills. Styling – Annie Portelli.

Emma, Lee, Jethro and Archie. ‘Warrandyte is a wonderful place to live with kids. It’s got a community and village feel. We literally have the Yarra Valley behind us and the city in the other direction’, Emma tells. Photo – Caitlin Mills. Styling – Annie Portelli.

Emma and Lee added the ensuite on, and managed to fit in a walk in wardrobe too! Lee built all the cabinetry and Emma tiled the floor. Photo – Caitlin Mills. Styling – Annie Portelli.

Details on the family photo wall. Photo – Caitlin Mills. Styling – Annie Portelli.

Left: A mobile made from banana leaves, bought 10 years ago by Emma at a market in Tanzania. Right: The original owners had four kids and all the walls were painted with limewash, which was stained from years of Blue-tack and nail holes. Emma and Lee painted the bedrooms pale grey, but the colour changes depending on the colour of the sky. Mirror built by Lee. Weaving by Emma. An assortment of pictures and artworks made by the couple or gifted by creative friends like Melanie Knight, Sam George and Netti Wagner. Bedding from In Bed. Rug by Arro Home. Cane chair belongs to Emma’s mum. Photo – Caitlin Mills. Styling – Annie Portelli.

The kids’ room. Original orange plastic lampshade. Emma and Lee bought the bunks in a weekend from bits of wood in the shed. Photo – Caitlin Mills. Styling – Annie Portelli.

Lee’s brother made the A&J banner for the boys’ birthday a few years ago. Lee made the drawers. Rainbow from Big Dreams. Photo – Caitlin Mills. Styling – Annie Portelli.

Fiona Killackey
Wednesday 8th May 2019

‘I feel like we’re never moving again. This is it’. – Emma Clark Gratton.

Author John Ed Pearce once suggested that, ‘home is a place you grow up wanting to leave, and grow old wanting to get back to’. Despite not quite being ‘old’, for many parents of young children, the suburbs they grew up in begin to seem infinitely more desirable as they long for a similar upbringing for their own kids.

For Emma Clark Gratton, content strategist, writer and co-host of The New Normal podcast (alongside Tess McCabe), the idea of returning to the suburb she grew up in was initially daunting. ‘I grew up here’ says Emma Clark Gratton, ‘And I was like, we’re never moving back to Warrandyte! But we had the kids when we were in our last house in the inner north. It was a terrace and the backyard was tiny; the kids used to just run in circles. It wasn’t a good way to live.’ Emma’s husband, Lee (founder of Gratton Design) grew up on a farm in Queensland. ‘He was like, ‘we need space!’ so we knew at some point we might move’.

But the ‘some point’ happened a lot sooner than they had expected. ‘Lee was on a bike riding trip for a fortnight, and I was busy getting Archie into a nearby school and then I was looking online one day and saw this ‘Yarra Yarra’ house come up on The Modernist Australia website. I was like, ‘Oh my God, it’s Warrandyte! I came out and looked at it and made an offer. Then I texted Lee and said, ‘We’re going to buy a house’ and he was like, ‘Sorry, what?’

Despite Lee only seeing the house on the day of the auction, he instantly joined Emma in appreciation of the hilltop views, riverside location and the idea of living in a Robin Boyd original. After securing the four-bedroom home at auction from its original owners, The Arnold family, the couple set to work restoring it, carefully adhering to the heritage restrictions of the property. This included re-doing the kitchen which was ‘just really low and narrow’, with new cabinetry and tiling, renovating the master bedroom and adding a walk-in wardrobe, fixing the ceilings ‘which hung down a bit’ and adding solar panels, amongst many other small tweaks. The spectacular views, seen through floor to ceiling windows in every room, take centre stage alongside a beautifully designed interior full of Gratton furniture, retro finds and a muted colour palette.

Outside, the couple landscaped, with help from Emma’s brother, and added a separate workspace for Lee to design and create for his business (in addition to his larger workshop in Blackburn). While Emma says there’s still some work to do – ‘There’s a fourth bedroom downstairs which we want to make into more of a guest room’ – Yarra Yarra is well on its way to being this family’s forever home. ‘I feel like we’re never moving again. This is it’.

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