One night sometime in the 1990s a young couple named Heather and Jeremy went to a party at South Yarra’s Beverly Hills apartment complex. There was music, some fizz and a few Neighbours TV stars. Almost 30 years later, Heather and Jeremy would return to the same complex. But this time, as its newest residents!
The Beverly Hills apartments were designed by architect-builder Howard Lawson in 1935, who wanted to bring some of that 1930s Hollywood glamour and Spanish Mission style back to Melbourne. His idea was to create a place for communal living, where people could connect and live in close quarters.
“The apartments were built during the Depression-era and the ‘Whelan the Wrecker’ period, where lots of Toorak mansions were being torn down because people went broke,” explains Heather. “A lot of Beverly Hills is actually built from recycled brick and stuff Lawson salvaged from these demolition sites headed for the tip.”
Heather and Jeremy became reacquainted with the apartment complex around two years ago, when they were looking to downsize from the family home they previously shared with their two daughters, dog and cat for 20 years. “We’d joked for 20 years that we’d renovate and when we were finally a position to do so, the girls had grown up and we were ready for a new adventure,” says Heather.
“I Googled ‘older style apartments in Melbourne’ and an ad for this place came up, we took one look at each other and were like, yes,” she describes. It was the arched stained glass window that hooked them. “We knew we were in big trouble, we really wanted it and had to act quickly to make it happen.”
Now, after living in their apartment for the last year and half with their daughter Allie, Dougal the dog and Sugar the cat, Heather is dead serious (with a smirk) when she tells me: “I’m never moving again.”
Onto their good room, and Heather tells me “it’s THE room of the house”. The open-plan living dining area is very much in its original state, except for its colour – now a beautiful deep, dusky grey. “Choosing a colour was the hardest part because I knew we would be spending so much time here,” confesses Heather. The room is filled with the family’s treasures from their old home, including a much-loved Arite Kannavos abstract painting (given to Heather by her family as a birthday present), and a few new additions, including the Featherston lounge chair Heather found dirt cheap at an op shop, new lighting fixtures, and what she describes as her “first proper grown up couch” (a Mario Bellini for C&B Italia sofa) and floor-to-ceiling Italian ‘Grazie Zia’ vintage film poster.
But the ‘stuff’ isn’t really the reason why this room is so dear to Heather. She loves the character of this space, not to mention the seriously swoon-worthy views. “The first night we moved in, we took off the curtains and saw this view to the city all lit up, of course I cried,” she says of the moment she knew she was home.
Heather loves the neighbours too, and the feeling of belonging to this intimate community – she often leaves the windows open and chats to those passing by. “I garden lots too, and our friendships grew from hellos, to my name is, to swimming laps in the pool with each other in the mornings.” In Heather’s experience, Beverly Hills residents really care about each other, and the history and preservation of the complex itself.
Sitting in her ‘good room’ comfortably at ease, it’s easy to see Heather’s found her happy place. “This is the room where we come together – mostly the three of us – but I did manage to squeeze in 50 friends for my birthday party last year! It was tight but very good fun.” And in case you were wondering, no Neighbours stars were in attendance, instead just the good, real and regular live-next-door kind.