(The above photo is an example of the McMansion home…a mock something or other with little reference to anything vaguely appropriate for our climate, but with a large floor space).
It’s a vexed issue. When you become the owner of a home it is for living in. It’s for creating comfort, joy, memories and fulfils certain basic functions: warmth, cooling, cooking, entertaining and quiet space for example.
What then, should the focus be, when owning a house that has some historical or design significance?
For many people (especially in Sydney!), this is a no brainer. Knock it over of course, and without a second thought. Mow it down and make room for the enormous “McMansion“. Controversially, many believe this only happens in the new, outer suburbs. But in the established northern suburb we live in, it’s also happening. In droves.
The only difference is people believe they’re building something ‘better’ because they can afford a more ‘expensive’ re-build. The result is a pastiche of styles throughout our suburb, punctuated by very few of the stately original homes of the 1800s and of course the homes built in the ensuing decades: some remaining weatherboard cottages, quite a lot of remaining Californian Bungalows but many which are compromised after renovation, some Queen Anne-style homes, a couple of notable early Modernist homes, many extended post-war brick and tile houses, and a dwindling number of modernist homes from the 50s, 60s and 70s, many iconic.
In our leafy area, many re-built styles that occurred from the 1980s bare little relationship to the time they were being built in. Some were project homes referencing past Federation styles of 100 years prior but on a 5-bedroom scale for maximum sale-ability, others are a bland faux ‘Tuscan’ looking 2-storey box, and a small percentage of new builds are architecturally-designed to suit today’s context. Conservation, nor restoration, has ever crossed the mind of the knock-down/re-build dweller.
Then there’s the renovations… and gee: are there lots of these. Naturally, it’s the most affordable option for most people, including us! It seems like the advent of lifestyle, DIY and renovation television programs, a healthy property market and some celebrity stardust has had us all obsessed about renovating since the 1990s. I love a good renovation program and confess to a mild addiction to Grand Designs or maybe it’s ‘Grand Disasters’. I’ve seen some spectacular renovations of homes at both ends of the spectrum. A period home such as the classic Victorian terrace is often respected for its features and then modified with a “that’s-like-wow” addition to creatively join old with new wings. Or similarly, I’ve also seen houses totally gutted to a mere shadow of it’s former self and kitted out with incredible contemporary results to solve some serious space issues.
And then there’s the bad reno – I call it the “Franken-house”. The one that’s had weird stuff added or changed over time, none of which makes any sense except to its residents at the time. The blocky second storey which doesn’t match the bottom. The enclosed balconies. The ‘grafted’ home office, bad bathroom fix and daggy ‘country’ kitchen. Now roll all that into one house. That’s a thing.
All of these exist in my suburb and many more varieties not noted here. Perhaps most pervasive is the now-beige post-war red brick box. The house style, once red brick veneer, is rendered to erase the unsightly bright brick, and inevitably, painted some form of beige. Or “taupe”. It’s all about “taupe”! Perhaps trimmed in white or black, given some out-of-place aluminium windows complete with beaming terracotta tile roof. The outside is perfunctory and in the inside is usually opened up for today’s living, and fair enough too. Many houses of the mass produced red-box homes arguably had few redeeming features to save.
And that brings us to our house. Do we conserve and restore our small 1964-designed home and how ‘true’ should it be? Or do we renovate it and what will that mean?
(Photo: A McMansion in the area which is less than 10 years old but oddly reminiscent of another age)