IMAGES by Camera Obscura and Shantanu Starick
When asked to describe the aesthetic of the Dock St Warehouse home she helped design, architect Suzie Wiley (Surroundings) was momentarily flummoxed. Not because the building is eclectic, because it is definitely a cohesive space. And not because the home doesn’t have a unique signature, because it absolutely does. I think the loss for words came more from the lack of suitable adjectives available to describe this one-of-a-kind, award-winning renovation and design. I’m tempted to label the dark palette of the interior (by Jacks Corner Design and SuperAverage) moody, but the space is also warm and light-filled. I would say the home is industrial in style and warehouse in feel, but there is also so much that is natural and earthy. “It feels comfortable,” Suzie eventually settled on. It’s true, the home is definitely one where you want to stay a while.
Lesley-Anne and Andrew’s is the only residential home in the hubbub of Brisbane’s Southbank. Wind back the clock to pre-1980s and the colonial heritage building was a mechanics workshop. By the time the Houghtons made it their project (purchasing it at auction for $2,360,000), the building had already been turned into a two-story residential home, but by the time they were finished it had become a three-story urban sanctuary built by MCD Construction.
Newly empty-nested, the couple liked the open warehouse nature of the space, but saw an opportunity to use it differently and create something uniquely theirs. They didn’t like the idea of “apartment living” and sought to escape the trappings of the typical residential home they had left in Tarragindi. “We wanted to be bold and take some risks given we had a unique building to work with, but at the same time I very much wanted it to be a warm and welcoming home,” Lesley-Anne said.
Stepping in from the building lined street with all of the noise from the city’s cultural heart, the home is a sensory-laden expanse that opens widely before you, and yet gently cocoons you in. Like a mirage, the central courtyard with its frangipani trees, stacked stones, copper murals and hauntingly obscure fan art beckon to you. Darryl Mappin (Mappin Design Group) was tasked with gutting the original concrete landscape that felt “way too built”. He made it feel like a garden again, and the two ground floor guest rooms each claim it as their own. The entire lower level is windowless, creating an inward looking, self-contained hideaway where guest can share space, or get some space.
The jewel of the first floor is Lesley-Anne’s favourite room – her library. Described by Lesley as “a beautiful, creative haven” the space looks over the courtyard and onto the Brisbane River. On the wall is artwork designed specifically for the owners by Brisbane street artist Guido Van Helten and the minimalistic desk is also a Brisbane-made custom design by Lachlan Neilsen. Railway sleepers have been repurposed to create rustic timbers floors and an exposed brick wall once again makes you ponder what stylistic label could possibly encompass all of the aspects of these interiors. “Everything is beautiful in its own right, and also has its place as part of the whole,” Lesley says of the many one-off pieces that give the home the feel of an intimate gallery.
Also standing out among the first floor dwellings (dining, living) is the kitchen. The space has followed the rest of the home in its theme of raw and functional minimalism. An enormous island bench claims the space atop concrete slab flooring but the eye is undoubtedly drawn to the crisp white tiling that spreads across the walls and over the range. The effect is of a seamless blank canvas, punctuated with aged copper accents for flourish and dark cabinetry that melts into the facade. The pendant light hung from the high ceiling over the island is the perfect spotlight for a room that deserves the attention.
The entire building is reliant on the staircase to narrate its story with glimpses of each level flickering through the bars and enticing you into their space.
Before venturing to the new second floor, it is remiss not to lay praise on the path that takes you there. Also a new addition to the home, the ribboned spiral staircase is the linchpin that creates vertical connection between all layers of the home. When discussing the renovation of the building, Suzie often refers to the Dock St Warehouse as becoming a creation of “interconnected space” with the staircase as its “spine”. “The original building was very one-sided,” Suzie acknowledged. “It had the courtyard but there wasn’t a lot of light coming down to the bottom level, and so we wanted to use stairs as a spine to connect you all the way to the top level but also to let the light filter down.” Wrapped in steel mesh and caged with vertical brass rods, the spiral staircase is another of the home’s intriguing artworks. The entire building is reliant on the staircase to narrate its story with glimpses of each level flickering through the bars and enticing you into their space.
Spiralling up to the newly built third floor, you enter Lesley-Anne and Andrew’s master sanctuary (master bedroom, ensuite, lounge space and terrace). Once again, art forms the soul of the minimalist bedroom where Surroundings architect and artist Laura Pascoe handpainted her largest piece – a soft watercolour inspired by the Brisbane River that became the wallpaper. With neighbours so close and the house so open around its central courtyard, architects had to be strategic about the placement of windows on this private level. Two skylights are used in the ensuite and throw shadows on the textural, white subway tiles. Luxuriating in the bath is the best way to enjoy the sky-view. The brass features used are designed to age, a no polishing required perked adored by Lesley-Anne. A terrace on this level offers the first opportunity to step outside and feel connected to the outside world.
From the closed sanctuary of the serene bottom level, to the functional first floor and on through to the private master floor, the home becomes more open as you spiral up its stairs. When you reach the rooftop, Suzie says “you really start participating in the surrounding environment.” Everyone working on the project was pushing to have the home move-in ready by Riverfire 2014, and with a vantage point like this rooftop you can appreciate the hurry. With panoramic views of Southbank, Brisbane River and city, this is again a space designed around the owners’ love for beautiful things. Whether enjoyed around the fireplace or from the open timber deck, this is a destination in the home that feels as though it has bloomed from the building.
As a whole, the Dock St Warehouse delivers on Lesley-Anne’s desire for “bold connection” in her home. And in staying true to this vision, she discovered her own design aesthetic and a love for texture that could be achieved through raw and recycled materials. Suzie and the Surroundings team shared this sentiment. “We are pretty intuitive and very organic. It might look like a very controlled design but we really go by feel. Here, there was a lot to respond to which was great,” she said. Existing floors were sanded and wax sealed, windows and doors repaired and re-sealed, and ceiling panels from the demolished roof were repurposed as stacking sliding doors in the ground floor bedrooms. The ceiling fan art installation was made from an extractor fan dismantled from the original roof. The exposed brick wall that towers over two floors is sand blasted and recycled.
The foundation of the brief given to architects, builders, designers and landscapers was simple for this home. Lesley-Anne and Andrew love spending time together surrounded by family, friends and the artefacts they had collected before arriving. It was important that everyone felt comfortable and welcomed in this home. Lesley-Anne says she is happy with everything exactly as it is.
Winner QLD Renovation of the year 2014, Housing Industry Association
Winner Best State Residential Design 2015, Australian Interior Design Awards
Something caught your eye? Here is where you can find it:
- Landscape Sculpture and Pipework – Darryl Mappin, darrylmappin.com
- Rear courtyard Wall Art – Guido Van Halten, guidovanhelten.com
- Garage Wall Art – Gimiks Born, gimiksborn.com
- Handmade Ceramic pendants/custom wallpaper – Laura Pascoe, brushandwheel.com.au
- Custom Library Desk – Neilsen Workshop, lachlannielsenarchitect.com
- Custom Dining Pendant – Blumen Watts, blumenwatts.com.au