Category Archives: residential

open house hobart 2021: aotea house

Open House Hobart 2021, Day 2: Aotea House

After our visit to Esmond Dorney’s 1958 Butterfly House, we ventured deeper into Sandy Bay to find a house that was a complete contrast, at least on the surface.

The view from the garden. It is possible that the official Open House photographer posted a photo of me taking this exact photo on Instagram. I wish I’d at least washed my hair . . . .

This was Aotea House, designed by Britten Pace in 2020. This house was only open for two tours so we were very fortunate to be able to see it. It’s a three level concrete building on a super steep site at the top end of Sandy Bay.

Open House Hobart tells us

A faceted monolithic concrete form punctuated by panel joints and openings, Aotea House faced challenging site conditions and the design muse of a commanding white gum.

Rather than provide a continuous panorama allied to a homogeneous kitchen/living/dining, the vertical program presented an opportunity to create smaller distinct spaces within a larger volume. These intimate spaces were designed as an escape for family members with foreground relief from the panoramic views of the living room.

The plan is an irregular pentagon stacked over three modest floor plates, with each narrowing and framing views of foliage and close bushland or opening to sweeping views of the Derwent and Southern Midlands. And there are only two right angles in the entire house!

The white gum creates a contiguous thread, cohabiting occupants with rosellas feeding in its leafy canopy, then descending past the striking white trunk of the understory to the forest floor below.

Open House Hobart Website

It’s a fascinating residence.

So many angles!

Although it’s more than 60 years older than the Dorney House, I think the concept of making the garden part of the house that Esmond described is a feature here too, with the huge white gum being incorporated into the views from every level of the house.

The white gum from outside

The owners told us that they didn’t want to live in a concrete box and went to great trouble to make sure the house didn’t become one. There are only two right angles in the house so, as you might imagine, finding furniture to fit has been challenging.

The main bedroom

It has huge windows that had to be commercial grade because of the size, and the logistics of installing them sounds incredibly complex. There’s a massive curved external wall that made me think of the Gordon Dam, but is actually based on a mould from an industrial water tank.

More angles

The owners explained that they wanted open plan areas where the whole family could be together, as well as little nooks where people could escape by themselves. The result is a very open space, where the vertical elements dominate, with cleverly placed hiding places that I’m sure the kids (and the adults!) would love.

It’s a beautiful structure, with the combination of concrete and timber working really well together.

Lush wood and concrete

And the views are fabulous.

Part of the view from the living space

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.

open house hobart: kaljuvee house

Continuing our Open House Hobart weekend quest to visit Esmond Dorney designs, Lil Sis and I stopped in at Kaljuvee House in Lenah Valley.

This is one in a series of “missing” Dorneys, apparently discovered derelict by the current owners and no one had known it was there.

Kaljuvee House, Lenah Valley

This house was built in 1952 so it’s one of his earlier works in Tasmania. It’s a beautiful space and very much original. The owner, Kate, said the only significant modification they had done was to extend the kitchen a little to be able to fit a dishwasher and more than one person.

The fire place hiding the study/office space

It’s distinctly a Dorney but has some features I’ve not seen on other houses, such as the slats over the front windows, which Kate says serve no purpose at all, and this curved ladder-like structure near the entry door, which she says makes it easy to get onto the roof and remove leaves from the gutter.

The entrance to the house

The Open House website says

This building may be one of Hobart’s great secrets: the house is perched above a quarry face far below the street level and is invisible from any public space. As dramatic proof of the legitimacy of this urban myth, it was discovered in poor condition by the current owners, as no one knew it was there! Now beautifully restored, this is its first public outing.


Approached by a stairway that winds from the street high above, two pavilions – one private and one social – are defined by a partial level change and a butterfly of two opposing skillion rooves. An expressed skeletal structure wraps the portico entrance and shades the fully glazed northern wall which opens to a stunning panorama of the River Derwent and the hills of the Midlands. The open living space (masked by a wall planter Scarpa would be proud of) soars over the garden and into the landscape.

Kaljuvee House from the street

It has a beautiful outlook and a lovely garden. I think I could live here but Kate says she’s not moving out any time soon.

open house hobart: macquarie street

Open House Hobart weekend was held on 13-14 November, with a fascinating range of buildings open for tours and drop-ins.

After our Taroona Esmond Dorney buildings, we were supposed to take part in the Modern Hobart City walking tour, which I was super excited about, but unforeseen circumstances meant it had been cancelled earlier in the week, so we had some free time before our next Dorney house. We decided to wander along Macquarie Street and see what we could find

The National Mutual Life Building at 119 Macquarie Street was open, we think for the first time

119 Macquarie Street. I didn’t get a chance to photograph it on the day, so here’s one I prepared earlier

Open House tells us this about it.

This six-storey neo-Gothic sandstone building in the centre of Hobart has been a prominent part of the Hobart city landscape since its construction in 1906. The National Mutual Life Association (founded in Melbourne in 1869) commissioned prominent Hobart-born architect, Alan Cameron Walker, to design their Hobart offices. Walker was born in 1865 and apprenticed under the well-known Tasmanian architect, Henry Hunter. The stone facade and carved bas-reliefs of the building are of particular note, and feature a lion and unicorn flanking the company logo above the entrance on Macquarie Street. The building now houses a number of commercial tenancies, with the third and fourth floors being occupied as a residence.

I’ve always been intrigued by this building, especially the turret on the roof, and it sits nicely next to one of my favourite buildings, the Reserve Bank.

It was raining when we got to the roof top and my first impression was of the brilliant view it had of the two beautiful modernist buildings on the corner of Murray and Collins Street, Jaffa and the T&G Building. Who cares about the rain here?

