Alistair Knox’s Former Studio Turned Family Home

If there’s an architecturally significant home available to rent in Melbourne’s north-east, you best believe Tilly Barber knows about it.  

The owner of furniture businesses Homebody and Monde has lived in multiple nearby ’60s and ’70s homes, but couldn’t resist moving into the former office of prolific architect Alistair Knox when it recently hit the rental market. 

Embracing the site’s history and leafy Eltham environment, Tilly has turned the space into a somewhat unorthodox yet heartwarming home for herself, and six-year-old-son Marley.

Lucy Feagins
Supported by Dulux

‘The coffee table came with the studio and originally belonged to Alistair Knox and [was] purposed for draft storage. It was painted brown when I moved in, and I recently obtained permission and had the honour of restoring into its original condition,’ Till says. Photo – Eve Wilson. Editorial styling – Annie Portelli

Wall hanging by Anna Fiedler. Photo – Eve Wilson. Editorial styling – Annie Portelli

Marley (6) and Tilly Barber. Photo – Eve Wilson. Editorial styling – Annie Portelli

Tilly’s Eltham home – the former office and studio of architect Alistair Knox – is a circular, open-plan room. ‘The upholstery used on my Monde sofa is by super innovative, sustainable textile company out of Norway that works with an initiative called ‘U Turn’, to collect shoreline waste and spin it into yarn to that can be used in their textile production,’ Tilly says. Photo – Eve Wilson. Editorial styling – Annie Portelli

An overhead atrium brings light into the house all throughout the day. Wall hanging by Anna Fiedler. Blue modular sofa from Monde. Photo – Eve Wilson. Editorial styling – Annie Portelli

Monde was born out of lockdown as an exploration of modernist design and sustainable manufacturing practice between myself and my friend Lauren,’ Tilly says. ‘What was initially a fun project quickly became a launching pad for both of us into contemporary furniture design and manufacturing. The sofas are custom made from sustainable materials here in Melbourne.’ Photo – Eve Wilson. Editorial styling – Annie Portelli

‘I was designing a dining setting for the space when precisely what I had been dreaming of in Tasmanian oak showed up on Facebook Marketplace, spanning a gigantic 3 x 2 metres. It was perfect and significantly more affordable than a new one. It is easily the heart of the home,’ Tilly says. Photo – Eve Wilson. Editorial styling – Annie Portelli

‘It’s a delight to share meals with family and friends with this much space.’ Photo – Eve Wilson. Editorial styling – Annie Portelli

Neptune Sticks by Herom Blue. Photo – Eve Wilson. Editorial styling – Annie Portelli

Antique oak cabinet sourced online. Lino cut by Allie Webb. Neptune Sticks by Herom Blue. Photo – Eve Wilson. Editorial styling – Annie Portelli

The Bent Wood chair by Georgia Ariel. Sculptural table from Jolie Laide. Photo – Eve Wilson. Editorial styling – Annie Portelli

Bluestone walls fill the home with character. Photo – Eve Wilson. Editorial styling – Annie Portelli

Tilly says she was initially perplexed by the completely open-plan layout. ‘Gaining a sense of separation between the sleeping and living areas felt necessary, but I also didn’t want to interrupt the to the view or obstruct the beautiful afternoon light that pours in,’ she says. Photo – Eve Wilson. Editorial styling – Annie Portelli

Tilly worked with Billy Howard of Billy Furniture to make her bed frame using reclaimed timber from an old Recycle Boutique shop fit out. ‘We incorporated gas-lift mechanisms, so I could easily lift the mattress and access the space under bed for storage.’ Photo – Eve Wilson. Editorial styling – Annie Portelli

Marley’s dedicated space in a calm and cosy corner of the house. Blanket by Curio Practice. Sheets by In Bed. Photo – Eve Wilson. Editorial styling – Annie Portelli

‘Gardening is something I am always exploring and learning about,’ Tilly says. ‘The vision for the garden is to have a a native Indigenous varietals around the front of studio, keeping it simple and not too landscaped so it looks as if it established itself and belongs to the land that surrounds it. It was a long way to go but its a slow process I am really enjoying.’ Photo – Eve Wilson. Editorial styling – Annie Portelli

Lucy Feagins
9th of March 2022

Tilly Barber, founder of vintage furniture business Homebody and sofa label Monde wasn’t looking for a new home, but the opportunity to rent architect Alistair Knox’s former office in Eltham was too good to pass up. ‘In hindsight, it felt like it was destined for us,’ Tilly says. 

The heritage-listed 1962-63 bluestone office and its accompanying mudbrick house are both historically significant as the final and purpose-built home and studio of Knox, who was a pioneer known for creating a distinctly ‘Australian’ architectural style, characterised by low, flat roof lines, natural materials and finishes, mud brick walls, and brick or slate floors.

Initially hesitant about living in a completely open space, Tilly’s worries were immediately alleviated upon seeing the studio in person. ‘I met with the property owner and was taken through the studio as well as the incredible dwellings, gardens, and studios located on the surrounding five acres, while being told of the history and stories that come with the property,’ she says. ‘It really enriched my desire to call it home for the foreseeable future.’

Since moving in, Tilly has cleverly integrated more storage into the studio (including custom beds with in-built shelving), and installed an outdoor bath. Furniture is a mix of vintage pieces originally destined for Homebody; a blue Monde sofa (Tilly’s own label); and a table made from Tasmanian oak that was found on Facebook Marketplace. There are even pieces originally owned by Knox himself: ‘My coffee table came with the house and was originally purposed to store Knox’s architectural plans. Somewhere along the line it got painted mission brown, and I had the honour of recently restoring it back to its original condition.’ Tilly says. 

A curving glass wall opens the house to its incredible landscape, which Tilly and Marley never take for granted. ‘It is a privilege to live on the native landscape of the Wurundjeri-Willam people,’ Tilly says. ‘The studio is made entirely from recycled, reclaimed and natural materials and feels as if it rose up from the land it sits upon. It feels like a natural pavilion; a harmonious dance between the inside and out.’  

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