The 1970’s – a significant period for residential architecture

In the mid-1990's, magazines such as wallpaper* created renewed interest in houses designed in the 1950's through to the ‘70s. Homes with large picture windows, filled with iconic post-war designed furniture, captured the imagination of home hunters worldwide.

What were previously considered ‘knock-down’ affairs, were now being reworked by a new and younger audience of buyers. While initial interest started with the 1950’s, it’s now the 1970’s that are taking hold.

Well-designed homes from the 1970’s seen as ‘future heritage’

Architect George Fortey, director of NTF Architecture, was pleased his clients warmed to their early 1970s house in Malvern. Designed by eminent architect Graeme Gunn for Merchant Builders, the compact house is orientated to the north and is framed by a naturalist-style garden, recently designed by landscape architect Ben Scott. Fortey worked closely with interior designer Mardi Doherty in ensuring the playfulness of the home wasn’t lost in the renovation. “Our clients were keen to retain the original feel of the house, but increase the light and add a few rooms,” says Fortey, who added a main bedroom wing and a new bedroom for one of the children. “The house has a natural breezy and casual feel about it. It didn’t need unnecessary expansive rooms,” he adds. The existing children’s bedrooms, measuring 3.2 by 3.2 metres were retained.

The relatively low timber ceilings in the Malvern house were painted white to accentuate the open plan living spaces and three new floor-to-ceiling windows were inserted, two in the living area and one in the dining room. Framing the existing swimming pool (which was retiled and fenced in with a glass balustrade), there’s now a lighter feel to the home. While the kitchen was replaced, Doherty included a sense of playfulness in the new kitchen with curved stone benches and colourful tiles. The natural oak floors also respond to the earthier palette of materials often used in the 1970’s.

Three new floor-to-ceiling windows were inserted to increase the light whilst retaining the original feel of the house. Photo credit: Derek Swalwell.

Fortey and his colleagues see the value in some of the well-designed homes from the 1970’s, even though some may be seen as relatively modest in scale by today’s standards. “They’re often well sited and thoughtfully planned, with a clear articulation of spaces,” says Fortey, who sees many of these homes as ‘future heritage’.

New design features can still evoke a sense of the 1970’s

Architect John Liu, director of Inbetween Architecture, wasn’t commissioned to rework a Gunn or other significant architect-designed home from the 1970s. However, he could see the merit in the ‘great bones’ of a house in Doncaster, directly opposite Ruffey Lake Park. Liu finds that homeowners in the area often demolish these brown brick homes, but in this case he was able to convince his clients to retain some of the home’s features: its brown brick façade and its terrazzo floors. “It was and still is, a large house (originally 450 square metres) and removing it would have been an extremely costly exercise,” says Liu.

Stained black cladding on the top level allows the house to recede in the leafy streetscape.
Photo credit: Tatjana Plitt.

The Doncaster house is on a sloping site across the block, with one side having three levels (including basement car parking) and two on the other side. Liu retained the basement car parking as well as the first floor living areas, but reworked these and reconfigured bedrooms on the top floor. Stained black cladding on the top level allows the house to recede in the leafy streetscape.

While a new picture window was added to the study on the lower level to take advantage of the park opposite, a new blade brick wall, with hit-and-miss brickwork, was added. This creates a sense of arrival to the elevated living areas, as well as creating a ‘veil’ to the terrace leading from the lounge. “We wanted to retain the exposed brick walls in the living areas but our clients wanted their home to have a more contemporary feel,” says Liu, who covered these with plaster.

Ruffey Lake House wanted to be a conversation between the past and the present. Photo credit: Tatjana Plitt.

However, some new features, such as the patchwork-tiled floor in the rumpus room and the laundry, evoke a sense of the 1970’s. The new steel balustrade framing the formal living area at the front of the house also complements the period’s sensibility. “We always look very carefully at these homes. There should be a conversation between the past and the present, even though the past is more recent than homes normally seen as ‘heritage’,” says Liu. “You shouldn’t ‘fight’ those elements that gave a period its style,” he adds, pointing out the exposed brown brick façade. “Why would you render it?”

NTF Architecture can be reached on 03 9429 3200
Inbetween Architecture can be contacted on 0413 006 393

About the Author: Stephen Crafti

Stephen Crafti has been writing about design and architecture since the early 1990’s and is a regular contributor to DesignBUILD. Inspired by the architecture around him in Melbourne, Australia, he was keen to share the things he saw, whether buildings, furniture, fashion or other stunning pieces of contemporary design. After many years of writing about his favourite things, and with numerous books and articles behind him, Crafti still delights in discovering and promoting exhilarating design. He is a regular contributor to several Australian newspapers and local and international design magazines.

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