Home Tour | Toorak House by Techne

One of Melbourne’s early modernist architects, Rodney Alsop, used his own home in Toorak to express his innovative ideas. Creating fluid spaces that open onto a large north-facing garden, his Mediterranean-style home from the 1920s has been brought to life for a couple with two teenage children.

Reworked and extended by Technē, the house benefits from having two street frontages and an extensive garden on its 800-square-metre plot. “It was fairly tired when we first inspected the property, and quite dark in certain areas,” director of the practice and architect Nick Travers says, who worked closely with interior designer Bianca Baldi, an associate of the practice.

While the ‘bones’ of the original house have been retained, a contemporary wing at the rear offers some of the spaces that weren’t included in Alsop’s original design – a guest bedroom and ensuite, a subterranean rumpus room for the children (possible given the two-metre slope of the land) together with an extended kitchen with a butler’s pantry. “Our clients were quite open to including a few quirks, but like us, they realised the history that came with the house,” Bianca says, whose brief included using some of the clients’ vintage lights from the 1920s through to the 1950s. “We were also mindful of not creating a museum piece,” Bianca adds, who combined a number of the owners’ vintage furniture and objects, such as two overscaled French Art Deco brass floor lamps from the 1920s with contemporary furniture, with many pieces, such as the Chester Moon sofa designed by Baxter in the lounge.

Baxter Gemma Chair

The dining room features the Baxter Gemma chairs

Baxter Gemma Chair

The floors also needed replacing – with a timber floor designed by Patricia Urquiola selected for areas such as the living and dining areas. The kitchen also needed to be replaced. Now the kitchen, which leads to a butler’s pantry, features Bianco Carrara marble complimented by dark brown-stained timber joinery. “There are now two ways of approaching the kitchen – through the butler’s pantry or via the existing hallway,” Bianca says, who was mindful of retaining a sense of flow through the house while maintaining its integrity. There are still two entrances into the house, one from the front door which is unusually located to one side, or via the glazed door/stairwell to the rear that’s now linked to the garage. “This will also give the children a greater sense of independence, particularly if they have friends coming over,” Nick says.

As with any great design, the ‘devil is in the detail’. The original home featured Gothic-style arches at the edge of the dining area, a space that was formerly outdoors. The bottled leadlight glass windows on either side of the fireplace in the living area also add a certain charm to the interior, as do the timber beams with their corbelled edges that extend across the living and dining areas. The wrought-iron staircase, reclad with marble treads, also features brass horse motifs at every turn. “Where it was possible to restore, we certainly did so, but there were parts of the house, such as the kitchen and the outdoor areas, that needed to work for a family,” Nick says, pointing out the wet-edged elevated pool located on the northern boundary that would allow room for a manicured lawn. The other significant change to the main façade was the addition of a concrete scalloped pavilion that stands proud of the building and allows for a blurring of lines between the dining area and terrace.

Baxter Chester Moon Sofa

The textural Baxter Chester Moon sofa is a focal point in the living area.

Baxter Greta Special Edition Printed Armchair

The Baxter Greta armchairs in the living area. 

Unlike many period homes, Rodney Alsop’s was already well endowed with many contemporary features found today – steel-framed floor-to-ceiling windows and doors along with a rationale behind the placement of rooms. His decision to build his house at the rear of the site was unusual, given many houses from that period were simply plonked in the middle. “There were certain areas that needed more natural light,” Nick says, pointing out the new skylight above the staircase. Alsop also thought of putting Juliet-style balconies outside the bedrooms to allow for the doors to remain open during the warmer months of the year – a safety measure as much as for aesthetics.

For Technē, who worked closely with the City of Stonnington’s heritage adviser, the house now reflects the past and provides a sophisticated and contemporary family home. “From memory, the initial discussions included the words ‘luxe, but simple and sophisticated, with a balance between the past and the present’,” Bianca adds.

Baxter Tactile Sofa

The sumptuous leather Baxter Milano armchair and Baxter Tactile sofa.

B&B Italia Camaleonda Rectangular Ottoman

The iconic B&B Italia Camaleonda lounge chair and ottoman

Baxter Nepal Armchair

The Baxter Nepal armchair is an accent piece in the primary bedroom. 

B&B Italia Husk Chair

The B&B Italia Husk chairs create an outdoor dining space.

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