Posted by: Lisa Hill | November 29, 2018

Author event: Fiona Austin at Beaumaris Books

Last night I attended the launch of a rather special book, special to us, that is, and special to Melbourne as well.  The book, by Melbourne designer Fiona Austin, is a celebration of modernist architecture in the sandbelt suburb of Beaumaris in which the Spouse grew up…

So Cheryl and Andrew from Beaumaris Books were clearly the right folks to launch it, and the event was held at True South, a hip tapas bar and restaurant on Beach Road, with a lovely view of the bay.

Fiona Austin is herself the owner of what is known as a mid-century home, and it is her passion for the architectural qualities of these modernist homes that was the catalyst not only for the book, but also for other initiatives to ensure that they are preserved.  (There is now a dedicated group of enthusiasts at Beaumaris Modern who, amongst other things, hold open days).  Many who grew up in these mid-century homes took them for granted, and certainly the local council has been remiss, because some beautiful homes have been razed because their importance as a cultural component of the suburb has been overlooked.  (Though Beaumaris being the expensive suburb that it is, the replacements are usually beautiful examples of contemporary architecture).

In her entertaining and informative talk at the launch, Fiona Austin explained why Beaumaris was a hotspot for mid-century houses.  The suburb emerged from Bunerong lands, and there was a hotel at Beaumaris by 1880, but land development plans stalled due to the depression in the 1890s.  So Beaumaris remained a picnic place where people from the city came for a day at the beach, until the Dunlop tyre company laid plans to build a garden city for its workers.  (Yes, you can just imagine a corporation doing that for its workers today, can’t you?  But it wasn’t uncommon in the 20th century.  My father’s employer helped him buy his first house in London, after the war).

However, a huge bushfire in Cromer Road in the 1940s exposed the poor water pressure available, and Dunlop lost interest.  It wasn’t until after the war that people were attracted to the large blocks, lush with native trees, and proximity to the bay as a playground. By then people wanted modern homes: light-filled with window walls, beautiful fireplaces, bright colours and using beautiful timbers and exquisite joinery for feature walls.  And Melbourne had a group of brilliant young architects, many of them European refugees, who designed their first modernist homes in Beaumaris and went on to have impressive careers.  There were over 50 architects living in the suburb in the 1950s, and the RVIA noted that Beaumaris had the greatest concentration of interesting houses in the metropolitan area. 

Fourteen houses—some in their original state and others sympathetically restored— that were designed by these architects are featured in the book.  Lavishly illustrated in what is a large book (30 x 25cm), each house is photographed both inside and out, and there is a floorplan and a page of text about the history of the house and the principles on which it was designed, plus profiles of the architects involved.  With links to images where I can find them, the houses featured are:

Beaumaris in the 1950s attracted all kinds of creative people: fashion designers, artists, actors, graphic designers and musicians.  Many of the names Fiona Austin mentioned were familiar to The Spouse, who played with their children in the tree-lined unpaved roads where kids could roam freely in and out of each other’s houses.

Online booksellers are (according to booko.com) designating this book as not yet published, so if you want a copy as a Christmas gift, contact Beaumaris Books who have copies available already.

Author: Fiona Austin
Title: Beaumaris Modern
Publisher: Melbourne Books, 2018
ISBN: 9781925556407
Source: personal copy, purchased from Beaumaris Books.


Responses

  1. I grew up in a number of houses built during the post war shortages, and owned a 1948 weatherboard and fibro in North Blackburn. Nothing like the architect designed houses you describe and whose preservation I applaud. All suburban houses were 3 BR, 1 bath once, it’s a wonder we survived.

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    • I heard a young architect talking on RN this week, and he was trying to talk up innovations in design that would make housing more affordable. (Australians have, apparently, the largest domestic housing in the world). His interviewer couldn’t get past the idea of having only one bathroom.

      In our area, houses of the 50s were limited to 2BR. When we bought ours, a previous owner had tacked a so-called sunroom and a half-sized bedroom onto the back. We pulled this down and added a family room (known colloquially as The Left Wing) and a bedroom for The Offspring. It wasn’t until The Grand Renovation of 2001 (when we had an architect and re-shaped the entire house, 6 months of hell) that we added an extra room – which means we have 2 BRs (with beds in them) plus an office and my library. But still only one bathroom, we have never needed another!

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      • The bosomy beauty and I had 4 BR 2 bath AND individual showers in the ensuite and individual WIRs. My little taste of McMansion-hood. The kids wouldn’t stay, not even for free drinks on the patio – too far out of town. In retrospect, it was never going to work.

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        • I don’t know how they can keep it all clean … it can’t leave time to do anything else.

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