Holgar & Holgar: A Showpiece of Modernity

Designed in 1968 by Holgar & Holgar Architects, this flat-roofed modernist home must have been the envy of neighbours in the Melbourne, Australia suburb of Caulfield.

With its double carport and pebbled-lined pathway, the striking home has been in the one family since it was built. “The family regularly entertained. They wanted a house that provided generous spaces for family and friends,” says a relative of the original owners. “It’s still virtually in the same condition,” she adds.

Architects John and Helen Holgar were highly recognised not only for their striking modernist homes from the 1960s and 1970s but also for their exceptionally fine detailing, which always started at the front door. In this house, the front door is beautifully carved in timber, echoing the motif found in the customised timber screens that create a veil between the entrance and open plan living areas. “John and Helen were extremely stylish, whether it was the way they lived or entertained.”

Guests would arrive at the home and be ushered into the entrance, with its fine herringbone parquetry timber floor. Coats were removed and placed in the large cloakroom, adjacent to the entrance, complete with its own mirror and built-in dresser. “You can almost imagine the women coming in and after removing their coats, freshening up their makeup,” she says. Those who were around at the time could almost envisage the heavily adorned eyes (think Twiggy) and beehive hairdos in the timber-framed mirror.

However, it’s the living areas, with their generous glazing to the terrace and back garden, that would have beckoned guests. No doubt they would have been handed a drink from the pyramid-shaped built-in cocktail bar in the living room, before being introduced to guests. Images of a suave guest wearing a tuxedo and relaxing in one of the deep sofas, comes to mind. The generous sunlight streamed through the floor-to-ceiling glazed curtain window that extends across the rear of the home. “In summer, the light through the curtains really animated the entire living room.”

The house also captures the time when kitchens weren’t on view. In this case, the kitchen is discretely placed next to the dining area, enjoying the morning sunlight. Also in pristine condition, the laminate and timber kitchen includes all the original appliances, from the ‘Frigidaire’ hotplates and dishwasher, to the ‘Caprice Deluxe’ wall oven. Holgar & Holgar even thought of inserting a piece of stone in the bench to cater for that hot pot, simmering before served to guests. And unlike most kitchens of this period, there’s a deep pantry, detailed to the nth degree. As well as shelving on three sides, there are cut-out shelves to accommodate wine bottles. As novel is the drying cupboard, located in the adjacent laundry.

Although the ‘mod-con’ appliances must have made friends envious, it’s the exquisite joinery that resonates long after the ‘party is over’. The television room, for example, also orientated to the back garden, features a built-in sofa and storage. One hatch reveals a record player, while another cupboard still has the vinyl records from that time, most likely a selection from Tom Jones. The owners were not only extremely stylish, but also appreciated the efforts of Holgar & Holgar, with every surface, including the upholstery and curtains, not showing their age.

One of the most sumptuous areas of the house is the main bedroom suite. Comprising ensuite, dressing area and separate bedroom, it’s a suite of impeccable interiors. The ensuite, for example, features marble tiled walls. Even the drawers to the vanity are finished in marble. But it’s the dressing area, lined with floor-to-ceiling built-in cupboards, which must have been a delight to use at the beginning and end of each day. Open the cupboard doors and see how the true masters of design resolved each item of clothing. There are steel rods in cupboards to accommodate handbags and the spaces behind other cupboard doors have been customised for shoes. The built-in dressing table, with its twig-like handles, added to the luxurious experience of greeting each morning.

Nothing has been spared in this streamlined modernist home. Everything responds not only to the adventurous architecture of the late 1960s, but importantly to how the owners wished to live. “It’s such a beautifully light-filled house. I still remember coming here for the first time in the late 1970s. Even 10 years after it was built, I still felt it was beyond anything else I had seen.”

Words by Stephen Crafti.

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