“The house represents the entire life of our family,” says John Wardle.
Kew residence, owned by an Australian architect John Wardle, is an epitome of effectively weaving superannuated fabric with newer threads to enhance the present. It is located in the hushed suburbs of Kew, Melbourne, and was originally designed by Horace Tribe in 1951, followed by two rounds of modifications due to termite infestations. He lives in this 25-year-old two-story house with his beloved wife while their three children have moved out.
The age-old chapter of this site is quite intriguing. One of the craggy Scottish Elm trees that lay close to the present-day structure was known to be planted when this site was a horse paddock of the neighbouring Edwardian Mansion. A pair of smooth-barked Dutch elms near the road grew in the 1950s, when the original house was built, and the garden was established. John and Susan took a glance at the original house in 1990 when they accidentally came across this site.
Almost nine months were invested in convincing the owner into selling it to them, despite being an unoccupied residence. The alluring views struck a deep chord with them.
“Connections” and “narratives” form the core of Kew Residence’s design philosophy. Every element in this residence is interconnected with its surrounding elements, sometimes directly and other times through abstract ideas. They’re tied to create what we call a ‘safe-haven,’ called ‘home’. The most prominent connection would be that of the past and the present. Strings drawn from the past informed their present decisions. In addition, adequate attention was given to the architectural microdetails. A complimenting nexus between the natural and the built environment has established a harmonious home environment.
‘Balance’ is the key to his successful design. The glass windows reflect the trees, thereby summarising the aforementioned connection. Intrinsic connections are not only observed between varied spaces but also across the furniture, art, and craft that unifies the whole experience.
Planning and Style
Kew residence has been influenced by a myriad of architectural styles, with every style serving a different purpose. The main building comprises 4 bedrooms, 2 bathrooms, a living/ dining area, and an entertainment area. It is a confluence of different architectural styles giving rise to a unique distributary. Glass windows and wooden panels seamlessly run along the horizontal and vertical dimensions of this house to generate a bright yet warm sense of space. The interiors and the exteriors of this residence are characterized by clean horizontal and vertical lines, which are representative of the designer’s and client’s tastes and style.
This residence exemplifies “Form follows function” as the form was purely determined by the enveloping landscape. It is a residence seated amidst the lush green landscape. This justifies the apertures appearing in this building at certain intervals, which were leveraged to create vantage points. It exudes joy, playfulness, and youthfulness.
The basement garage is topped by a large glass window that runs from the first floor to the second floor. A stone staircase by the garage leads one to a sculptural facade curated using rough-textured walls and corrugated iron. Different textures have been balanced off to add depth.
The study room was formerly a playroom for their children. The pandemic-imposed circumstances catalyzed by their children moving out restricted their routine roadmap to the kitchen and the first-floor study. Hence, he thought that his study room was a significant area of interest. Built-in wooden shelves showcased his books as well as ceramic art and sculpture collection. This wood served as a neutral backdrop for his exquisite collection. The shelf-ends turn upwards to create an edge that resembles the hand drawing the design. The vertical handles represent hands holding the shelves.
The corner window comprises five window panes, a ventilation panel, and a cosy window seat inspired by Louis Kahn’s Fisher house. This redirects the attention towards Louis Kahn’s reputation as the “master of light,” and John’s alignment with the same notion.
It is an open staircase made up of Victorian ash. The joineries of this staircase and the built-in shelves were designed by John himself, who hired an expert team of craftsmen.
It is tucked away on the ground floor and uses these extraordinary handmade Tajimi tiles that were recovered from a factory in Japan. They create a ‘bamboo forest’ kind of appeal.
Concealed cupboards, drawers, and sliding panels with discrete handles are abundant throughout this residence, highlighting the couple’s notion of decluttered spaces suffused with meaningful art and craft.
The open plan kitchen has inbuilt cabinetry with a quartzite-topped island counter.
Burnt caramel-coloured Victorian ash cladding, a type of timber, is used for the floors, walls, and ceiling to create a warm “cocoon” that offers a stellar view of the green garden. The staircase uses the same. This material dominates Kew Residence and is indigenous to that region. Huge patches of this tree were destroyed by the bushfires in Australia.
The old eucalyptus timber from the previously designed residence adorns a few walls, floors, and ceilings, and was kept intact for the value that they added to this home.
Contrasting charcoal-like ceramic tiles made by INAX in Japan form the open plan of the kitchen. Tall, narrow, concave grooved tiles form the backsplash and render it a unique texture that crawls up to meet the wood-lined ceiling. Similar tiles have been observed in the master bathroom. The elongated essence of these tiles is retained in their tiles as well. Kew Residence features five different styles of ceramic tiles, thereby showing his inclination towards ceramic as a material. A few of these tiles had gone out of production. Their scale was precisely determined so that none of the tiles had to be cut.
The path from the garden entry to the side entry of the house is covered in Harcourt granite, emphasizing the journey through the garden and how much that mattered.
Numerous vantage points of this house offer breathtaking views of three ancient Scottish Elm trees, indicative of the site’s history. Initially, these trees deterred the planning of the Kew residence. Preserving them was of great importance, and hence they had to be incorporated into the design, thereby justifying the irregularity in the front portion of the house.
Double glazed windows were used to thermally insulate the structure. A solar system was incorporated as well.
Kew residence takes immense pride in portraying John Wardle’s journey from childhood to now. From the jigsaw-like dining table to Natasha Johns-Messenger’s pop-out periscope window in the living room offering an alternate perspective of the city’s skyline, this house is an “inception of artworks”. His house is a masterpiece that embodies a key story woven together by multiple stories.
“Everything tells a story.”
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