Design Hero #2 - Robin Boyd

Monday, 8 October 2012

Left - Image of Robin Boyd via The Robin Boyd Foundation. Right - Image of The Featherston House via Boyd Homes Group.

Many of Robin Boyd’s 1950's residential gems are discretely hidden throughout Melbourne’s leafy suburbs; yesterday
The Robin Boyd Foundation hosted an open day providing Melbourneans with the unique opportunity to venture through 6 incredible Boyd houses including the much acclaimed Featherston House in Ivanhoe. A few friends and I spent the afternoon exploring these spaces, amazed that such modernist masterpieces could exist within our city. We were curious to know how the original owners inhabited the spaces and how the current residents have adapted these homes to meet with their modern needs.

The 6 houses opened to the public included Holford House, Uglow House, Ednie House, Albert Date House, Featherston House and Flat and Walsh St (Boyd House 2) – originally designed by Boyd for his family and now owned and maintained by the The Robin Boyd Foundation.

The Featherston House then and now.
Images via The Robin Boyd Foundation and Boyd Homes Group.

Tony Lee, architect and executive director of the Robin Boyd Foundation, has described Boyd as "an incredibly intuitive person who understood his clients and was very empathetic to their lifestyle". This is immediately evident when walking into each space as every house reveals a great deal about it’s original owners and the way they chose to live within it. It’s obvious that many of Boyd’s clients were quite radical and experimental in their approach, challenging the typical 1950's modest but modern Australian home by creating a residence that was an extension of who they were. 

As open plan living is something I have always loved, The Featherston House and The Date house had a real impact on me. Both houses share similar features including free floating platforms of living space and sheer walls of glass that immediately bring the outside in. The Featherston House takes this one step further by actually allowing you to feel as though you are living in a garden. Boyd utilised natural outdoor elements within the interior such as plants and ferns, stepping stones that act as small stairways and a fishpond, blurring the lines between indoor and out. Even the translucent glass ceiling reminds us of the natural word as the light changes or falling leaves create patterns on its surface. Mary Featherston, the original owner described her bedroom, set on the highest of the four living platforms, as “a nest”, a space of dizzying height with an incredible view, in what many like to refer to as an architectural tree house.

The Albert Date House, image via Boyd Homes Group.

What I find so charming about these houses is that most of their beauty is concealed from street view, however once you step into the space all is revealed and you are immersed within a completely unique environment. The orientation of the brick walls and sheer walls of glass are designed to conceal the view of the suburban setting and instead draw your focus to the natural landscape. 

The theme that constantly came up throughout the day was the livability of the spaces, an ongoing debate we each had very different views on. Some of us questioned how safe the various floating levels and stairs would be if children lived within the house, while others queried the size of the living areas and how it might feel when friends or guest were invited over – would it be a good space to entertain in? Is it possible to have a living garden indoors? How do you insulate a space with so much glass throughout the hot Australian summer? The answer that we kept coming back to was an obvious one, and that was that each house was intentionally designed to accommodate the specific needs of its original owners, so to assume that it should adapt without compromise to families today is almost absurd. Having said said that it was intriguing to see how current owners had adapted these spaces, and the impact that seemed to have on the overall concept. Unfortunately the current owners of these properties were not present throughout the day, but it would certainly have been fascinating to discuss how they live within the space now.

The Robin Boyd foundation hosts regular seminars, lectures and public events, you can find out more about the organisation here.


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