Prior to looking for a house of our own in Adelaide, if I had to outline my knowledge of modernist architecture, I might have mumbled something about large windows, square design, perhaps referred to Danish furniture and that would be it.
Modernism & I have never been buddies (until now).
While looking for our house in Adelaide we stumbled onto a couple of ingeneous houses that piqued our interest in 1950’s & 1960’s house design. They are both located very close to the house we eventually bought (the suburb of Beaumont) and are perfectly suited to their locations.
The first one is designed by Harry Siedler – one of Australia’s major architectural heroes. The other a similar design is one which we walked through several times. The second (bright and simple house) opened up our eyes to Modernist architecture, especially since it was listed on an incredible site devoted to buildings of that era Modernist Australia, a go-to for all the nations modernist real estate news and sales.
Thus began a new infatuation with Modernism.
What is Mid-Century design, or Modernist ? Some of the major features are:
Using natures elements for energy use in the home – cross-ventilation for cooling & solar passive design. We knew our house was designed this way due to the crazy 45 degree angled way it sits on the block for maximum orientation.
Flat or single angled roofline (ours is flat).
Open plan living, that includes a sense continuity between the outside & inside, including large and/or floor to ceiling windows and abundant relaxed informal living areas.
Clean lines and lack of unnecessary decorative and ornate styling such as ceiling roses, iron lacework etc. The most we have is a bit of timber panelling & copper fireplace.
The use of industrial-style materials – in the case of our house we have factory sized steel beams in the retreat, lots of brick and natural surfaces like wood paneling.
In essence, the features of these houses are akin to a modern Australian sustainability check-list.
While these simple homes have experienced a resurgence in design circles, too many are still being demolished for bloated examples of faux-Victorian or Neo-Asian boxes.
What is delightful is that with these homes that outside connectivity is always a high priority. Decks & terraces feature, in addition to thoughtful light positioning. Designs are typically “crafted” – architects used craftsmen to complete details, gave strong attention to detail and were constructed from durable higher end materials like brick, timber and glass as mentioned.
Ultimately designs were primarily to create a positive human dwelling, with only what is necessary and nothing extra. Really, nothing wasted. Simple, just like environmental responsibility.
What we are still marvelling at is how private, spacious and solid our home is. We have been converted to Modernism. Can’t wait to convert this thing into a 2015 sustainable marvel. The architects would be pleased.
In order to find the right house for us to buy as a family, we had took a look at some interesting places. We spent many, many weekends looking at homes that hadn’t been renovated for 40 years or more, people who built, married, grew families & died in the same place.
There are dozens of 1935-1970’s aged houses going under the demolishers ball here in Adelaide.
This photo blog is a little view into some of those properties. They are not all great photos, as some had to be surreptitiously taken one room ahead of the estate agents walk-through.
Most of these houses no longer exist.
I’d like to see a return of the sewing room……………………
- Here’s to the “painted every decade” back lean-to. And the light fittings that are indestructible.
- To home-decoration, not shop-bought. I wonder how the recently-cool macrame lovers would view this one?
- The world needs to have more hand-door bells. No electricity required. Please ring.
- To breakfast bars, bamboo and built-to-last.
- C’mon wall paper designers, can we have a return of these?
- I had never seen a wooden wheelbarrow before this one – and it’s likely I never will again.
- Hand embroidery in the sewing room. Vive la sewing room !
- Best map ‘oTassie I think I’ve ever seen !
- To the door that still works, the original lock, and the key that was lost decades ago. That no key cutters ever going to re-create.
- When greenhouses were for plants, not food. And they weren’t supposed to be pretty. They were for the plants, not our views.
- Ode to the ugly back shed.
- Here’s a cheer to low fences and those juicy bricks. Wonder if anyone makes them anymore?
- Cos’ the kids height was more important than pristine white.
I wish I knew where I saw it written. Am pretty sure it was in a newspaper, a real estate lift-out guide perhaps.
It said before you buy, you need to have looked at 50 houses, to determine the kind of structure you are looking for, its relative cost when compared to surround suburbs to be able to narrow down the actual value – ensuring it is as close as possible to your budget.
Yep, that’s what I read. I wouldn’t make something like that up.
So we did. We looked at 50 houses – not in the paper – in the flesh ! Oh dear, what process. I had no idea how competitive cities are, how many bad houses are out there, how awful some people’s choices are, and how desperately you can long for one particular perfect house, miss out on it at auction and never look back. It ended up taking 8 months to buy our house and 90% of our weekends included house inspections.
In the end, we didn’t buy a bouncy-castle house. They might look fun from the outside, but once inside it’s easy to be deflated. Bouncy castle houses are fun & attention-grabbing but without substance. Instead, we learnt lots about styles and features (mostly what we didn’t want) which was a very important part of the exercise as it helped define what we wanted in a sea of choice.
Here’s a smattering of houses we bid on at auction or made offers for.
Some observations about property to avoid in Adelaide include:
1) The villa vacuum
We saw lots of lovely Victorian villas (from the front). They are such a feature of this city that no doubt someone reading this will have one and be offended. We LOVED them so – at first. But like a bouncy castle, they were all show without substance. Made of stone (cold) and only 4 bedrooms really with an extension you’d have to rip off and start again with. For $900 000 ! I know ! It’s crazy ! We are renting one and it’s cracked, cold in winter and hot in summer. That Adelaidians love their old homes is admirable – from a materials sustainability perspective. But unless you’re on the north side of the street, they are wrong. Dark, damp – and still trendy. And a maintenance money pit. Absolutely lovely to look at from the streetscape – but how these are as desirable as they are I don’t know.
2) The Lego
We saw quite a few of these. Like Lego, you just keep adding & adding. Then it falls over. There’s simply nothing you can do to fix this house. Money has been thrown at it, to get sunny vistas, to get extra bedrooms, another bathroom, etc. The problem is the house design was poor to begin with. The Californian bungalows with the living areas smack bang in the middle of the house are one kind. The afterthought teen bedroom jutting out into the backyard. Materials that weren’t great to begin with, then additions that are worse. Oh my.
3) The dark side of the street
Despite having all the features we needed, there were 4 houses we liked initially but then we went inside. The bedrooms all faced the sunny side of the street and the main living spaces were in shade. The idea that a building can be built without sunny outdoor space still seems lost on people. It didn’t take us too long to immediately rule out any house that wasn’t orientated correctly, no matter looks or price or convenience.
I would definitely recommend spending as much time looking as you possibly can when buying a house. Give it a year, double the size of the area you’re looking to buy in, make up wish lists of features you want (old vs new, single vs. double storey, street type, streetscape, diversity of building styles and sizes, access to transport, slope, orientation, materials, architectural style) and be relentless in your pursuit of what’s smart over what seems beautiful. Cos’ in the end good liveability IS the most beautiful quality of a home.