To turn an ambitious, fanciful concept into a brick and mortar reality requires a deftness and understanding that comes with decades of experience. HIA member Atma Builders
, a building firm that has been producing highly detailed architecturally-designed housing since 1976, was a clear frontrunner for the job. Founder Julian Barlow is a craftsman and a traditionalist; someone who loves the enduring European homes of old and has a strong respect for the purpose of architecture in construction. He cut his teeth on residential projects for prominent Victorian architects in the 1970s and 80s – at the time all of them young, talented and eager to make their mark.
‘We basically brought each other up,’ Julian says. ‘They taught me about architectural design and in a way I helped them understand how to build things.’
Leading a team of trusted carpenters and subcontractors, many of whom have been with him since the start (‘if I employed their fathers, I now employ their sons in a lot of cases’), Atma Builders has a solid reputation amongst the architectural community for achieving the difficult and the exacting. All over Melbourne the business is supported by ‘highly specialised little elves’ who make a lot of its projects’ componentry by hand, such as door handles, joinery, flashing or gutters.
Julian’s wealth of knowledge and ability to customise for the unique was an important asset for the complexity inherent in the Merri Creek House’s design. In fact, there wasn’t much from the house plans that he didn’t end up suggesting some alteration for. ‘But I’m extremely mindful that the architect and the client want it to look a certain way,’ he explains. ‘If someone saw the original drawings and then the final product they’d say it looks the same; however there have been multitudes of details and finishes that have been fine-tuned. If there’s a way of doing something better I will communicate that.’