Where Architects Live | David Neil

  • Architect David Neil still recalls the phone call he received from his wife Vanessa while he was at work about eight years ago. Not planning to move, being happily ensconced in a house he designed, the 1970s home Vanessa called about, designed by architect Dale Fisher, simply tugged on the couple’s heartstrings.

    They had always admired the 1970s single-storey house at the front of the Balwyn property (also designed by Fisher) on their regular walks, but had no clue there was a more impressive two-storey house directly behind. “We put our own house on the market literally the day we saw it together. It was so unique, even though it needed a little love and care,” says David, director of Neil Architecture.

    The light-filled dining room features the Atollo 238 Table Lamp for Oluce and the Coco Pendant Light for Coco Flip.

    The Atollo 238 Table Lamp for Oluce.

    Designed as a family home (the couple have four children), the two-storey tumbled brown brick house features a west-facing enfilade with fine steel columns and large floor-to-ceiling picture windows. Past the threshold, there’s a double-height void that includes the staircase, with chunky timber handrails typical of this period.

    Although the ‘bones’ and original fittings were still intact, David has lightly reworked some of the spaces. “The main living room was simply too large, at least for our needs,” David says, who inserted a bookshelf between the library/sitting area and the dining area.

    Likewise, a new joinery element between the kitchen and family room at the rear also creates a stronger definition to the spaces (a new servery from within the kitchen joinery was included). Bathrooms were also updated, but in a manner that was sympathetic to Fisher’s ethos.

    Many of the bathrooms, including the ensuite to the main bedroom on the first floor, were reworked, but sympathetically to the era. “We kept the marble basins but added new American walnut joinery, but in the style of Fisher,” David says, who also reworked the skylights that were nearing their end.

    “We put our own house on the market literally the day we saw it together. It was so unique, even though it needed a little love and care.”

    – Director of Neil Architecture David Neil

    The living room features the Husk Chair designed by Patricia Urquiola for B&B Italia and the Tall Vedel Bird designed by Kristian Vedel for Architectmade.

    A few features, such as the white shag-pile carpet in areas such as the lobby, were also replaced with slate or concrete floors. And clearly added well after the 1970s, the heavy drapes were removed to sharpen the clarity of the original design.

    “We’ve tried to retain as much of the original fabric as possible,’ David says, who was delighted to see the cascading handcrafted glass lights still intact, along with elements such as the ‘floating’ glass cabinet in the kitchen, thoughtfully filled with brightly coloured ceramics from the 1970s (many of these floating joinery units were removed in the subsequent decades as people complained their vision into other parts of the house was impaired).

    Now refreshed with a lick of purple/black paint to complement the bricks, the Balwyn house has been given a new life and a contemporary sharpness. David also added a swimming pool and a gazebo, the latter created in a style that references Fisher’s original scheme. The original tennis court completes the resort feel.

    The functional study houses the Artemide Tolomeo Faretto Wall Lamp, designed by Michele De Lucchi and Giancarlo Fassina.

    While others may have rendered the brown bricks (as has been the case with the single-storey house at the front), David and Vanessa have beautifully combined the past with the present, making long and hard decisions before removing any of the homes original traces.

    “We’re still delighted to be living here, and there is always something to do in the garden (created by the couple). We’re still moved every time we walk past the front door,” adds David.

    The Tait Volley Rocker in the tan leather upholstery sits on the balcony.

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