The social life of the Elliston estate
[This essay is a write up for the Robin Boyd Foundation’s Merchant Builder’s open day on 20.11.16]
The current home owners of this Charles Duncan-designed house are the original owners who selected the land and house design from Merchant Builder’s catalogue in 1972. A family of 5, they chose this site in the Elliston estate in the ‘outer’ north eastern suburb of Rosanna — one of only two sites left. Upon seeing the house design in the newspaper, they saw a built example of ‘The Patio House,’ and signed up to have their new home built. Paying $7500 for the land, this decision was buoyed by the inclusion of an underground electricity supply — an incentive from the then City of Heidelberg to endorse a unique landscape plan without overhead powerlines.
They particularly liked the siting of the estate — the houses were ‘nestled together’ in a cohesive arrangement that prioritised garden and community over internal space. They also enjoyed the master bedroom zoning away from the children’s rooms, along with the separate ensuite bathroom — both uncommon features in house design then. The small sized home and single storey stature made this a comfortable family home for the owners — ‘an easy house to live in.’
Purchase of a Merchant Builder’s house design entitled the owners to a meeting with the architect, the interior designer and the landscape designer. Ellis Stones himself helped the current owners relocate the carport from the side to the front of their property due to the lot configuration, creating a covered entry porch in the process. Another simple window addition permitted passive surveillance into the garden from the main living/dining space should the children require it. Apart from this, the design remained true to ‘The Patio House 2’.
Few changes have been made since this house was built, allowing the materials and details to be seen. Most materials are left in their natural state — red clinker bricks, oregon beams, pine timber lined ceilings (unpainted) and cork floors. The owners originally only painted the concrete slab as the finished interior floor surface, adding carpet later as finances permitted.
Despite the simplicity of structural logic, ability to read structure from surface, and logical flow of spaces, there is a richness of detailing that is purposeful. The bathroom exemplifies this through its tiling layout, shelving and towel racks. Similarly, the cover straps to the plasterboard walls are basic yet considered, and the consistent datum line that these walls form to finish short of the structure and ceiling highlights Duncan’s design rationale. Door jambs are without a head jamb to further demonstrate this train of thought.
This estate afforded the owners a unique lifestyle — one that saw a family of five live comfortably with one car due to proximity to Rosanna Station. The estate possessed a somewhat homogenous demographic, whereby young families generally from professional backgrounds allowed kids of similar ages to grow up together and attend the same schools. Informal social clubs formed, from babysitting clubs to wine & cheese nights; this coupled with the local Rosanna Parklands (one half of the old Rosanna Golf Club upon which this estate stands) within walking distance allowed for a unique social community environment. The owners speak of the acceptance of this neighbourhood to be listed with a local council overlay, as this gave certainty to their green aspect and borrowed vistas being maintained, as well as protecting their own home from being ‘built out.’
This home is a good example of an intact Charles Duncan home with few modifications. It is easy to see how both Stone’s ethos of how “gardens streets and park flow into and through each other” coincided with Duncan’s methodology to be “strongly oriented to the organic approach where a house is closely linked to its surroundings and extends from them as part of it, not on it.” This integration of garden and built form is balanced here with a natural ease.
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