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1980s Melbourne home that's got its groove back

It’s an architectural decade that some found brash, but in this family house by Doherty Design Studio the 80s is celebrated

1980s malvern home in melbourne by doherty design studio
Derek Swalwell

Designed by renowned Australian architect Peter McIntyre, this visually arresting house, with its central glass atrium, was the hottest property in Melbourne when it was first built. In fact, it was at one of the many lavish pool parties held here in the 1980s that, as a teenager, its now owner first experienced its charms.

‘She remembered how the place made her feel. That sense of generosity and freedom of space,’ explains Mardi Doherty, director of Doherty Design Studio, who, with designer Niv Kelkar, was tasked with ‘bringing the disco back’ to this home.

colourful green and peach snug featuring furniture by ligne roset and rs barcelona
Derek Swalwell

It had lost its mojo over the years, but there couldn’t have been anyone better suited to retrieve it. A dedicated devotee of the decade, Mardi was keen to show the positives of an era that often gets a bad rap. ‘Eighties architecture was considered an ugly duckling, but it has so many strong design elements,’ she says. ‘The way the buildings capture natural light, the voids and angular forms ­– I’m really drawn to it.’

What was acceptable in the 80s, however, is not always ideal for modern family life. That’s why Mardi devised a plan that moved the kitchen from its small space at the front of the property to a new, expansive entertaining area underneath the pitched double-height glass atrium, overlooking the garden and pool.

1980s architecture in the atrium of malvern house melbourne by doherty design studio
Derek Swalwell

‘Eighties architecture was considered an ugly duckling, but it has so many strong design elements’

Working with building designer Ari Alexander Design Group, she also created a new double garage, repositioned the staircase to the centre of the house and transformed two of the upstairs balconies into rooms for the owners’ teenage daughters. The existing bridge connecting the two wings of the building has been retained and celebrated with the addition of custom balustrading.

All of the changes have remained true to the spirit of the original architecture, but bespoke curved cabinetry and modern details soften its edges. Similarly, the interiors nod to the era of excess, but without being garish. Colour is used boldly but sparingly.

malvern house by doherty design studio with marble kitchen island
Derek Swalwell

‘It’s a largely white scheme,’ says Mardi, ‘and because there is so much glass around, the owners wanted areas of relief from the brightness.’ Most notable of these is the green room. This snug, occupying the space that once housed the kitchen, hides behind a peach-hued sliding door. The palette is pure Palm Springs resort style – inspired by Mardi’s trip to the Californian city’s Modernism Week a fortnight before the project began. It’s the only room on the ground floor without a view of the surrounding parklands, so, says Mardi, ‘the idea was to give it its own connection to that greenery and lushness’.

bedroom in malvern house melbourne by doherty design studio
Derek Swalwell

Elsewhere in the property, colour is introduced using art. The owners are part of a group of friends that buy several pieces every year and rotate them between everyone’s homes.

‘I love the idea that the art is transient, but the architecture is so solid,’ says Mardi. Like guests at a party, the paintings and sculptures enliven this house for a short period of time, sparking conversations, and then move on. dohertydesignstudio.com.au; arialexander.com.au

This article first appeared in ELLE Decoration November 2020

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