Superb view from the roof

I was so excited by the view I almost forgot about the turret (I don’t know if that’s the actual term, I’m sure it’s not).

It also sits nicely against the Reserve Bank so you can reach out and touch it.

Should you wish to do so.

A different perspective of the Reserve Bank building

There was once a rooftop cafe up here, complete with deck chairs, which looks like it would have been a fabulous use of the space. We need more rooftop cafes!

The top floor of the building had recently been vacated and was empty, ready for refurbishment.

How good is this skylight?!

It was such a wonderful space and very hard not to notice all the lead lighting throughout, which is thought to have been an 1970s addition.

Every house needs a door with a ship on it

I wasn’t the only person expressing a wish to live here.

Wonderful colours
The door handles embossed with the National Mutual Life logo that also sits above the front door

On the other side of the Reserve Bank were two apartments at 105 Macquarie Street, “Polly” and “Henry”, which are recent transformations of former office spaces into short stay accommodation.

105 Macquarie Street. Another one from the archives.

They were both very different in look and feel, and Polly had super views of the other side of the Reserve Bank.

The other side of the Reserve Bank building

These spaces were designed by Preston Lane, who had done the Tate House restoration, and one of the things we noticed was how a huge artwork had been incorporated into one of Polly’s walls. Apparently this had inspired Erik at Tate House to do the same thing in his bedroom in Taroona. It looked really cool. And I wasn’t able to get any photos of it, but this post will give you the idea.

We didn’t get much time here as we had an appointment with another Dorney house further out of the city. Onward!

open house hobart: tate house

I had been anticipating the 2021 Open House Hobart weekend for weeks. As usual, my sister and I had booked in for several tours across Saturday and Sunday, and we had a lot to look forward to.

Our first tour on Saturday was Tate House in Taroona, which was built in 1958, designed by Esmond Dorney for the current owner, Erik’s, uncle, who lived there for many years.

Tate House in June 2020 before the restoration work

The Open House description of the house says

Tate House sits above the river’s edge with 180 degree views of the estuary, along with the hills and bays of the far shore. The immediate foreground, originally beach and boat sheds, is now slightly masked by later development. The house is a continuation of the form and structural technology of the Dorney Shack (1957) and the Young (Butterfly) House of 1958. With immediate street frontage, this design needed to find a different solution from those two projects to ensure privacy in a developing suburban context. Allied to some solid panels, a slightly deeper setback allows the garden to mask the glazing. The form itself responds directly to the hills on the eastern horizon, offering a relaxed logic to the street view.

In 2019, the current owners commissioned Preston Lane Architects to carefully restore the existing house and update the interiors, maintaining the essence of the original building while also accommodating the changing needs of the clients, allowing them to age in place.

Tate House, November 2021

Paddy Dorney spoke of how much planning went into the restoration project and of the passion of Erik, the architects, and the builders, who all worked to maintain the integrity of Esmond’s design while updating it to reflect the occupants’ needs. He noted the care and attention that James, the builder, who was also there for the tour, had put into the project.

The front of the house

The downstairs section wasn’t part of Esmond’s original design and it was deliberately designed to not look like his work.

The new, simple staircase

Part of the redesign was to include an internal staircase, so that people didn’t have to go outside to get upstairs. It’s a beautiful addition, sympathetic to the design but not trying to replicate it.

Use of glass to extend the partition walls on the upper level to the ceiling

I walk past this house often and never knew the downstairs area was there because you can’t see it from the street. I’d thought the house looked so small and wondered how it was possible to live in it.

Tate House entrance

Learning about the flow-on design from the shack and the way downstairs was incorporated later, it all made sense.

Back deck

I’d also been watching the renovations from the outside and, even though my first impression when seeing the house stripped back was to be horrified, I couldn’t imagine that anyone would do anything to a Dorney house that hadn’t been well considered and in keeping with its origins.

The refreshed kitchen windows from the back deck

It’s beautiful work and the house looks wonderful. It’s a simple but very clever design with lovely attention to detail. It seems to just fit the space perfectly as well as take advantage of the wonderful river views.

Back deck detail

open house hobart 2020: blue magnolia

My second tour of the 2020 Open House Hobart weekend was Blue Magnolia on Molle Street.

Some of the external timber work

This is a hidden away little 1840s cottage that is an absolutely tiny space (and, therefore, almost impossible to photograph, especially with a 50mm lens, which is the lens I have restricted myself to using for 50 days, having not considered that this weekend was coming up when I decided to do it). Nevertheless, it has been photographed very beautifully (not by me, obviously).

We were lucky enough to have one of the architects responsible for the redesign, Rosa, to show us through and answer our questions.

She said the building had been two row houses, which as far as we could tell were an upstairs room and a downstairs room each, with massively thick stone walls between them.

One of the original entrances

Kitchen? Nope. Bathroom? Nope. Basically, it sounded like living there would be like camping in a stone cottage. Now the two houses were one and there actually was a kitchen and a bathroom.

Rosa explained that there had been some 1970s additions to the house, which had been removed and replaced with the new extensions in 2017.

Stone wall inside and out

It really is cool how much they have managed to fit into such a tight space behind the existing houses on the street. The bathroom is fabulous, with the clear roof and views of the city.

Blue sky views from the bathroom

The extensions have lots of beautiful timberwork and there are doorways punched through the stone walls. The whole space fits together really nicely and it doesn’t feel as small as it is.

External wall

Clearly, a space like this has insufficient space for bookcases, so I could never live there. But it would be a lovely retreat space for a few days.