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A New Era For Melbourne’s Iconic Featherston House, Designed By Robin Boyd

Homes

The Featherston House is one of Melbourne’s most architecturally-significant homes, having been designed by Robin Boyd for the prolific design duo, Grant and Mary Featherston.

What most people don’t realise, is that this 1969 Ivanhoe house has been constantly evolving in line with new technologies, allowing Boyd’s vision to be fully realised.

The most recent updates have been completed by Grant and Mary’s son and daughter-in-law, Julian and Vicky Featherston, co-founders of multi-disciplinary consultancy Two Feathers, who now live here with their two children Elka (9) and Otto (6). (Mary also lives next door in a ‘granny flat’ designed by Julian, adjoining the main house.)

This is SUCH an incredible house, and we’re so honoured to be sharing the sensitively-renovated main house in its current iteration for the very first time! (AND we also made a video – scroll down to watch!)

15th December, 2021

The iconic Featherston House (1969) in Ivanhoe, originally designed by Robin Boyd for prolific designers Grant and Mary Featherston, has recently undergone its biggest transformation. Thonet chairs. Featherston Hob dining table.  Flensted mobile. Photography – Eve Wilson. Editorial styling – Annie Portelli

Julian and Vicky Featherston, co-founders of multi-disciplinary consultancy Two Feathers and climate control HAL Systems, are the current custodians of the home, who also designed the recent renovations. Photography – Eve Wilson. Editorial styling – Annie Portelli

Dining and living platform over the internal garden and pond. ‘Excavating the new bedroom meant we had to replace all the previous indoor plants.  We’re not natural green thumbs, so there’s been a fair amount of trial and error, but we’re now thrilled with the result,’ says Vicky. Custom floating timber shelves. Thonet chairs. Photography – Eve Wilson. Editorial styling – Annie Portelli

Boyd’s idea of a translucent roof wasn’t practical until technology caught up. In the late ’90s, the Featherstons installed the polycarbonate multi-cellular sheets you see today, and it finally worked. Previous versions were so problematic that Grant and Mary had water dripping on their drawing boards from condensation! Photography – Eve Wilson. Editorial styling – Annie Portelli

‘The house encourages us to push boundaries. We had to underpin the house when we added the new bedroom, which was nerve racking!  Our engineer Dale Simpson gave us the confidence that it was possible. We’re so pleased with the result,’ says Vicky. Photography – Eve Wilson. Editorial styling – Annie Portelli

The dining area, pond, and internal garden.  ‘We have over a hundred little fish in the pond!  They are quite inquisitive and move in beautiful swarms.  The plank by the pond is an Oregon beam we reclaimed from Mary’s build.  We added steel cables that go up to the roof to train climbing passionfruit vines.’ Photography – Eve Wilson. Editorial styling – Annie Portelli

Originally there were no balustrades on the lower platforms of the home – these were added over the years. When Grant and Mary had kids, they also added mesh to the barriers. The mesh was eventually removed, but has returned again now that Elka and Otto are living here! Bosko sofa by Jardan. Featherston Poli side table. Thonet chairs. Featherston Hob dining table. Featherston Expo 67 Talking Chairs. Photography – Eve Wilson. Editorial styling – Annie Portelli

The central brick column is also a chimney with a fireplace, but unfortunately it’s never worked! Photography – Eve Wilson. Editorial styling – Annie Portelli

The house doesn’t sit on a slab – the platforms float over the garden – so wherever you see soil, it’s soil all the way down! Photography – Eve Wilson. Editorial styling – Annie Portelli

Play is important to the family, hence the addition of a trapeze in the home! Bosko sofa by Jardan. Featherston Poli side table.  Superarchimoon lamp frame salvaged from a lighting fit out project. Photography – Eve Wilson. Editorial styling – Annie Portelli

View from dining/living area to the kitchen.  Grant and Mary installed this kitchen and added this doorway opening in the ’80s. It was previously the workshop for their furniture prototyping, and the old kitchen was a tiny nook within what is now the kids area. Photography – Eve Wilson. Editorial styling – Annie Portelli

‘The expanse of glass means you can really feel connected to the environment,’ says Vicky. ‘We improved the insulation of the house, which included replacing the windows with double glazing, while still retaining the original timber window framing.’ Thonet chairs. Featherston Hob dining table.  Flensted mobile. Photography – Eve Wilson. Editorial styling – Annie Portelli

Julian and Vicky’s office.  ‘We use this ledge to keep furniture that’s meaningful to us or in need of repair!’ they say.  Pieces include vintage Thonet, Featherston Stem chairs, and a frame of a chair Grant designed for Roy Grounds that needs new weaving. Photography – Eve Wilson. Editorial styling – Annie Portelli

Custom desk and shelves.  Scale model of Featherston House. Eclipse ceiling lamp from MoMA design store. Photography – Eve Wilson. Editorial styling – Annie Portelli

Elka and Otto’s bedroom connects to Mary’s indoor garden via a glass door.  The kids will pop up in Mary’s  garden sometimes to chat to her or give her things!  Geometric foam blocks by Mary Featherston.  Door frame in Dulux Metalshield White. Photography – Eve Wilson. Editorial styling – Annie Portelli

Front entry door and brick stairs next to the internal garden. The front door was designed to be large enough for Grant and Mary to move furniture prototypes in and out. Photography – Eve Wilson. Editorial styling – Annie Portelli

View from kids’ play space looking towards the main part of the house, and entry to the new laundry and bathroom. Kids’ rooms painted in Dulux Ceiling White. Photography – Eve Wilson. Editorial styling – Annie Portelli

Featherston Expo 67 Talking Chair. ‘We had the two shells with no covers sitting in the storeroom for years.  They were from the first production run for the Montreal Expo in 1967, so Grant and Mary could test their integrity.  We had them upholstered a few years ago by Gordon Mather, who together with Grazia&Co, are still producing Featherston furniture.’ Photography – Eve Wilson. Editorial styling – Annie Portelli

The top platform is now an extension of Julian and Vicky’s office, and also a studio space for the family. Featherston Expo 67 Talking chairs. Photography – Eve Wilson. Editorial styling – Annie Portelli

The upstairs bathroom remains in near original condition. Photography – Eve Wilson. Editorial styling – Annie Portelli

View of the house from the backyard.  The property goes down to the Darebin Creek and is adjacent to a reserve.  ‘There are no fences, so keeping weeds out of our native garden can be a challenge.  We’re working with the wonderful Sam Cox on a multi-year long term plan of all the outdoor areas.’ Photography – Eve Wilson. Editorial styling – Annie Portelli

Entrance to the new main bedroom, which is discreetly hidden from the main space, but still takes advantage of the house’s openness and unique angles.  Stairs made from salvaged Clifton Bricks. Custom mirror. Foucault’s sand pendulum. Photography – Eve Wilson. Editorial styling – Annie Portelli

Perhaps the most significant change has been the relocation of the main bedroom to under the living platform, creating a ‘subterranean’ bedroom that’s embedded in the internal garden. Versaboard benchtop with altered Ikea units underneath (if you open the cupboards, you’ll see the concrete!).  Featherston Lab chair. Photography – Eve Wilson. Editorial styling – Annie Portelli

‘To create this room, we had to take out one window, and drive a tiny excavator in that could dig out all the dirt. Then we used shotcrete to create the half-height walls and floor,’ says Vicky.

Lucy Feagins
Wednesday 15th December 2021

‘It’s always been a living, breathing, evolving house.’ – Vicky Featherston. 

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! 

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