I first started writing on architecture and design in the early 1990s, after purchasing a modernist home in North Balwyn, designed in 1954 by architect Neil Montgomery, director of Montgomery King & Trengove. Before magazines such as wallpaper* were featuring modernist architectural post-war gems in the late 1990s, I was discovering some of Melbourne’s most significant homes, many of which were located in Kew’s Studley Park. Bounded by Studley Park Road to the south, Princes Street to the east and the Yarra Boulevard to the west, this leafy enclave, reached by the Eastern Freeway to the north, is literally a ‘feast’ of post-war classics including architects Robin Boyd, Guilford Bell, Peter McIntyre, John and Phyllis Murphy, Anatol Kagan, together with less-well-known architects such as Don Fulton.
When I first inspected these homes, as part of my architectural tour program and writing on these gems for magazines, I was simply captivated by their heroic gestures. Large picture windows and raked ceilings orientated to the north combined with brightly-coloured feature walls seemed such an easy and also practical way of living, not just in the 1950s, but also today.
So those looking for insight into Kew are recommended to park their cars in Studley Park and head off by foot. If you’re not sure of who designed the homes you pass, you may find the owner tending their front garden. At number 18 Yarra Street, you will see one of the finest homes designed by architect David McGlashan, who with architect Neil Everist, designed John and Sunday Reed’s Heidi II in Bulleen. Like a Japanese teahouse, the Yarra Street house ‘floats’ above its naturalist landscape. The towering gum tree bordering the home is almost ‘cut’ into the floor plan. Next door, at number 20 Yarra Street is a house designed by architects Gerd and Renate Block. Its staggered tapestry-brick façade is still as distinct as when it first appeared in this leafy enclave in 1958. A stone’s throw away at 25 Dunlop Avenue is an elevated home designed by Robin Boyd in 1955, together with his well-known ‘Lawrence House’ in Studley Avenue. This brown brick pile, comprising a fusion of townhouses and apartments, was designed for the Lawrence family in 1967. The largest of these abodes was sensitively restored and reworked by award-winning architectural duo Baracco & Wright. They celebrated Boyd’s exposed brick walls, chunky beams and handrails, avoiding the temptation to render over the past.
Nearby, at 9 Studley Avenue, is one of Guilford Bell’s last homes. Designed in the early 1980s, the low-slung house, featuring honest and unadorned recycled bricks, was recently extended by architect Robert Simeoni. His lightweight zinc-clad second storey addition enjoys not only a northerly aspect, but also an impressive view over the Studley Park area. Leaving this enclave also requires acknowledging the fine work of architect Peter McIntyre. Designed as his own home and office in the 1950s, this house, bordering the Yarra, was daubed the ‘Butterfly House’ for many years due to its use of primary colours for the exterior. Architect Albert Mo, director of Architects EAT, was so captivated by a house designed by McIntyre in Yarravale Road he purchased it for his own home, slowly restoring the house to its former glory.
Those interested in the latter decades, such as the 1980s, would be advised to visit the one and only house designed by architect Robert Grace, now a ‘starchitect’ based in Paris. Located at 111 Wellington Street, Kew and recently featured in Habitus magazine, the house has been beautifully reworked by Multiplicity. While the kaleidoscope of colours has long gone, the original parquetry floors and Adolf Loos-inspired windows still remain. More recent architectural gems include a house designed by Austin Maynard Architects in Charles Street, and Architects EAT’s insitu-concrete house in Heather Grove. Those who follow the work of award-winning architects Wood Marsh should also take the time to look at a house it designed in St John Parade. The home’s translucent glazed façade creates a sense of mystery and intrigue from the street. Award-winning architect Sean Godsell’s own home, near the corner of Stevenson Street and Swinton Avenue, also made people think about architecture when his steel crate-like house first appeared in the late 1990s.
Kew is also known for its fine period homes built in the early 20th century. Streets such as Barrington Avenue, Marshall, Adeney and Wimba avenues all possess fine Victorian, late Victorian, Edwardian and Arts & Craft-style homes. Although many of the period homes faced the ‘wrecking ball’ in the 1950s through to the 1970s, today they are finely preserved, with every architectural detail embellished to the nth degree. Sackville Street is also worth including given it’s considered to be one of the area’s most coveted locations. Here, you will find some of the finest examples of everything from Victorian mansions through to Edwardian and 1930s homes.
While the 1950s architecture has attracted many younger buyers to the area, so does Kew’s reputation for being in the centre of some of Melbourne’s leading private schools. There’s Ruyton Girls School at Selbourne Road and nearby Carey Baptist Grammar School, located at 349 Barkers Road. This writer regularly drove his two sons to school there, focusing more on the houses along Sackville Street than the entrance leading to the school’s car park! Methodist Ladies College (MLC) in Barker’s Road, Kew, also makes this suburb highly coveted by families looking to educate their children.
Kew has the obvious drawcards such as the Studley Park Boat House, perfect to enjoy the water’s edge over the warmer months. And of course, there’s Villa Alba, a Victorian pile at 44 Walmer Street, featuring the discovered murals of Scottish artisans, the Paterson Brothers, previously concealed under layers of paint. However, there are also the many parks dotted around the suburb, making the neighbourhood lush and verdant. The network of trams along Cotham Road and Glenferrie Road and along Church Street heading into the city makes Kew a highly desirable suburb, particularly for those who want to leave their car at home. Kew can’t be ‘absorbed’ by any one of these tramlines. The best advice is to take the car to an area such as Studley Park and simply take the time to discover its many wide and leafy streets. And you never know, if you appear interested in an architect-designed home on your journey, and the owner is watering the plants, they might even invite you in for a cup of tea!