by Neometro

Revisiting the 1980’s | Elm Tree Place by Eastop Architects

Architecture - by Stephen Crafti
  • Elm Tree Place | Eastop Architects | Rory Gardiner

11th November, 2020.

Some of Melbourne’s finest architectural treasures can be found in its laneways. This is certainly the case with Elm Tree Place, a mid-1980s extension to a Victorian mansion in Drummond Street, Carlton.

Originally the Deutsche Fine Art Gallery, renovated and extended by the architect Nonda Katsalidis, it’s now an award-winning sleek contemporary townhouse designed by Eastop Architects (recipient of an award from the Australian Institute of Architects (Victorian Chapter)). “I love the confidence of the 1980s, being quite flashy in its nature and the way things were expressed,” says architect Liam Eastop, director of Eastop Architects. “It also helps when your client is quite adventurous, like that decade, and says ‘yes’ to everything that’s suggested,” he adds.

Elm Tree Place | Eastop Architects | Rory Gardiner

While most of the original finishes and fixtures from the 1980s had long been removed from what was originally the annex to the gallery, the palladium green marble in the living area remained. “I think we were chosen from the field (of architects interviewed) because we were the only ones suggesting the original floor be retained,” says Eastop, who was keen to keep the spirit of the period, while moving it into the 21st century. 

Elm Tree Place | Eastop Architects | Rory Gardiner

Eastop inherited a multi-level slither of a building, originally rendered with a series of small pint-sized windows bringing in the little amount of light that was available. The rendered wall to the lane was overlayed with a blade-like glossy back steel wall, with a picture window cut in, to allow for light into a mezzanine second bedroom. Pivotal to Eastop’s design is a new glass brick two-level northern wall (a nod to the 1980s), but allowing both natural light and privacy from the adjoining Victorian home. Bordered with a built-in planter bed, there’s a sense of being in a greenhouse/atrium. “I’ve approached the design as a series of elements or blades that work off each other, creating contrasts where needed, as well as privacy,” says Eastop, pointing out the many reeded glass walls that frame bedrooms, ensuites, and even a discretely-placed laundry that appears as part of the structure.

Elm Tree Place | Eastop Architects | Rory Gardiner

At the lower level are the two bedrooms, with the second bedroom located above the garage (the garage door made from steel disappears into the façade to the laneway). And on the first level are the kitchen, a small sitting area, together with a separate dining area and living area, the latter leading to a terrace. While the palladium marble floor remains, along with the original glass windows dissected with timber, virtually everything else is new. The layout here is a bit like a loop. You can serve meals to the dining area from the kitchen or alternatively take guests into the adjacent lounge, have a couple of drinks and then proceed to the dining room. To make the loop a little more transparent, Eastop inserted a large porthole window (approximately 1.5 metres) into an existing ‘floating’ wall, separating the living and dining areas. “I like seeing textures juxtaposed,” says Eastop, who created a rough stucco wall in the dining area that’s beautifully framed by the glossy black ‘floating’ wall. 

Elm Tree Place | Eastop Architects | Rory Gardiner

Elm Tree Place | Eastop Architects | Rory Gardiner

The kitchen has been as meticulously conceived, with its green marble island bench simply supported by a black steel column. Eastop also included a ‘floating’ steel shelf in the kitchen, allowing sight lines to Katsalidis’s original wall apertures. “I wanted to bring as much light as possible into the kitchen, creating a contrast to the more moody and sombre bedrooms,” says Eastop, who was also keen to make the most of the relatively modest footprint (approximately 150 square metres plus the terrace). A guest powder room, for example, concealed behind a timber-battened wall expressed in the dining area, is an awkward and tight space. Likewise, to increase the sense of space, a mirrored wall was included in the bookshelves in the lounge. 

Elm Tree Place | Eastop Architects | Rory Gardiner

While the green marble floor in the living room was retained, the original plunge pool on the terrace was removed to increase the outdoor living area, complete with a new built-in barbeque. Although Eastop could have easily exaggerated the 1980s feel of this townhouse, he has given us a townhouse for the present, layering the interior to create an intriguing city abode. And as with Melbourne’s laneways, it’s once again, a contemporary jewel reshaped and polished to create a new experience decades later.

Images | Rory Gardiner

Words | Stephen Crafti


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