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Contributor to Housing
A glorious confection of iron lacework, stained glass, turrets and Corinthian columns, ‘Grandview’ is a textbook-perfect example of late Victorian architecture, complete with lavish Italianate detailing. The home, located on 1676 square metres in an exclusive enclave of Prahran (Melbourne), was reportedly built in 1888 for Captain James Evans of the Royal Navy.
In 2016, Grandview was purchased by Len Warson, CEO of Glenvill. At more than 130 years old, the home was looking tired and worn around the edges, but its grandeur remained mostly unsullied – the ornate cornices, sweeping staircases, stained glass windows, marble fireplaces and decorative archways all still in place, awaiting a little love and attention.
HIA member Glenvill, based in Melbourne and Brisbane, specialises in both custom and pre-designed new homes, and ever since winning its first HIA Housing award in 1969, the brand has been synonymous with luxury, upscale residential building. But while taking on the full restoration and renovation of Grandview was outside the firm’s usual repertoire, the team were excited about the endeavour.
‘As CEO and Creative Director, Len was the driver of [this project] he wanted to do something a little bit different, a little bit special,’ says Craig Hillier, Glenvill’s National Procurement Manager – Housing. ‘It was seen as a bit of a challenge for our team, to be able to achieve something that was outside the scope of what they normally do.’
Set over three storeys, the 80 square-metre home has six bedrooms and six bathrooms. Rather than extend, structural works focused on restoration of the magnificent period elements, along with a sympathetic realignment of the internal layout, adapting it to 21st century lifestyles.
‘It was dated…dark and stale,’ says John Vanek, Procurement Manager/Contract Administrator for Glenvill Developments. ‘The intention was to modernise the whole building, install a new kitchen, new bathrooms and open up the living spaces.’
Any builder who has worked on homes of a certain age know that as the layers of paint and plaster are stripped away, they have a tendency to reveal secrets. And Grandview was no exception. Beyond the crumbling cornices, damaged ceilings and time-worn tessellated tiles, the building team discovered that the main staircase, which winds elegantly up from the entry foyer, was in a fairly advanced state of disrepair. However, aside from this, John says, the home was solid and mainly structurally sound.
Every element of this project showcases the skill and restraint of Glenvill’s design and construction teams. All structural and layout alterations were cautiously considered and executed with care and sensitivity, preserving the home’s magnificent historic character while refreshing and reinventing its flow, functionality and overall liveability.
The rear of the first level was essentially gutted and reworked to create a free-flowing kitchen, living and meals area that opens onto the adjacent outdoor terrace. Upstairs, the layout was completely reconfigured, with the master suite shifted to take advantage of the home’s leafy outlook. ‘The carpentry team worked diligently to retain the integrity of the structure while demolishing major load bearing walls,’ John says. ‘We opened up a number of rooms to make them larger and brighter. This necessitated knocking out some solid brick walls which required extensive steelwork for support.’ Rather than introduce new construction techniques, John says the team relied on ‘the old and safe method of steel needles and supports’.
Some of this steelwork remains hidden or disguised. For example, a new A-frame steel structural support for the staircase, finished in ornate plasterwork, perfectly replicates the home’s period detailing. But the new steel-framed arched doorways – bold black insertions – are like portals between worlds, visually bridging the home’s past and present.
Inside and out, the home’s period features were painstakingly and faithfully restored or reconstructed. On the roof, damaged tiles were stripped and replaced with reclaimed slate and new Colorbond cappings. Windows were replaced, walls replastered. Much of this – such as repairing fireplaces and moulded plasterwork – sits well outside the Glenvill team’s usual sphere of work, and the precision with which it was carried out is a testament to their exacting approach to craftsmanship and attention to detail.
Similarly, the clever handling of the home’s extraordinary Italianate detailing showcases Glenvill’s design flair. While this architectural style often reads as overly fussy, a muted palette, predominantly white, imbues Grandview’s interiors with a rare simplicity, scaling the aesthetic back while still allowing the precious architectural elements, such as the intensely sculptural ceiling cornices (which are different in every room), to take centre stage. The new spaces of the home, including the kitchen, bathrooms and cellar, while decisively contemporary, are finished in classic materials. Afrodite marble, polished travertine, silvery-grey Neolith Strata Argentum and brushed brass accents all quietly acknowledge the building’s opulence and heritage.
This creative and ambitious renovation took 12 months to complete, and while construction generally ran smoothly, John says that working through COVID added a layer of complexity to the project. ‘We had to juggle the number of trades allowed onsite, and work with delays in the supply chain which extended the build process by five months.’ While so much of this project meant working with different materials, identifying new suppliers and specialised contractors, the Glenvill team revelled in the opportunity to apply their craftsmanship within a new context, and the results speak for themselves.
‘Renovations are not something Glenvill normally does, but I’m so proud of the result,’ says Glenvill CEO Len Warson. ‘People are surprised and absolutely blown away.’
First published on 30 May 2023