open house hobart 2021: butterfly house

Open House Hobart 2021, Day 2: Esmond Dorney’s 1958 Butterfly House

Butterfly House (originally known as Young House) at 536 Churchill Avenue is featured in Miranda Morris’ 100 Hobart Houses, which says “Although the 1950s brought a radical change to Hobart’s domestic architecture, nothing prepared the city for the arrival of the sputnik house.”

Butterfly House, Churchill Avenue

Yes, apparently it was originally called the Sputnik House, after the Russian satellite.

In the book, Miranda says that it was built for a Mrs Young, with Esmond noting that “All the warmth and sunshine, the flowers, the trees, the gardens should be as much part of the home as the kitchen and the living room”, in direct contrast to most traditional houses that he saw as cold and dreary, with the beauty shut out. (I can confirm that my house, built in the same era, which I love, is exactly like this.)

The main living area

According to the Open House website, this house has featured in design shows, dramas (The Gloaming comes to mind but I could be wrong because I haven’t seen it) and magazines but this was the first time it was open through this program.

20211114 OHH-230 Butterfly House 536 Churchill Avenue
The view from the main living area

Open House goes on to say

Widely admired for its innovative and authentic contribution to international design, the building’s powerful arching form is equally a response to its site and panoramic views. The walls are predominantly glass, lightly framed in tubular steel with integral diagonal bracing in plane with the glazing. Interior living spaces offer arresting views of mountain, sky and river, yet remain surprisingly private from the street thanks to the wide deck that extends over the carport and workshop below.

Originally built for a single woman, Young House was a relatively compact two-bedroom residence when purchased by its current owners. They commissioned Morris-Nunn and Associates to design an extension in 1999. Taking the form of a new pavillion in the back yard, the project won the RAIA Tasmanian Chapter Heritage award in 2001. The firm (now Circa Morris-Nunn Chua) added an extra bedroom and a lap-pool to the design in 2008.

Carefully restored and fitted out with an eye to mid-century modern style, Young House, like the Tate House in Taroona, showcases Esmond Dorney’s exceptional capacity to create buildings that expand and enhance the lives lived within them.

Open House Hobart 2021
The most recent addition to the back of the house and the pool

I’m not sure what else I can say. It’s a beautiful house and I can see why it is so widely admired. We were fortunate enough to have Paddy Dorney on the tour to talk about Esmond’s vision and Robert Morris-Nunn to explain more about the extensions.

Corridor from the original house to the extensions

One thing I learned was that Esmond had used Caneite in the original house. This is a form of soft, pliable fibreboard made from sugar cane, so it was really suited to the curves of this house. If you look closely at the walls and ceiling panels, you can see the texture of the caneite.

Caneite ceiling in one of the original bedrooms
How great are these colours!

They didn’t use this in the extension.

The other thing Robert noted was the way they had continued the form of the original structure as they’d extended out the back. It’s hard to see this from the ground, but it’s a lot more obvious from further back (see the third row of photos on Robert’s website to get an idea).

The bathroom window

What I loved about seeing this place and Tate House on the same weekend was how the additions to the original buildings had been done in very different manners but still retained the original feel of Esmond’s designs.

I also loved being able to see Esmond’s own home at Fort Nelson (1978) from the deck of this house.

The deck

I mentioned this to Paddy and he said yes, it was like little brother keeping an eye on big brother.

It was a wonderful space to spend some time and we greatly appreciate the generosity of the owners for opening up their home for us to see.

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