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A New Life For A Legacy Robin Boyd Home

Architecture

Suspended above a creek bed in Melbourne’s Toorak is The Richardson House – designed in 1955 by legendary Australian architect Robin Boyd. After numerous renovations in the five decades since its completion (including an extension in the 1980s, which created an entirely new residence on a separate part of the block!), the current owners wanted to return the residence to its former glory.

Architecture firm Jolson were engaged by client Karen Liberman in a collaborative effort to reimagine the house based on Boyd’s original intentions. The result is a jaw-dropping interpretation of an iconic Australian home, with strong connections to its significant past.

30th October, 2020

The Bridging Boyd project by Jolson connects an original 1955 Robin Boyd structure with a separate 1982 addition on the same block. Photo – Lucas Allen.

Architecture firm Jolson devised a series of suspended bridges to the front entrance, leading the resident through the unusually wild suburban landscape to the floating architectural dream beyond. Photo – Lucas Allen.

The interiors of the 1982 residence were completely rebuilt to keep continuous with the original Robin Boyd structure at the other end of the block. Photo – Lucas Allen.

The timber window frames were removed and replaced with steel to create material continuity between the 1982 residence (designed by Peter Crone) and Boyd’s original 1955 structure. Photo – Lucas Allen.

A wine cellar is a standout feature of the new design! Photo – Lucas Allen.

A floating terrace was added by Jolson to the re-designed residence. Photo – Lucas Allen.

Timber and travertine finishes create a warm and inviting material palette. Photo – Lucas Allen.

The extensive kitchen caters to all the needs of a modern resident! Photo – Lucas Allen.

A study and music room were among two notable additions to the residence. Photo – Lucas Allen.

All internal obstructions were removed to restore Boyd’s original open-plan layout, which allowed panoramic views to stretch from one end of the structure to the other. Painting by Joshua Yeldham. Photo – Lucas Allen.

A second lounge room in the residence. Photo – Lucas Allen.

The bedrooms and bathrooms in the 1982 residence were completely redesigned and fitted with soft, contemporary flourishes. Look at that bathroom! Photo – Lucas Allen.

Boyd’s original Richardson House comprises the entry structure to the network of connected pavilions. It is identified by the notable steel arch. Photo – Lucas Allen.

Sasha Gattermayr
Friday 30th October 2020

‘[Boyd’s] idea was brave and robust, and created a meaningful dialogue between the site and the landscape.’ – Stephen Jolson

This incredible home designed by Australia’s most influential design legend looks as though it’s buried somewhere in the Daintree, or at the very least, nestled in one of Melbourne’s leafy outer suburbs. But no. The Richardson House – designed by Robin Boyd in 1955 – is located in the inner-city neighbourhood of Toorak. Surprise!

Nowadays, many Robin Boyd homes are protected by heritage overlays, and alterations to these homes must be vetted by The Boyd Foundation. But before these protections came into play, this innovative Toorak residence underwent a series of interventions over the years, under different owners. The most significant of these was a 1982 renovation by architect Peter Crone.

Though Boyd’s original design contained just a single, rhombus-shaped pavilion immersed in the unusually wild suburban block, Crone’s renovation saw the interiors partitioned in a closed-plan layout, and an entirely new residence added to the block. This separate structure is connected to Boyd’s original steel dwelling (now renamed ‘The Bridge’) by an external pathway, and remains a sympathetic addition to the original architectural design.

New owners inherited this altered floor plan in 2013, and engaged architecture firm Jolson to redesign the renovated residence once more, to bring it closer to Boyd’s original intentions, as well as unify the two existing pavilions.

To begin with, Jolson devised a series of suspended bridges leading to the front door of the original dwelling, guiding the resident through the wild landscape to the concealed residence. Internally, the architects stripped the dated, closed floorplan that architect Peter Crone had devised during the 1980 renovation, and reinstated the open-plan layout of Boyd’s original design, which prioritised engagement with the surrounding landscape. All dividing walls and internal obstructions were removed to open the house as much as possible to panoramic views from one end to the other.

When it came to updating the newer residence (which is not protected by a heritage overlay), the architects took more liberal steps to redesign it, again using Boyd’s principles to guide them. ‘We basically rebuilt the home, and reimagined every finish and material,’ explains Stephen Jolson. ‘The original timber frame windows, which weren’t heritage protected, were redesigned in steel and double glazed. We also created a new entrance below the bridge, with an internal staircase, and elaborate wine cellar.’ Other new spaces include a music room, a study and a large circular terrace suspended above the garden (not to mention THAT bathroom!).

To connect the interiors of the two separately designed structures, Jolson looked to the surrounding greenery, access to which was so central to the home’s original design. A warm, artisanal material palette dominated by timber and travertine finishes was adopted to mirror the treetop view. Handcrafted wooden furniture and custom light fittings shaped like tree branches bring a sense of the external environment indoors. Homeowner Karen Liberman was a collaborator of Jolson’s, especially when it came to designing the metalwork and finer furnishing details.

The resulting home is a series of elevated pavilions connected by external pathways and suspended bridges. This carefully constructed network of freestanding structures  create a ‘floating’ sensation for its residents. It is a respectful and meticulous union of two previously disparate designs.

‘His idea was brave and robust, and created a meaningful dialogue between the site and the landscape,’ explains Stephen of Robin Boyd’s original design principles, and the architectural decisions to reinterpret rather than rehabilitate them. ‘There is so much to learn and be inspired from.’

See more projects from Jolson here.

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The Design Files acknowledge the Traditional Custodians of the lands on which we work, the Wurundjeri people of the Kulin Nation. We pay our respects to Elders past and present.

First Nations artists, designers, makers, and creative business owners are encouraged to submit their projects for coverage on The Design Files. Please email bea@thedesignfiles.net