Inherent Elegance & Classic Formality - Toorak 2 by Robson Rak

Words by Rose Onans
Photography by Brooke Holm
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When faced with a 1980s Georgian-style house in the Melbourne suburb of Toorak, Robson Rak saw past the abundance of extravagant embellishments to pare back the existing structure and in doing so, reveal its inherent elegance and “classic formality”.

In many ways, the original house, built in 1983, reflected the essence of Toorak at the time – ever-ready to do away with the old and in its place instate new large, grandiose buildings. Robson Rak’s approach was, therefore, a natural counterbalance that reflects a greater level of care and restraint in the finished project, which considered the benefit of retaining the original, rather than tearing it down, and simplifying the design to create a new sense of sophistication.

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Toorak 2 employs a refined and restrained palette of materials, with French oak used for both the flooring and joinery.
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The architects approached the project with an eye for emphasising certain features of the original building while focusing on simplicity and elegance.

Unlike the many heritage renovations that architect Kathryn Robson and interior architect Chris Rak have completed over the years, demolishing the existing building was a real possibility and one that was raised early on by the clients. Chris explains that while there was “initial talk of knocking it over, we recognised it still had good bones, it was a solid, well-built home with concrete floors,” so there was value in working with the existing structure. Kathryn adds, “we really stripped it back to the shell and re-built it up in a more classical, timeless style. It was built with high ceilings and generous spaces, the proportions were wonderful to work with, so by re-planning and paring back, we made those spaces sing.”

A carefully considered materials palette was key to achieving this result. In place of the many lavish and ornate details, Robson Rak focused on a highly refined and purposefully controlled materiality. “We were quite purist in this project,” says Chris, which is reflected in the simple palette of steel, natural stone and French oak. Rather than using a wider array of materials, the designers opted instead to finish the same granite in different ways depending on the application. In the entry, the stone is flamed, yet in the bathroom, a honed finish provides a very different result while maintaining a sense of clarity and consistency. Meanwhile, the oak was used for both the flooring and joinery to create an elegant and timeless aesthetic.

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The new home is a contemporary and refined “adult home”.
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Kathryn explains, “a little touch of something contemporary seemed to make all the original spaces even more grand.” This is felt in the new steel-framed glazed doors that now connect the indoor living space to the private garden, and in the contemporary kitchen lit from above by a skylight. At other points, the contemporary intervention is less obvious but nevertheless powerful. The arched entrance, which retains the details and mouldings of the original, appears relatively unchanged. In truth, however, Robson Rak emphasised the threshold by pushing the original doorway one metre into the wall. The result is an evocative new entry space that is about “drawing more out of the building,” Chris reflects. Kathryn continues “it’s those little things – a small movement but it transforms how you move through a building, and practically it allows guests to stand at the front and be sheltered from the rain.”

Robson Rak’s approach was, therefore, a natural counterbalance that reflects a greater level of care and restraint in the finished project.

This approach of recognising the inherent potential within the original extends to the loose furniture, many pieces of which are the clients’ original pieces. The clients had lived in the building for 25 years, having purchased the property shortly after construction. Chris explains, “the client in the early 80s bought all this amazing furniture. They were going to get rid of it but we thought ‘this is gold!’ We restored it and it’s now relevant, it’s been rejuvenated.” The overall interior design reflects the clients, “a very stylish couple”, and the house’s transition from a family home to “a very adult house,” says Kathryn. “Now, there’s a really functional office space where they can have business meetings at home in a lush opulent space, and a sitting area where people drop in and have a glass of wine without being in the living room.”

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The entry with original mouldings was pushed in one metre, a small and subtle design move that nevertheless transforms the threshold.
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This refined, timeless aesthetic reflects Robson Rak’s highly considered approach, which is extended throughout the restrained palette, architectural lighting and door furniture. “This consistency of materials, a language of materials, creates a calm gentle vibe,” says Kathryn. The result is a design that, while Toorak 2 was completed in 2016, remains one of Robson Rak’s most-referenced projects by future and prospective clients. “It hasn’t dated at all, it still resonates with people,” Kathryn reflects. “We’re thrilled, it’s not just a trendy flash in the pan – for us, that’s a successful project.”

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Certain design elements were used to highlight the grandeur of the original spaces.