Dr. Ernest Fooks is considered to be one of Melbourne’s most esteemed post-war architects. Architects, and those with an appreciation of modernist domestic design, eagerly seek out his homes, though they are often modest in scale. The owners of this home in Elsternwick didn’t need to seek out Fooks. The owner’s grandfather commissioned the late architect to design this home in 1955, passing it on through the family.
When architect Nat Preston, director of Preston Lane Architects, first inspected the home, he was probably more aware of the ‘mantle’ the Fooks name carried. “You could say there was some trepidation,” says Preston, who recalls seeing the exhibition of Fooks’ work, curated by Dr. Alan Pert, in what was Fooks’ own home in nearby Caulfield. “This house (the Elsternwick house) is a lot simpler, but it still has a high level of craftsmanship and an eye for detail,” he adds.
The owners, a couple with two children, lived in the 140-square-metre three-bedroom house for many years, renovating the kitchen and bathroom. This time, they were looking for an additional living space, and a main bedroom wing that would provide greater separation as the children became teenagers. “One of the problems, apart from the size, was its disconnect to the rear garden (orientated to the northeast),” says Preston. “The other issue was privacy,” he adds, pointing out the substantial two-storey home to the south.”
Preston Lane was mindful of the significance of the house, only lightly touching the front western façade, with its Mondrian-style windows. The main entrance, accessed from the side, was also upgraded, carefully following Fooks’ original plans. A new timber awning in the original style (open to the sky) greets visitors upon arrival, along with the crazy paving stone steps and terrace. “We didn’t want to change too many features, particularly if these were original,” says Preston. However, what were previously three bedrooms across the front elevation are now two, with what was previously the main bedroom, now used for the children’s play area/television room.
Preston Lane’s new timber awning in the original style freshens the entrance and marries with the original crazy paving stones and terrace.
Fook’s house interior aspect
The most significant change has been the addition of a wing to the rear of the home, including a bedroom, ensuite and separate study. Accessed via the renovated kitchen, this curvaceous brick addition (constructed in the original blond bricks that housed the garage) speaks of the past while representing the present. Approximately 60 square metres in area, this modest increase in footprint has created a highly functional family home. This main suite, with its own set of double glass doors, also improves connection to the garden.
Interior perspective of the new Preston Lane addition which houses the main suite complete with master bedroom, study, and ensuite
Master bedroom in the new addition that connects the house beautifully to the garden.
To strengthen the connection between the periods, Preston Lane Architects included a concrete roof over the new wing that’s finely inserted into the steel roof of the original home. Expressed in the new kitchen, as well as in the main bedroom wing, there’s a bridging feature that links the two. And to ensure privacy for the ensuite bathroom for the main bedroom, the painted brick wall features highlight windows.
One of the more unusual features in this Elsternwick house is the exposed brick and glass blade wall that separates the new wing from the kitchen. Antique glass portals, designed to allow light to pass through from one space to another, are often filled with the children’s toys or pieces of Lego. “That makes visiting this place so special when you see how architectural features are ‘reinterpreted’,” says Preston.
The kitchen which features a glimpse of the concrete roof feature that carefully bridges the old and new wings of the house.
Unique details – like these antique glass portals – express the individual quirks of this family home.
From the street, there’s a sense that this house is as it was when Fooks designed it in the early 1950s. The aggregate path leading to the front door is one of the only signs that changes may have occurred past the front door. “We have made a number of changes, but the past is still clearly visible,” says Preston, pointing out the home’s original built-n joinery, crafted, as with the latest renovation, with the great care and respect that this post-war architect deserves.
Preston Lane Architects can be contacted on 9827 8902.
Text by Stephen Crafti
All images by Derek Swalwell