Sunday, 7 November 2010

The Winter-Irving House (1957)

Click images to enlarge. Image: Mathew Bird

It’s been a long time between drinks for the Boyd Homes Group but, I’m happy to report, I was drinking a lovely cup of tea last Saturday as I gazed out to the black swans nesting on the replenished Lake Colac. For three years now we’ve been talking about a day trip to Colac to view the Grounds, Romberg & Boyd designed Winter-Irving House (1957), sited on the shores of Lake Colac. We’ve finally done it. We were also, with the generous assistance of Neil Everist, able to visit McGlashan Everist’s Colac Sewerage Authority House (1966) (hereafter known, for reasons that I hope are obvious, as the Alexander Street House).

We’ve always made an effort at the BHG to move outside the leafy surrounds of Melbourne’s inner suburbs. As our tours, blog posts and Open Days demonstrate, Boyd worked on many projects outside of Melbourne, in both affordable and affluent suburbs and towns, for worker, artist and the prosperous alike. We’ve visited the truly remarkable (and under appreciated) Lyons House (1967) in Sydney’s Dolans Bay, the various and beautifully intact Boyd projects in Canberra, as well as the now popular weekend getaway and wedding venues of the Baker (1966) and Dower Houses (1968), deep in the scrub of Bacchus Marsh.

We can now add Colac to that list.

I love a good road trip. It’s all part of the fun. Riding shotgun were artists Michelle Hamer and Stephen Bram whose practices relate, in very broad terms, to ideas about space (in Stephen’s case) and the Australian landscape (in Michelle’s case. I had to slow down every time we passed a decent road sign so Michelle could take a photo, in order to make one of these). Part of the enjoyment of days like these is the various people in the extended network that are brought together in these amazing homes. It was interesting listening to their discussions of how ideas about architecture relate to their practices. But all that’s another story.

This story is about the delight I take in listening to the stories of the owners themselves. For many of us these homes don’t live in a parallel universe populated with nostalgic Mark Strizic images. It’s more than that. We inhabit these spaces on a daily basis. We see what works and what what leaks, what wears well and what needs attention, we notice how the quality of light changes throughout the day, where the afternoon breezes come from, and how the whole idea of a project might actually be about the view from that room. In short, our group is about how these gems of architecture are inhabited, or in what ways these houses are actually homes. So it’s always interesting to hear the story told by a Boyd owner or occupant, and Jack and Heather were no exception.

Heather is an accomplished historian and storyteller and has written a one-pager on the house which I’ve included below. I won’t paraphrase it here, it’s worth reading.

The house’s entry in the Colac Otway Heritage Study (2003), penned by Mary Sheehan (see below, pages 1 and 2), describes the architectural and historic significance of the property well. It also includes a good physical description of the property.

I walked away from the home with the usual list of lasting impressions. Three are worth mentioning here.

Image: Mathew Bird

The first relates to the use of materials as feature. Boyd, as his readers well know, always made a point of not being an ornament crafter. He did, however, look to the inherent qualities of materials to provide subtle embellishment to his projects. The luminous copper balusters and balustrades were surplus to the underfloor heating and now feature prominently in the central staircase. It’s such a great example of the reuse of building waste. It has aged and worn handsomely. The textured slate on the ground floor is also recycled - it comes via the Geelong Grammar School Chapel and, prior to that, was apparently used as ballast in a ship.

Image: Michelle Hamer

The most interesting use of materials may be the diagonal timber paneling on the master bedroom walls. There continues to be some debate as to whether the panels have cupped over time or were milled with a concave profile (although I have never seen this before and can't quite figure out how it could be done). If cupped, they have done so in a very uniform manner as the concave profile is consistent in every board. And it only exists on the master bedroom walls - the paneling in the other rooms remains flat (can anyone shed some light on this? If so, please leave a comment). It is, in all likelihood, a happy accident. But it could also be a simple and understated treatment of a material that recalls a time when designers made a point of applying materials creatively for effect, and was long before the laser cut steel or plywood panel became the default ornamental feature for architects and homeowners.

Image: Mathew Bird

The second relates to the home’s site and the garden. It is really quite amazing. The views over the lake are stunning. The garden gently slopes down to the lake and, as in many of Boyd’s projects, there is no fence signaling a stark and blunt boundary between private and public spaces. The generous set-backs from both the street, to the west, and the lake, to the east, deliver privacy to the household without making too loud a point of it. The public have views to the house unobstructed by the ubiquitous paling fence. Those taking a stroll along the shoreline enjoy the sight of the ancient and gnarled mulberry and apple trees and might just catch a glimpse of the spinach. And the householders can look over the irises to the bird life on the lake.

The third relates to the pending sale of the property. Jack and Heather, like many of our members, would love to find a sympathetic buyer for the Winter-Irving House. I will be posting the real estate listing soon. Please message me (nicdowse AT if you would like to know more.

I would like to thank Neil Everist for suggesting that we visit the Alexander Street House. The owners of the property requested that we didn’t post images of the project to the blog and, out of respect to them, I won’t describe the property details here either.

No comments: