What happens to a midcentury house over 50+ years of its life? What has made it stand the test of time?
Here is Part II of the story of our home – the 1957 built ‘Sutherland House’.
The Evolution of a MCM Home | Part II – Design & Restoration
The Original Design – W Adamson 1956
The house was designed in 1956 for Mr AF & Mrs B Sutherland with construction in May 1957 (as determined by our discovery of newspapers under the floor!).
With a great elevated location, the house has been designed to sit sympathetically with the rise and fall of the block. The elevated front garden provides a sense of privacy and separation while also allowing views of the simple but striking façade.
The front wall is a single plane featuring floor to ceiling ‘Stegbar’ windows. This is broken only by the stone faced chimney which extends both outside and in on an angle that forms the shape of the entry hall.
The house footprint forms an ‘H’ shape with the communal living areas across the front and a wing of three bedrooms across the rear. The two wings connected by a wide hallway providing access to the bathroom, laundry and outdoor spaces. Either side of this area are secluded courtyards which are viewed from the north facing windows of the living areas.
Access to the rear garden is via each of these courtyards, with paths leading around the bedroom wing at either side.
Adamson’s design allows natural light to flood into the house and provides views of the garden from both sides of the living areas. By directing windows north and south towards the internal courtyards and garden, privacy is maintained from adjacent properties.
As time goes by
This house remained with the original owners for many years, until being sold in the early 2000s.
It then went through a period of several owners and while still retaining the solid structure and layout, it had lost a bit of its original beauty.
Much of the original kitchen had been removed or fallen into disrepair, the original bathroom had undergone a 1980s era renovation and the original timber panel walls of the hallway had been painted in a number of coats and colours.
The previous owners of the house engaged an architect to design a two-storey renovation of the house.
This design would have dramatically transformed the look of the house, removing all of the mid-century features and replacing them with a contemporary feel.
Restoring the Sutherland House
We purchased this house in 2009 and immediately fell in love with the unique architectural features and the functionality of the layout. Unfortunately the original electric fittings and wiring were starting to become unsafe, so we needed to get in and do a complete re-wire of the house.
We saw this as an opportunity to improve on the dilapidated elements of the home while retaining the mid-century modern character and intent of its design. We thought long and hard about how we could keep the integrity of this beautiful home while also making it work for our present day lifestyle.
Our design removed the old and run down kitchen to create a stand along dining room that flows across to the existing living room. The asbestos panels that had originally been installed in the lower window frames were removed (and disposed of properly) and this area was given floor to ceiling glass on both sides to match the living room.
Inspiration for the new galley style kitchen was provided by the clean lines of built in cabinetry that feature in so many popular Australian mid-century modern homes, such as the Rose Seidler House (Sydney), Roy Grounds House (Toorak) and Robyn Boyd’s Walsh Street House (South Yarra).
At the far end of the hallway, the bathroom door was moved to maximise bench space and the bathroom was redesigned to feature a larger bath, walk-in shower and double vanity.
Wall locations were left untouched, allowing us to retain the original timber windows and the same great views of the garden.
As landscape architects, we saw the garden as an opportunity to enhance the features of the house and create functional and productive spaces. I’ve written a little on this blog about our works, mainly to the front, but it really has been five years of tinkering and perfecting our outdoor spaces.
I think we’ve come up with a great layout that enhances the features of the home.
The front garden features a wide lawn with recycled bluestone edging and a terrace of random slate pavers that extends across the front of the house and above the garage.
The rear garden features two levels of lawn with recycled brick steps and edging. A blend of native screen planting, groundcovers and deciduous canopy trees provide seasonal colour and a great variety of texture. An amazing Jacaranda mimosifolia is the focal point of this garden with its stunning purple flowers in Summer!
While the aesthetics of the garden are important, we have also looked at the practicalities of our garden and tried to create a sustainable and water sensitive landscape.
Two water tanks collect rain water from the roof which can be used for hand watering in the vegetable garden to the west or the ornamental garden courtyard to the east.
We adopted some battery chooks and these have added to the productive nature of the garden, transferring our kitchen scraps into eggs and manure for the vegetable garden.
The Evolution of a MCM Home
So there you have it. A sturdy midcentury home with a great and thoughtful original design that has survived 50+ years. Through necessity of present day life, we have made our changes here and there, however I believe we’ve maintained the beauty and character of the home.
This is a house that we have invested time, money and passion into. From the excitement of finding dirty old newspapers under the living room floor to second guessing, arguing over (and eventually rebuilding) our layout of the veggie garden. We love this house.
But now it is time for us to move and sadly we are selling our beautiful home.
New opportunities are ahead however, and we look forward to passing our home on to a new owner who can create their own piece of the ‘Sutherland House’ story!