“Our brief was for a gallery first, a home second,” says architect Nick Travers, director of Techne. “That doesn’t mean to say that our clients weren’t interested in something comfortable to live in,” he adds.
Techne retained the red brick shell and inserted two structures within it, one being in situ concrete and the other black steel. “We lifted the entire roof and retained the few original features,” says Travers, who describes the original warehouse as fairly ‘prosaic’. “It wasn’t worth trying to save the trusses.”
Artwork: Tim Storrier – Evening Embers 1995 (oil on acrylic), assorted Natural Ochres on wood by Eddie Aning Mirra Kerr, Marcus Pascoe, Jeremiah Bonson, Wukun Wanambi, Galuma, Ivan Namrikki, Emmanuel Wurrikdj, Debra Wurrikdj, and earthenware by Maria Kuczynska
Set behind the original façade, the approach to the gallery on the ground floor is via a modest courtyard garden. This creates a sense of privacy and allows western light to enter. And once through the steel and glass front door, the art jostles for space. Simply divided into two large gallery spaces, with the black steel angular staircase loosely forming a division, the ground floor also includes a separate dining area with seating for up to 16 people, a home gymnasium, an office, a separate sitting area and, importantly, a storage area for the couple’s art collection. “Only about one-third is displayed at any one time,” says Travers, whose brief included a dining area for functions, as well as a courtyard garden and a swimming pool.
The private domain is spread across the first floor, with the kitchen and living area enclosed within the concrete walls, while the bedrooms, including the main bedroom, ensuite and dressing area, are contained within the black steel walls. “Our clients were keen to have a strong industrial aesthetic, given their own as much as the building’s history,” says Travers, pointing out the exposed concrete walls and the shou sugi ban (burnt black timber) ceilings in the living areas. The kitchen is also dark and moody, featuring black-stained veneer joinery, concrete walls and floor, together with the burnt black timber ceiling. “They weren’t looking for a ‘homey’ feel. The art was always the priority,” says Travers, who ensured there was generous wall space for the owners’ eclectic art collection. “They collect what appeals to them rather than simply recognised names (although some works are by well- known artists),” he says.
Artwork: Kate Bergin – The Venetian Room 2016, Vicki Cullinan – Stars in the Night Sky, Virginia Leonard – Bed and Lust 2019
Artwork: Stormie Mills – This Success is Fragile 2017
Although only the perimeter walls remain in the Prahran warehouse, there’s a sense of permanence clearly engrained in Techne’s design. The chunky concrete coffered ceiling across the ground floor appears to have been here for decades. Likewise, the new steel-framed windows and doors pick up on the language of the original warehouse, including one of the last vestiges of the original warehouse, a window adjacent to the front door. However, Holt & Sinn Industries Pty Ltd has been transformed into virtually a new home and gallery, with the lap pool cleverly inserted into a new courtyard and ‘floating’ above it (a roof garden was also added). Complete with acrylic sides, those swimming in the pool both animate the spaces as well and become living art works in their own right.
At a time when people brief an architect for potential resale rather than a home for oneself, the outcome can be a fairly predictable and prosaic result. Here, there are still sufficient bedrooms, three in total, as well as more than sufficient bathrooms (including one for guests attending the gallery). However, there’s a braveness here that captures not only a succinct brief, but also the idiosyncrasies of a couple keen to collaborate while importantly, reflecting their passion for art. In the process their abode has become an artistic statement. “It was important to express their personality. It’s not about resale, but a home designed especially for them,” says Travers. Isn’t this why you engage an architect to begin with?
Images | Tom Blachford
Words | Stephen Crafti