Julian Featherston grew up in the Featherston House – the iconic Robin Boyd home originally designed for his parents, Grant and Mary Featherston – but he never imagined he would one day renovate and make this his own family home.
Today, Julian lives here with wife Vicky Featherston and two children, marking the fourth generation (including Grant and Mary’s parents who used to occupy an apartment on site) to live in the iconic house!
‘It was a series of decisions that were made by our family, including Mary, over a number of years that led to us updating/altering the house,’ Vicky says. ‘Our goal with updating the house was to achieve a balance between respecting the legacy of the house, while adapting it for our modern family and lifestyle.’
Boyd originally designed this home for Mary and Grant in 1968, who requested a ‘shed-like building’ incorporating a garden, home, professional workplace, and entertaining space in one. Vicky aptly describes the space as being ‘as outside as you can be, while being inside.’
The original design was incredibly ahead of its time, and in some regards, Julian and Vicky’s recent renovations have enabled Boyd’s vision to finally be properly realised. For example, the current translucent roofing is actually in its third iteration – achieved with polycarbonate multicellular sheets, after technology caught up to Boyd’s original idea of a translucent roof. ‘Most people don’t realise that the house has continuously evolved with many changes right from the start (albeit none probably as dramatic as what we’ve done), but it’s always been a living, breathing evolving house,’ says Vicky.
Grant and Mary made several other alterations over the years to make the house more liveable and functional, while still retaining its essence. ‘As a family, we’ve always tried to be sensitive with any changes, so it’s not always obvious what’s old or new,’ Vicky says.
One ongoing challenge for the impossibly open-plan home has been an invisible one – temperature control! After all, how do you control the temperature in a home with so few internal walls? This conundrum eventually led Julian and Vicky to design their own customised climate control system – HAL Systems. ‘We wanted the house to work with its environment by actively responding to future weather conditions. For example, when it’s warm the next day, you open your windows the night before to bring cool air in,’ Vicky explains. ‘We wanted to use predictive software to do this kind of thing automatically and intelligently. It turned out that it didn’t exist, so we built it ourselves!’ The system delivers optimum comfort whilst minimising energy use, and is currently being developed for commercial spaces.
Other changes to the home have focused on making the space more family-friendly. A ‘dark and nooky’ space is now Elka and Otto’s playroom and bedrooms; and a storeroom has been converted into a new laundry and bathroom.
Play is also important to the family, hence the addition of a trapeze, swings and gymnastic rings (!), as well as a large set of modular foam blocks originally designed by Mary in 1973 that were recently remade for the home.
Perhaps the most significant change has been the relocation of the main bedroom to under the living platform, creating an intimate and semi-subterranean space surrounded by garden. ‘We tried, but we weren’t brave enough to have our bedroom on the top platform as Grant and Mary did!’ says Vicky. ‘The new bedroom provides a new perspective/angle on the house. It allows enough privacy, but still retains openness to the other spaces. People don’t realise it’s there until you show them, so it’s a lovely surprise!’
Vicky and Julian feel very fortunate to be the current custodians of such a famed Melbourne home, and lucky to have the opportunity to sensitively update this for their own young family. With three generations of Featherstons now living under one roof (sort of!), it’s safe to say this is a home that seamlessly interweaves past, present and future.
What a family – what a house!