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A Day In The Life With Architect + Grand Designs Australia Host, Peter Maddison

A Day In The Life

After 12 years and more than 100 episodes of Grand Designs Australia, it’s hard to imagine anyone other than Peter Maddison as the familiar face of the beloved show. But as the series leaves Foxtel for a new era on free-to-air TV, viewers will also say goodbye to the charismatic Melbourne architect as the host.

Astonishingly, Peter estimates he’s spent about 120 to 150 12-hour days a year working on the show, which has taken him to ‘all corners’ of Australia, as he chronicled the highs and lows behind some of the country’s most remarkable homes.

We joined him for a day in the life, to reflect on the ‘unexpected journey’ the show has taken him on, and what he’s up to next!

20th February, 2023

Architect and Grand Designs Australia host Peter Maddison starts his mornings with a 7am swim at Brighton beach! Photo – Amelia Stanwix for The Design Files

‘I’m a Brighton “Iceberger”, so that’s my way of starting the day’, he says. Photo – Amelia Stanwix for The Design Files

The ‘Icebergers’ swim off the Brighton Pier all year round!

In summer, the water is around 22 degrees celsius, but in winter it can be anywhere from just 7–12 degrees celsius! Photo – Amelia Stanwix for The Design Files

In addition to being an avid surfer his whole life, he now swims four mornings a week. Photo – Amelia Stanwix for The Design Files

A post-swim coffee. Photo – Amelia Stanwix for The Design FilesPhoto – Amelia Stanwix for The Design Files

Peter and his wife, Andrea, in their home. Photo – Amelia Stanwix for The Design Files

‘I try and read the newspaper every morning,’ says Peter. ‘I’m particularly interested in world news.’ Photo – Amelia Stanwix for The Design Files

Peter and Andrea have sensitively updated their home, which was designed by Walters & Grodski Architects in 1969. Photo – Amelia Stanwix for The Design Files

They’ve filled it with items that reference its mid-century roots! Photo – Amelia Stanwix for The Design Files

After his morning swim and coffee, Peter heads into the office! Photo – Amelia Stanwix for The Design Files

Plants are a big part of the Maddison Architects workspace, with Peter taking care of the 20-30 in the office! Photo – Amelia Stanwix for The Design Files

The office is based in South Melbourne. Photo – Amelia Stanwix for The Design Files

With work mornings dedicated to admin tasks, Peter spends the afternoon at his drawing board. Photo – Amelia Stanwix for The Design Files

Now that he’s finished filming with Grand Designs, he’s been ‘immersing’ himself in his practice, which has been running since 1989! Photo – Amelia Stanwix for The Design Files

Christina Karras
Monday 20th February 2023

‘I’ve been grateful to be able to tell our story about the way I see architecture and design’ – Peter Maddison

When he first got the call up to host Grand Design Australia, Peter Maddison wasn’t sure if he should even take on the job.

‘It was completely unexpected,’ he says. ‘I had a lot of nervousness about the role at the start, so it took about three to six months for me to come round to, after canvassing opinions from family and friends. Everyone encouraged me to do it.’

Fast-forward twelve years later to today, and the final season of the beloved show (as we know it) is wrapping up in just a few weeks.

Peter’s voice has helped shape the show from its inception. And while he appreciates the comments from strangers on the street that their mum, partner, or grandma ‘loves your show’, it has also been a huge commitment, with constant travel taking him away from family and his own practice, Maddison Architects – two things he’s been immersing himself in since filming ended.

A lot has changed in the world since the first Grand Designs Australia episode aired in 2010, and Peter says the projects featured in the latest season poignantly reflect that. He’s observed more passive underground houses that don’t need any heating or cooling, (something ‘novel’ back when he first started), more thoughtful, sustainable design, and a push towards 70s-style, and natural materials that exude a sense of warmth.

‘We’re seeing more people wanting to build differently because of the awareness and the change in climate,’ he adds.

There’s plenty he will miss about the gig. Namely, the incredible reveals when shooting the final scenes of an epic home, after seeing it built from the ground up, and the crew’s tradition of having a rowdy wrap party with the homeowners, ‘and seeing them absolutely exuberant.’

‘I’ve been grateful to be able to tell our story about the way I see architecture and design, and its importance, and celebrate that in the Australian context. So there’s a little bit of melancholy [that it’s ending].

‘But other things could well turn up’ Peter adds. ‘You never know what’s around the corner.’

First Thing

When I’m going swimming in the ocean four mornings a week, I wake up at about 6:30am, and I’m in the water by 7:00am. I’m a Brighton Iceberger, so that’s my big way of starting the day. I get to chat with my fellow Icebergers [who swim off the Brighton Pier out of the Royal Brighton Yacht Club], tell some bad jokes and a bit of camaraderie before I go home. At home, I’ll have a coffee and quickly read the newspaper before heading off to work.

Morning

My office is in South Melbourne, so I’m very lucky to get to drive along Beach Road every day. I get to see the weather conditions across Port Phillip Bay and the great relief of looking into the distance and getting the fresh air before I go work a full day at Maddison Architects.

The first task is to touch base with all the staff. And if there’s not an office meeting on, I’ll go around checking in on the 20-30 plants I have in the office to make sure they’re happy! Then it’s just checking emails and I write a ‘to-do’ list every day to do. I usually put ‘O’ for office or ‘P’ for personal against each of the things on my hit-list. And I tick them off as I go. I try to be reasonably methodical.

Lunch

I never bring my own lunch in. I consider lunchtime a luxury, so I generally try and go to a cafe. I’ve been working in South Melbourne for three decades, so I get like to get out of there – I have a favourite spot in Albert Park, I go to a deli there. I’m a vegetarian, so I like minestrone with a bit of fresh baguette, and come back to the office recharged.

Afternoon

Since the morning is normally for sorting out admin, in afternoons I’ll go to my drawing board and do some drawing work, putting pencil on paper. I’m the only one in the office that draws by hand, everyone else uses the computer.

Evening

I like to knock off later after everyone’s gone home. I find the hours between 6pm-7:30pm particularly productive for me, and that’s my wife’s biggest bugbear – my late nights. I’ve been like that ever since we got married. But it’s kind of the price you pay having your own business, I think.

When I get home, I normally go straight for a glass of wine, and I’m a bit of a South Australian wine buff. I’m also very lucky because my wife has been happy to make my dinners for the past 33 years – my lack of cooking is probably one of my great downfalls in life!

Last Thing

I’ve been surfing all my life, and my kids all surf too, so to unwind, I generally watch whatever surfing competitions are on. And if there’s something interesting on the [Foxtel] box, we’ll watch that too.

Recently I’ve also been doing some freehand drawings that are reminiscent of my last great holiday to Palm Springs. I did a sketch every day and I’m exploding a couple of them into larger works for this exhibition down at Qdos Gallery down in Lorne.

A philosophy I live and work by is…

That I’m not perfect. I often say this to clients, and they go ‘what do you mean, you’re an architect!’ But I’m human, and I’m going to make mistakes. The best thing to do is to plan for them, so having a contingency in life is always a good plan.

My best advice is…

Get a dog. We’ve just got our third it’s brought such joy to my whole extended family.

Watch the final episodes of Grand Designs Australia with Peter Maddison on Foxtel, Wednesdays at 8:30pm on LifeStyle, or on demand. 

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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