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A Look Inside South Yarra’s Magical 1930s Beverley Hills Apartments

Architecture

When we recently began documenting Melbourne’s most iconic apartment buildings, the circa 1935-36 Beverley Hills flats was naturally at the top of our list.

We’ve long been fascinated by this Spanish Mission-style walkup in South Yarra, with its ornate balustrades, leadlight windows, generous communal spaces, and tropical landscaping set around a central pool.

The architecture by Howard R Lawson showcases influences of Hollywood in its glamour and mystery, and Sydney’s early apartment buildings in its format and landscape, but is grounded in its specific 1930s Melbourne context.

We joined three current Beverley Hills residents Heather Nette King, Leigh Ellwood, and Bailey Jones, for a tour of their homes and the complex’s magical grounds. 

15th July, 2022

South Yarra’s Beverley Hills flats (1935-36) — Melbourne’s most incredible apartment complex. Photo – Eve Wilson. Editorial styling – Annie Portelli

Beverley Hills comprises two seven-storey buildings deeply rooted in their historic context: a period where Melbourne apartment development was only emerging. Photo – Eve Wilson. Editorial styling – Annie Portelli

The architecture by Howard R Lawson showcases influences of Hollywood in its glamour and mystery, and Sydney’s early apartment buildings in its typology and landscape, but is grounded in its specific 1930s Melbourne context. Photo – Eve Wilson. Editorial styling – Annie Portelli

Architecture and planting heavily references the Spanish Mission period, with palms and cactus throughout as well as vines and creepers that soften the stucco finish. Photo – Eve Wilson. Editorial styling – Annie Portelli

Interior photographic stylist and writer Heather Nette King in her Beverley Hills apartment. Photo – Armelle Habib

Heather Nette King’s apartment kitchen. Photo – Armelle Habib

The stained glass window in Heather’s apartment is believed to originally be from a 19th century Toorak mansion. Photo – Armelle Habib

‘When we decided to downsize from our family home of 20 years, we looked at a few contemporary places which were very functional but really had zero charm,’ Heather says. ‘We then saw an ad for this flat and we knew we’d buy it before we even went inside.’ Photo – Armelle Habib

‘This place is pretty unforgettable, and it definitely cast a spell on us,’ Heather says. Photo – Armelle Habib

The staircases balustrades surrounding the lightwell at the centre of the rear building. Photo – Armelle Habib

A shared love of the building’s history and design is something that connects residents at Beverley Hills. Photo – Eve Wilson. Editorial styling – Annie Portelli

The Beverley Hills apartment of Bailey Jones. Photo – Eve Wilson. Editorial styling – Annie Portelli

Revenue analyst for L’Oréal, Bailey Jones, in her Beverley Hills apartment. Photo – Eve Wilson. Editorial styling – Annie Portelli

The underwater window beneath the pool. Photo – Eve Wilson. Editorial styling – Annie Portelli

The footbridge above the famous pool. Photo – Eve Wilson. Editorial styling – Annie Portelli

Interior designer Leigh Ellwood‘s Beverley Hills apartment. Photo – Eve Wilson. Editorial styling – Annie Portelli

Interior designer Leigh Ellwood in her Beverley Hills apartment. Photo – Eve Wilson. Editorial styling – Annie Portelli

Leigh Ellwood‘s Beverley Hills apartment. Photo – Eve Wilson. Editorial styling – Annie Portelli

For reasons unknown, ‘Beverley’ is spelled with an additional ‘e’ compared to the Los Angeles neighbourhood where its name presumably derives, and blocks ‘1, 2 and 3’ are listed despite the existence of only two. Photo – Eve Wilson. Editorial styling – Annie Portelli

Amelia Barnes
Friday 15th July 2022

‘The lush gardens (on a massive land footprint for the inner city) are just unique. Once inside, the view from the kitchen window and balcony is framed by palms, with glimpses across the Yarra River to Ugo Rondinone’s Our Magic Hour.’

I  remember the first time I ever saw the 1935-36 Beverley Hills flats. Even in South Yarra, where the average home is grand, and art deco apartments line several of the narrow hilly streets, the Spanish Mission complex perched high on a hill stood out as somewhere incredibly special. 

Indeed, no other apartment building in Melbourne comes close to the building’s scale, grandeur, and history. 

Beverley Hills comprises two seven-storey buildings deeply rooted in their historic context: a period where Melbourne apartment development was only emerging. Apartment buildings at the time were rarely more than three storeys and were usually setback to maintain the existing suburban image. This was in contrast to Sydney’s inner-east, which had been embracing higher density inner-city living since the ‘20s.

The complex is the most notable work of Howard R Lawson (1886-1946): a progressive architect with a keen interest in considered town planning and thoughtful design. Blue Fruit interior design founder, Virginia Blue, has undertaken extensive research of the late architect’s work that championed recycled materials well before it was considered fashionable or desirable.

In the words of Heather Nette King, a proud owner of a Beverley Hills apartment today, ‘This place is pretty unforgettable, and it definitely cast a spell on us.’ The interiors stylist and writer has been aware of the complex since ‘90s, before buying an apartment in the rear block four years ago with her husband Jeremy. 

‘When we decided to downsize from our family home of 20 years, we looked at a few contemporary places which were very functional but really had zero charm,’ Heather says. ‘We then saw an ad for this flat and we knew we’d buy it before we even went inside.’

Interior designer Leigh Ellwood similarly knew of the flats for 30 years prior to moving in this January. ‘Visiting here feels like stepping into a different world entirely. Travelling up the long staircase from the street, you are transported into a very decorative Spanish Mission-style feast for the eyes,’ she says.

‘The lush gardens (on a massive land footprint for the inner city) are just unique. Once inside, the view from the kitchen window and balcony is framed by palms, with glimpses across the Yarra River to Ugo Rondinone’s Our Magic Hour.’

Revenue analyst for L’Oréal, Bailey Jones, moved into the flats the same month. ‘It’s a very romantic building with the palm trees and large globe lamps that scatter across the terrace,’ she says. 

Like the buildings themselves, the choice of planting across the grounds heavily references Spanish Mission architecture. Palms and cacti meet vines that soften the buildings’ stucco finish, as well as creepers that weave around main communal staircase surrounding a lightwell.

A shared love of the building’s history and design is something that connects residents at Beverley Hills. With no elevators, its grounds are designed for incidental interaction with neighbours on the stairs, rooftop terrace, or around the central pool complete with a grotto and underwater window.  

‘I knew I would be a sucker for the aesthetics, but what has honestly taken me by surprise is how much I love the sense of community here,’ Bailey says. ‘Everyone has a deep love for the building and is passionate about its preservation.’

The uniqueness of Beverley Hills is even reflected in its Gothic-influenced signage. For reasons unknown, ‘Beverley’ is spelled with an additional ‘e’ compared to the Los Angeles neighbourhood where its name presumably derives, and blocks ‘1, 2 and 3’ are listed despite the existence of only two. [Editor’s note: According to readers, the building was named after Lawson’s granddaughter Beverley, and block three was added to the site around the 1950s and has since been demolished.] 

Many of the Beverley Hills apartment interiors have been renovated over time, but the grounds remain almost exactly as they were in 1930s Melbourne: glamorous and ornate, yet inviting and charming, and home to a passionate community of design lovers.

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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