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Inside Toorak’s Amazing, Coral-Coloured Caringal Flats!

Architecture

Believe it or not, this late-1940s apartment complex isn’t by the beach in Florida, or in Europe somewhere – it’s hidden away amongst the multimillion-dollar homes of Toorak.

Caringal Flats is an early modernist residential building designed by architect John William Rivett. The complex turns heads as one of Melbourne’s most notable apartment buildings, especially after being recently restored to its original coral colour scheme!

Inside, two young residents and architects – Ben Ellul of Ellul Architecture and Gretel Stent of Manna Architects – have each renovated their identical heritage flats, with two distinctly different outcomes. See our exclusive inside look below!

31st May, 2022

Caringal Flats was restored back to its original colour scheme by the Owner’s Corporation when it underwent restoration works with guidance from heritage architect, Nigel Lewis. Photo – Amelia Stanwix for The Design Files.

The Tower Building in Caringal flats consists of six identical apartments. There is only one apartment per floor, which means each space has views in every direction. Photo – Amelia Stanwix for The Design Files.

To get an accurate colour-match for the exterior, heritage architect Nigel Lewis took paint scrapings, then created a custom colour for the facade. Photo – Amelia Stanwix for The Design Files.

Architect Gretel of Manna Architects walks across the sky bridge that connects the Crescent Building rooftop to the Tower Building. Photo – Amelia Stanwix for The Design Files.

‘Living slightly elevated from street level means the apartment becomes a terrific viewing platform (both in and out), which is unusual for Toorak and a welcome sticky beak for passersby,’ says Gretel. Photo – Amelia Stanwix for The Design Files.

Views across the famous sky bridge, which connects the Tower Building to the Crescent Building. Photo – Amelia Stanwix for The Design Files.

Gretel stands in her living and dining space. Herman Miller Story Bookcase. Bac One chair from Capellini. B9 Le Corbusier chair from Thonet. Photo – Amelia Stanwix for The Design Files.

The floor-to-ceiling glazing is one of the main features of the Caringal flats. Photo – Amelia Stanwix for The Design Files.

Gretel calls this the ‘treehouse vista’. Cream S-Fold curtain from Clearview Sun Control. Noguchi Akari pendant. Herman Miller Story Bookcase. Bac One chair from Capellini. B9 Le Corbusier chair from Thonet. Hay DLM side table. Muuto Ambit Pendant. Walls painted in Porter’s Paint Cumulus Half. Photo – Amelia Stanwix for The Design Files.

The glazed door opens out to the lift lobby. It filters light through to the home, whilst maintaining privacy. Flos May Day Light. Cushion from Jardan. Wall-mounted bowl from Pan After. Photo – Amelia Stanwix for The Design Files.

Bac One chair from Capellini. B9 Le Corbusier chair from Thonet. Photo – Amelia Stanwix for The Design Files.

A custom rug from Supertuft sits on natural carpet tiles from Floorspace. Gretel installed the open shelves with integrated doors to separate the living from the bedroom (and for practical storage!). Photo – Amelia Stanwix for The Design Files.

Tiles from Artedomus. Custom basin from Faucet and Strommen. Wall-mounted light from Rich Brilliant Willing. Photo – Amelia Stanwix for The Design Files.

The coral facade pops against its leafy surrounds. Photo – Amelia Stanwix for The Design Files.

Gretel’s apartment is glimpsed through the greenery surrounding the apartment. Photo – Amelia Stanwix for The Design Files.

The Crescent Building rooftop (right) was originally designed to house a tea room and children’s playground. Photo – Amelia Stanwix for The Design Files.

Writer Genevieve, Melbourne architect Ben Ellul of Ellul Architecture, and their Italian Greyhound, Vincenzo. Photo – Amelia Stanwix for The Design Files.

The view from Ben and Genevieve’s apartment out to the staircase. Custom joinery and benchtop designed by Ellul Architecture. Walls painted in Dulux Natural White. Photo – Amelia Stanwix for The Design Files.

Flos 265 Wall Lamp. HAY Mags Soft Sofa. Sideboard designed by Ellul Architecture. Photo – Amelia Stanwix for The Design Files.

Soft Chair by Daniel and Emma. Photo – Amelia Stanwix for The Design Files.

Flos 265 Wall Lamp. Featherston Scape Dining Chairs (found on the side of the road and reupholstered by Upholstery Direct). Dining table designed and fabricated by Ellul Architecture, painted in Dulux Nature Trail. Landscape Effect by Max Berry. Photo – Amelia Stanwix for The Design Files.

Featherston Scape Dining Chairs (found on the side of the road and reupholstered by Upholstery Direct). Dining table designed and fabricated by Ellul Architecture, painted in Dulux Nature Trail. Landscape Effect by Max Berry. Photo – Amelia Stanwix for The Design Files.

Artwork (left) Caringal Flats by Emmanuelle Mcglade. Artwork (right) Figs by Sergiy Barchuk. Mountain vessel by Clae Studio. Bench seat and bedside tables designed by Ellul Architecture. Bedding from InBed. Photo – Amelia Stanwix for The Design Files.

The sweeping Crescent Building of Caringal Flats, which houses two and three-bedroom apartments. Photo – Amelia Stanwix for The Design Files.

Christina Karras
Tuesday 31st May 2022

It’s not hard to see why Caringal Flats often stops people walking by in their tracks.

The vibrant coral building is an architectural gem in Melbourne’s inner suburbs, made up of a six-storey tower block with a single-flat on each floor, linked via a skybridge to a curved three-storey block.

The heritage-listed apartment building by John William Rivett has managed to retain its original structure and enchanting maze of mid-century style staircases. And as of last year, the facade was bought back to life, with the architect’s original eye-catching colour scheme, after years of being a tired beige tone!

But, in 2016, when Ellul Architecture’s Ben Ellul and his partner Genevieve purchased their first home here, the 1948-designed complex had seen better days. Despite the years of neglect, Ben saw the building’s potential.

‘There is only one 58sq m flat per floor, ensuring each flat has four aspects with floor to ceiling glazing overlooking the Melbourne skyline,’ Ben says. ‘That’s a pretty amazing starting point for any project.’

Ben re-designed and built the apartment upgrades himself, with help from family and friends across a five-month span, rearranging the floorplan to make it the couple’s dream family home. Sleek black joinery throughout and a raised kitchen created a greater sense of space, while removing internal doors made the most of the apartment’s amazing views – where ‘no sunset is ever the same’.

Around the same time, fellow architect Gretel Stent of Manna Architects and her partner, interior designer Thom McCarthy, also found Caringal Apartments in their hunt for a project to call home.

‘I was searching specifically for one-bedroom apartments as I knew it would be a manageable design and renovation exercise,’ Gretel says. And while Ben’s apartment takes in the iconic cityscape, Gretel says her first-floor flat’s view of the trees made it feel ‘like a tree house’.

Her intention for the renovation was to ‘let the original features speak for themselves’, focusing on incorporating more storage and using the joinery pieces as a way of dividing space – showcased in additions like clever open-shelving that helps separate the living from the bedroom.

As luck would have it, both these apartments were finished in 2021, and the building’s body corporate also completed their extensive restoration works the same year, with guidance from Heritage Architect, Nigel Lewis. Nigel took paint scrapings to determine the exterior’s original colour, and used these to make a custom paint colour for the facade – ‘Tahara Coral’ – restoring it to its former, retro glory!

‘Whilst some of the owners may have initially hesitated, since the works have been completed, there has been nothing but overwhelming positive comments,’ Gretel notes.

In addition to enhancing Caringal Flats’ architectural significance, the success of the renovations here (both inside and out) adds weight to the growing trend of first home buyers seeking to buy and add value to heritage apartments, rather than houses.Given the property market, and our desire to live in the inner city, an apartment was really the only option for us,’ Ben says.

‘Living in an apartment is often perceived as a compromise. [But] there is a real sense of community living in a complex like Caringal. I hope by people seeing what Gretel and myself were able to do to our respective spaces on a modest budget, it will encourage others to consider this as a viable option.’

 

See more of Ellul Architecture’s work here, and Manna Architects 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