Behind some of Canberra’s older homes, there’s a unique property screaming out for a modern makeover.
They hold features that you rarely see anymore; timber details, custom cabinetry, open fireplaces and, of course, a good solid foundation.
While some are heritage-listed, others have a character that can’t be replicated with a knockdown rebuild. An extensive transformation or simply weaving some finishing touches through the original design can give an older property a new lease of life.
Heritage homes built in the 1920s and ’30s have always been highly sought after in Canberra. However, Sold on Styling’s Melinda Jamieson and Suzy Piani say mid-century modern homes and those built during the ’60s and ’70s are some of the most interesting properties in the nation’s capital.
“At this time, Canberra experienced a huge population growth with the expansion of the public service and the ANU,” Jamieson says.
Our approach is not to be slavish to the period.Suzy Piani
“Many of Australia’s most renowned and influential architects, as well as a smattering of local architects, designed modernist houses during this period for clients looking to build homes which looked to the future, but which also complemented the bush environment.”
Piani says a unifying feature of the best designed mid-century homes is the way the properties sit within their landscape.
“Other notable features are the mix of materials used, such as timber panelling and cabinetry, exposed brick and travertine tiles, as well as the generous window size and room proportions,” she says.
Builders and designers often prefer to not only keep these features, but reference them when extending a character home.
Designer Tomi Milin says it’s important to look at the whole house and how the features embellish its overall presence.
“We can always take hints from the existing and use them to inform the treatment of the new,” Milin says.
“We might not mimic the actual feature but use a more contemporary reference in the same way. There are, of course, other aspects which might be simply repeated – beautiful timber door and window framing or the simple pitch of a roof. Here we might update the material but acknowledge the way in which it is used.”
Milin says these older homes have modest amenities, so a desire for larger, functional kitchens, en suites and a better connection to outdoor spaces usually drives these renovations.
Character homes that cater to modern living are in strong demand in the capital, PRDnationwide Canberra agent Peter Baum says.
“I think the nostalgia of the past and people’s memories through growing up are important,” he says.
“When they can integrate that into a modern residence, it surprises them … then you get the connection of people to the property.”
In addition to having a cleverly designed renovation or extension, styling a home can make a huge difference. Piani and Jamieson suggest teaming eclectic pieces with thoughtfully chosen furniture.
“Our approach is not to be slavish to the period, but to respect the inherent design and proportions of the home, while also incorporating contemporary pieces,” Piani says.
“As people’s homes generally evolve over time, we feel an eclectic mix not only adds warmth and appears more natural, but also creates a more stimulating space to be in.”
Piani and Jamieson advise combining a few statement pieces, such as chairs, lamps or artwork, with staple items and then pulling it all together with colourful and textural accessories.
When selecting furniture be mindful that older homes may have smaller living spaces, Jamieson says.
“One of the big mistakes we see is people placing bulky contemporary lounges, bookcases and entertainment units, which are the wrong proportion for living spaces in older homes,” Jamieson says.
“The furniture ends up consuming all the floor space, interrupting traffic flow and making rooms appear even smaller.”
Milin advises renovators to be aware of the costs involved as these houses usually lack modern amenity. Building material and services may need a complete overhaul.
However, the result, he says, can make it well worth the effort.
“Cost aside, think long-term – a unique, custom residence, complete with its own little quirks that will never be replicated.”
Renovating a character home
- Decorative details – Sold on Styling’s Melinda Jamieson says period elements that distinguish the home from contemporary properties should be kept. Think original iron balustrades, sash windows and timber panelling.
- Scale and proportions – Designer Tomi Milin says he chooses to respect the home’s existing scale and the proportions, particular when it comes to the roofline. “Often extensions done to the existing residence and the new roof adversely alters the existing bulk and scale,” he says.
- Some smaller spaces – While current trends lean towards open-plan living, Milin says removing all existing walls can remove some of the home’s character. “Attempting to create a balance between the existing fabric and ‘cozy spaces’ versus the open large living spaces often provides the best of both worlds,” he says.
- The floors – Sold on Styling’s Suzy Piani says 1960s and ’70s carpet often hides floorboards that can be polished. “Ripping up carpet and polishing boards has a transforming effect,” she says.
- The paint – White or soft grey is a safe bet. “Getting rid of tired peach or beige walls can give your home a new lease of life,” Piani says.
- The curtains – Jamieson advises replacing dated floral curtains with something neutral that will work for future styling updates.
- Outdoor spaces – A good connection to the outside spaces will give the home a brighter and more contemporary feel. Milin says alfresco spaces and courtyards, and an emphasis on views and sunlight can enhance a character home.
Inspired by wartime features
It was the classic, post World War II features that drew Judy Anderson to her Turner home, so those were the details she chose to highlight when styling and renovating the property.
The home, which was built in 1946, had its original sash windows, old wooden doors and high ceilings as well as a 1960s-style extension.
Additions included a large, contemporary kitchen with timber stacker doors leading out to the courtyard and the main bathroom has also been modernised while retaining its original character.
“It was built during the mid-century so we went for a mid-century look,” Anderson says.
“That’s how we arrived at the style with the colours as well as the furnishings and renovations.”
The property featured a lovely aspect, but the renovations have added a light and airy atmosphere which allows the sun to shine through the home. The living areas are at the heart of the home and enjoy a good flow to the outdoor spaces.
Sold On Styling’s Melinda Jamieson and Suzy Piani styled the home for sale, incorporating some of the Andersons’ own items.
“They took an approach of looking at what was there – the style, the character and the furnishings – and made a few minor changes to spruce it up a bit,” Anderson says.
“The good thing was keeping the foundations and working with what we had so it still maintained that look and feel of the home and what we had built.”
No. 4 Holder Street, Turner, is open this Saturday from 11.30am to 12pm and Tuesday from 5-5.30pm. Phone LJ Hooker Canberra City agent Kaylene King on 0409 574 178. EER: 0.5.
Classic charm, modern convenience
44 Campbell Street, Ainslie
This four-bedroom home in Ainslie offers an idyllic blend of classic charm and modern convenience.
It was built in 1941 and the current owners have spent more than a decade perfecting the property. The renovations were designed by Tomi Milin and built by Ray Luhowsky and the result is a functional home for the modern family that lets its history and character shine through.
Warm timber, stone details and exposed brick sit alongside custom joinery, state-of-the-art appliances and feature lighting. It is now the ultimate modern entertainer.
“The owners wanted to keep it looking like an Ainslie home, which was a bonus, and they wanted a touch of the modern as well,” Luhowsky says.
“The bones were basically sound and we didn’t want to alter things if we didn’t have to.”
One of the big changes was the energy efficiency, which has been lifted from zero to four stars with the aid of double-glazed windows.
Solid ash floorboards, recycled from the old Lyneham sports centre, were placed on top of the existing timber floor.
“It now has 50-millimetre timber floorboards which are great in terms of insulation,” Luhowsky says.
An alfresco dining area complete with an outdoor kitchen, as well as Canberra red brick courtyards with a firepit complete the outdoor entertaining.
The home is located on a quiet, tree-lined within walking distance to the city centre.
No. 44 Campbell Street, Ainslie, will be auctioned on Wednesday, May 11 at 5pm, onsite. Phone PRDnationwide Canberra agent Peter Baum on 0412 851 139. EER: 4. Inspect: Saturday, 10.30-11.30am and Wednesday, 5-6pm.