The Evolution of a Midcentury Home | Part I – History

As I may have mentioned – I love our house.  How my wife and I got so lucky that we were able to buy it is beyond me.  It was before I had fallen in love with the whole idea of modernism and yet this house grabbed my attention from the start.

We didn’t need to move.  We had a nice house in a great area of Beaumaris and yet fate stepped in one day and we each found our way independently to realestate.com.au for a bit of a browse.  This house leapt of the screen for both of us with its funky feature stone fireplace, its courtyards and walls of glass.  We both emailed the link to each other and that was it, we knew we were hooked.

But there is far more to our house than how we found it.  So here is Part I of the story of our home – the 1957 built ‘Sutherland House’.

The Evolution of a MCM Home | Part I – History

1950s Melbourne

Melbourne Postcard 01 - 1956
Postcard promoting Melbourne during the 1956 Olympics

Melbourne must have been a fascinating place to live in the 1950s.

Playing Cards from the Melbourne Olympic Games - 1956
Playing Cards from the Melbourne Olympic Games – 1956

The Olympic Games were coming to Australia for the first time and with the lifting of building restrictions and the sale of most of uncleared land in Beaumaris by the Dunlop Rubber Company, the stage was set for an explosion of thoughtful and site specific modernist architecture in the area (For more on the history of Beaumaris, see Beaumaris Modernism by Property Matchmaker)

(Sievers, Wolfgang, 1957. [Exterior view] house in Beaumaris, Victoria; architects Yuncken Freeman)
A wander through Beaumaris reveals an amazing collection of mid-century homes (in a variety of conditions) and architects such as Robin Boyd, John Baird, David Godsell, Chancellor & Patrick, Yuncken Freeman and Mockridge, Stahle & Mitchell feature prominently.

Our House

Our house is not designed by one of the well-known architects mentioned above, however its history has still been amazing to explore and discover.  Sourcing the original plans from Council provided us with a great insight into the architect’s vision for the home.  It also gave us a name to search for in an attempt to learn more about his work.

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There were things on the plan that I was instantly drawn to as a Landscape Architect.  To either side of the house at the front was a ‘Brush Screen’ which I imagine were to provide privacy to the side accessways without the use of a standard paling fence & gate.  Also, within the central courtyard was a feature tree, planted in the centre of the space.  We always wondered if these items were ever built or planted as they definitely did not exist when we bought the house.

Bathroom zone

The same applies for the original layout of the bathroom on the floor plan.  The bath, shower and toilet were all given separate rooms with a the vanity basin located in the entry to these spaces.  I love the idea of separating the different bathroom facilities.  It is a design feature that is totally lost in today’s grand open-plan bathrooms.  But I can really see the benefits of separating the spaces.  It allows the family to use each of the facilities while still retaining privacy and their own space.  With a layout such as this, is there really a need for everyone to have their own separate ensuite?

This layout did not exist when we moved in, however.  We were faced with an 80s style bathroom and then the discovery of the original shower base while we renovated, showed that even that had not been installed as per the  design.

What Lies Beneath

An early trip beneath the floor of our house reveled some wonderous treasures.  Beneath the floor of the living room we found two old newspapers.  Although both tatty and aged, they were still in good enough condition for us to read!

Herald front page

The papers were ‘The Age’ and ‘The Herald’ both from May 1957.  While the architect’s plans were drawn in 1956, this discovery clearly shows that builders were on site (and littering) in May 1957 and has given us a great indication of when the house was actually built.

The Age articles

The newspapers are a great view into 1950s Australian life, with articles discussing the implementation of National Service, to discussions on the batting performances of Frank Worell (before he was a Sir) or how you can purchase your NEW TV SET!

Herald ads

The Architect

As mentioned earlier, W Adamson is not a commonly heard name in Mid-century architecture circles.  His design however displays all the great elements of modernism.  After plenty of hunting around on the internet (and stalking of MCM facebook pages) I did manage to find some details and learn a little bit more about the mysterious W Adamson.

William (Bill) Adamson migrated to Australia from Ireland when he was 6 and, after returning from the Second World War, undertook 7 years study at the University of Melbourne to become an architect.

He lived in Moorabbin and worked on local residential projects through the Moorabbin Builders’ Bureau. The Bureau was responsible for creating a number of project homes and a display of Adamson’s ‘Sun-Line Home’ was located on Nepean Highway in Moorabbin (Built Heritage Pty Ltd, Dictionary of Unsung Architects, www.builtheritage.com.au)

10271477_10202434672080338_1168173339746764800_nA design by “William Adamson and Associates from Moorabbin” is also listed in the Manningham Heritage Study (2005):

“The house and garden at 116-122 Old Warrandyte Road, Donvale are of historic significance as a representative example of the development of a distinctive Victorian Modern style as first described by Robin Boyd. It is especially notable as an example that includes both a house and complementary garden.”

The gardens were designed by Gordon Ford who was one of the foremost landscape designers of the post-war period (Context Pty Ltd, 2005, Manningham Heritage Study).

Adamson moved to Canberra with his family in 1964 where he was employed as Site Architect for the Department of Works. He continued working into his 60s and as an active Senior Scout Leader he was responsible for the design of a couple of local Scout halls.  Thankfully, though he has left his mark in Beaumaris with the great design of our home!

Canberra Times 30.3.1965

Coming Soon – Original Design and restoration

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