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Robin Boyd Walsh Street Visits

Home > Melbourne > Afternoon Tea | Architecture | Food and Wine | Unusual Things to do
by Nadine Cresswell-Myatt (subscribe)
Freelance writer exploring Melbourne and beyond. If you enjoy the following article click on the Like button, Facebook it to your friends or subscribe. I'll update you with yummy and often free events. Like my photos? I instagram @redbagwilltravel
Published October 27th 2014
Source Facebook Robin Boyd Foundation
Source Facebook Robin Boyd Foundation

Robin Boyd (191971) came from the famous Boyd dynasty of artists and writers. He was the only architect. While he was certainly involved in creating the Myer Music Bowl his designs were mostly everyday homes rather than prominent public buildings or mansions for the rich and famous.

 Robin Boyd Foundation
Source Facebook Robin Boyd Foundation

He was at the helm of the Small Homes Service that involved plans and write ups of small homes that were published regularly in The Age.

After the Second World War, a lot of people made use of these plans. For five pounds you could buy such a plan and build yourself an architect designed house.

 Robin Boyd Foundation
Source Facebook Robin Boyd Foundation

He was also the author of The Australian Ugliness that Text Publishers re-released last year. Forget about the Australian crawl it was the Australian sprawl that upset him. So many ugly buildings, built on blighted spaces with all trees removed and with little thought for function and design.

He once said: "It is a responsibility of each architect to make sure that he is behaving in a socially correct and responsible way. Everyone who creates a bad building is creating a crime against society it is a major act of vandalism."

So when he designed his own home in Walsh Street South Yarra he set out to show what good design was.

 Robin Boyd Foundation
Source Facebook Robin Boyd Foundation

While apparently, a patient man the day he sat down at his drawing board to create a new home for his family his kids, were running around and making it difficult to concentrate. As kids do.

So his design ensured they had a separate area where they could sleep, study or be as boisterous as they chose. Their own space was unison with the rest of the house but separated by a vast internal courtyard.

It was like two pavilions one for adults (with two storeys) and one for children at the rear that tapered down to one storey.

The two were however co-joined by a cable hung glass roof that was on either side of the courtyard and soared like a canvas tent moving down towards their section of the house.

The effect of this installation is almost mesmerising because it created a central courtyard that is in itself an outside room where the ceiling is the stars in the night sky or the clouds by day.

When you first walk into this house in Walsh Street it seems nothing all that special. Only the bright red door signifies that there may be something special to come.

A fascinating introductory talk is given in the living area where you sit on the modernist furniture Boyd designed for his new home. A coffee table, for example, stretches along a huge portion of the room.

Walsh Street
Walsh Street

You are actually sitting on the beds that Robin and wife, Patricia, slept in. Interestingly the Boyd's had no bedroom as such.

Every night they simply converted the day time lounge seating into their bed.

Apparently Patricia once remarked that it made one very tidy.

The nearby bathroom (which became a powder room when they had guests) held all the built in wardrobes.

Patricia loved colourful and elegant clothes and the vast wall of wardrobes mostly belonged to her. Boyd better known for his well cut black suits had one wardrobe.

From the balcony of their lounge room come bedroom were views over suburban rooftops out to the Dandenong Ranges. A magic view but especially in the twinkling lights of the night.

They could easily also see whether all was well with their children.

The dining room was below with a large table that could possibly sit 20 or so. The couple were known for their dinner parties. In the 1960s Patricia enrolled in Belgian-born Madame de Stoop's cookery course and became a stunning cook.

They would hold dinner parties where the Holts (Harold who became PM and Zara his fashion conscious wife) the Myers, Joan Sutherland and others would gather.

It seems that even socialites even much coveted these invitations to dine with the Boyds.

We were given a peek at the long galley like kitchen which was totally amazing. How on earth could Robin Boyd have been so innovative and modern back in the 1960s?

Cupboard doors swung upwards rather than out easily revealing their contents. The food preparation area was totally hidden from prying eyes but Patricia, in the kitchen, was still in direct eye contact with guests.

Her copper based pans still hang from the kitchen walls.

Apparently they bought the best of everything in terms of design and functionality but what they bought was so perfect it lasted forever.

There is no clutter in this house. Everything has a firm place within the dedicated space.

It is however perhaps the courtyard that leaves the most vivid impression with its crazy paving of large white jagged cut stones. With its water feature, and bamboo backdrop it even seems almost Japanese in design from some stand points.

Boyd House II img 3ddwgCC BY-SA 3.0 Rebecca D.G - O
Source; Wikipedia Boyd House II Rebecca D.G - Own work A drawing of the Walsh Street House depicting the two components of the home, separated by the internal courtyard 3d drawing of the Walsh Street House.

Amazing for suburban dense living in a suburb like South Yarra there was no need for curtains. The house is designed so that most windows face onto this internal space and that space is also shaped by all the overhanging trees and plants.

One of the plants is huge fan shaped open leaf monster delicious. These were common inside pot plants in the 60s and I wonder if it didn't just grow rampant.

You cannot see your neighbours and your neighbours cannot see you.

At the front of the house is a magnificent pine tree one of the reasons the couple bought the block in the first place. And this is glimpsed through various large windows, The narrow windows seem almost like spectacles.

I went with an organised group and we were treated to a wonderful morning tea of freshly cooked asparagus spears rolled in slices of soft bread and freshly iced coffee and chocolate cakes. Quite a spread. The tradition of fine entertaining continues.

Source Facebook Robin Boyd Foundation

If you love architecture you will love this house and the talk beforehand is most informative and engaging.

The house is not open to the public in the general sense. You cannot simply walk in as in National Trust properties. Rather you need to book.

Every month they hold a Morning Coffee, an Afternoon Tea and a Twilight Drinks evening. These include an introductory talk about the house and Robin Boyd's work, followed by a tour and then some of the fine refreshments such as I outlined here. These are baked in the house and obviously up to what must have been Patricia Boyd's high standards of culinary excellence.

The cost is $45.00 for the public or $40.00 per person for Friends of the Foundation (limited to 12 people and must be booked in advance).

Morning Coffee is served on the first Tuesday of each month at 10:00am.

Afternoon Tea is served on the second Saturday of each month at 3:00pm.

Twilight Drinks are served on the third Tuesday of each month at 6:30pm.

Or there are many public events such as lectures, concerts and gatherings when the house is always open for at least 30 minutes prior to the scheduled event so that people can view the house beforehand. Such events are published on their website. This may also provide a cheaper option than the afternoon teas.

Events include the DADo Film Society that screens films and documentaries on architecture and design.

There are also regular public open days so again keep an eye on their website.

The Boyd House is also open for guided tours for groups of up to 25 people. So if you belong to some kind of social group this is another way of gaining entry.

For details and bookings please call 9820 9838 or email
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Why? To see an example of good design
When: Various see website
Phone: For details and bookings please call 9820 9838 or email
Where: 290 Walsh Street South Yarra.
Cost: Depends on event but around $45 but this includes a talk, tour and some fine home cooking.
Your Comment
Dear Robyn Cresswell-Myatt,

Thank you so much for this educational article . Your work is amazing and I enjoy every story behind every corner of our lovely city of Melbourne and further.
by jasna (score: 1|83) 1850 days ago
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