This family home in Melbourne marries raw materials with a softer touch

Designed to fit a compact plot of land, this property is still generous in size and decoration

Melbourne house that uses raw industrial materials in a soft, inviting way
Derek Swalwell

Fifteen years ago, when Bear Agushi bought an unloved backyard in South Yarra, now one of Melbourne’s trendier districts, nobody else wanted it. ‘It looked like a rubbish tip,’ he says. But Bear, who started his own building firm at around the same time, saw its potential and constructed a small house on the plot. After he and his wife Popi had lived there for about a year, an estate agent came knocking and said someone wanted to buy it. It was the first of many such successes, leading ultimately to Bear’s latest project: this modern four-bedroom house in the sought-after suburb of Armadale, which he shares with Popi and their children, Romy, 11, and Andreas, eight.

Today, Bear’s business builds luxury city homes like this one. He and his family have lived in several of the properties, but each time, they’ve quickly been snapped up by buyers. ‘We’ve been approached by people who’ve loved them so much that their offers were impossible to refuse,’ he says. With this house, though, things were different; the couple were thinking long term. ‘We wanted to create a home that we could grow into,’ explains Bear.

Melbourne house that uses raw industrial materials in a soft, inviting way
Derek Swalwell

Working with his long-term collaborator, architect John Bornas, founder and director of Melbourne-based practice Workroom, the plans for Bear’s new home came together. The site was on the small side, which inspired a jigsaw-like three-storey design that makes innovative use of space. ‘The house isn’t large, but it feels that way because of how everything is arranged, the use of natural light and the way the garden surrounds every room,’ says Bear. ‘From the outside, we wanted it to look contemporary and refined. John has made the whole building beautiful – it’s finished like a piece of joinery.’

Melbourne house that uses raw industrial materials in a soft, inviting way
Derek Swalwell

A sense of narrative was also key. ‘The open staircase allows a physical and visual connection across all of the floors, and there’s an outdoor courtyard on the first storey, so the upstairs links to the landscape,’ explains John. Intelligent use of light – to conceal some things and highlight others – gives the space depth, while a palette of raw, contrasting materials creates tactile warmth.

‘The architecture has some very masculine elements, but this is countered by the fine details of the materials’

When it came to furnishings, Bear enlisted another friend that he has often worked with, interiors stylist Simone Haag. ‘The architecture has some very masculine elements, such as the abundance of raw concrete, but this is countered by the fine details of the materials,’ she reflects. ‘I worked with Popi to bring out a sense of femininity through textures like velvet, clashing patterns and pops of soft colour.’

‘Now, when you enter our home, you just feel something great wash over you,’ says Bear. Finally, the Agushis have their forever home. agushi.com.au; workroom.com.au; simonehaag.com.au

This feature appeared in ELLE Decoration November 2019.

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