Thursday, 23 October 2008

For Sale: The Handfield House (1960), Eltham

Image courtesy of Mark Strizic, Living in Australia p. 32

In January of this year we noted that the Handfield House was on the rental market. I’ve had two emails this week pointing me to a website advertising its pending sale.

The Handfield House was built in the bush at Eltham, Victoria, in 1960. In Living in Australia (1970) Boyd describes a big house clad in asbestos-cement sheeting. Boyd liked the ‘humble’ cement sheet. He considered it to be an appropriate backdrop to the many local gumtrees.

In Transition No 38, the Robin Boyd special issue (1992), Professor Philip Goad explains why the simple, untreated cement sheeting was specified by Boyd. Goad also describes the significance of the ‘Japanese inspiration’ the estate agent refers to:
“Boyd’s experiments with timber demonstrate his fondness for the structural prop and clear expression of the structural frame. His two books on Japanese architecture, Kenzo Tange (1962) and New Directions in Japanese Architecture (1968) complemented his interest in structural and material truths. Elements of Japanese architecture – bold expressed timber construction, sliding screens, broad timber balustrade and handrail details, platforms of space floating within an open volume and the shibui restraint of unfinished natural materials – are all part of Boyd’s domestic vocabulary from the late 1950s until his death in 1971.
Goad continues:
The Handfield House … replaces the brick pier of the pier and infill houses with a graphic explanation of the post and beam timber frame. Unfinished asbestos cement sheet panel infills and floor to ceiling windows divided horizontally like shoji screens impart the air of a Japanese house. Formal qualities arise through the inherent qualities of the ordering system of the modular grid i.e. symmetry, repetition and harmoniously proportioned volumes. Spaces are formed by a series of platforms arranged around a courtyard. A wide suntrapping living gallery acts as a transition zone between this external space and the more enclosing living room overlooking the Yarra Valley”.
I have not yet seen the project but, from images available on the agent’s site, it appears that the exposed timber frame Goad refers to has been painted, in the interiors, to match the ceiling. Boyd most certainly would have expressed the timber construction by either sealing or staining the timber, retaining the grain and woody tones. It is difficult to compare the black and white external view taken by Mark Strizik with the contemporary images, but I suspect the external timber members that were, perhaps, stained or limed have also been painted (I could be wrong – opinions and reports welcomed!).

Boyd's much loved, untreated asbestos sheets have also been painted (a practical update, for many reasons). I doubt the asbestos sheets have been replaced – it would be safer and simpler to paint them. That may be a question a potential buyer might ask.

It is a wonderful home in a great location and appears to be in excellent condition.

The inspection times are:

Thursday 30 October, 2:30pm-3:00pm

Saturday 1November, 11:30am-12:00pm

The Auction is scheduled for 12:00pm, Saturday 22 November, 2008.

The property is listed with Morrison Kleeman as
ELTHAM - 16 Homestead Road VIC 3095

Images courtesy of Morrison Kleeman


Gary Hancock, Apogee Architecture said...

I have many colour pics (unfortunately pre digital) of the house at the earlier time
Changes are many:

* You are correct about the colour scheme, while smik it has lost the natural ambience Robin captured!
* Fireplace/chimney has been sandblasted......the original was bagged and painted with many many coats of white paint. Also the mantleshelf is definitely not part of a Boyd approach!
* The original open fireplace now has a combustion heater. The smoke staining is evident of the original problems with the fireplace that John Handfield told be about. (that's why there was so many coats of paint)
* A joinery room divider (not full height) typically of the era has been removed in the main sitting room (it provided the psycological ' seclusion for dining)
* The walk in cool room between Kitchen and Laundry has been removed.
* The eastern end of the gallery wall has been removed and this has dispensed with the 'breakfast corner' of the Kitchen
* This area was structurally twisted when I looked at the property (floor way out of level including the bedroom below with cracked slab) due to a huge vimminalus eucalypt that has since been removed.
* The access to the western bedrooms was via an open verandah (typically Boyd) This has now been enclosed.
* The west end bed rooms used to be a large bunk room (plan in Transition No. 92)
* The ensuite to the Master bedroom totally refitted by the first owner after John Handfield
* New entrance driveway cut in from the opposite side of the frontage.
* The first owner after John Handfield virtually clear-felled the front of the property and the Council threw the book at them, requiring in the order of 1000 plants for regeneration.......I don't believe this ever came to fruition though!

Hope the anecdotes are of interest


Gary Hancock

Gary Hancock said...

I was looking at an Age Domain article on a Jeremy Wolveridge house down at Cape Schank and noted that the external cedar cladding is fixed with $5000 of copper nails.

I then recalled seeing the same on the Handfield House..........the sojie screens using opaque perspex generally throughout the house covered panels of vic ash horizontal boarding stained mid brown adjacent to the view windows and it was these that I recall being fixed with COPPER NAILS!