The Frankston House by MRTN: An Optimistic Mid-Century Modern Restoration
Frankston, VIC, Australia
A midcentury home designed by architect and AFL footballer Jack Clark in 1963, the Frankston House embodies the optimism of the period. With few changes made over the next 50 years, new owners engaged MRTN Architects to reimagine the house as a family home while staying true to the style and optimistic spirit of the original.
While the Frankston House is in essence a restoration, it is not a restoration that returns the home to how it was originally built, rather it is a restoration that captures the inspiration that lay behind the first design. Original architect Jack Clarke contributed to Robin Boyd and The Age’s Small Homes Guide, an aspirational project that aimed to make modernist architecture and good design available to all. This ambitious objective echoed the sense of possibility that accompanied experimental architecture in the center of midcentury modern design – the US West Coast in the fifties and sixties.
MRTN Architects’ restoration of the 1963 Frankston House reimagines the home through the lens of Julius Shulman’s iconic images.
Julius Shulman’s photographs of these iconic West Coast homes, such as the cutting-edge Case Study houses by architects including Richard Neutra, Pierre Koenig, Edward Killingsworth and Craig Ellwood, provided the inspiration for MRTN Architects during the design of the Frankston House. Exemplifying mid-century modern architecture in its prime, these photographs enabled MRTN to capture both the essence of this ambitious ‘anything-is-possible’ design and the subtleties and detail of the period. “Our design reimagines the original home through the lens of the source images that most likely was a source of inspiration for Jack Clarke”, says Antony Martin, founding director of MRTN Architects.
A midcentury home designed by architect and AFL footballer Jack Clark in 1963, the Frankston House by MRTN Architects embodies the optimism of the period.
The clients had purchased the Frankston House out of their love for the original architecture, saving it from the fate of so many other significant mid-century Australian homes demolished to make way for much larger new homes or developments. One drawback to finding a mid-century gem in original condition was that, after over fifty years without alteration, it was in dire need of repair. To function as a family home it required an ensuite, updated bathroom and kitchen, raised ceiling heights and expanded floor area, as well as replacing many finishes and fixtures. “Almost every surface has been updated, replaced or re-finished in some way, from the roofing to the entry tiles to replacing the ceiling while retaining the expressed joint between ceiling panels”, says Antony.
“Our design reimagines the original home through the lens of the source images that most likely was a source of inspiration for Jack Clarke.”
All changes, whether to the program or the materials, consciously take their cue from the original home. MRTN Architects were fortunate to know a lot about the original architect and even had a scan of the original plans, including a copy of the original finishes schedule. “The plan diagram for the house was very good”, reflects Antony, with a living wing to the north housing the kitchen, dining and living spaces, a bedroom wing to the south, and a services core of laundry, bathroom and storage located between these north and south wings.
“We very consciously retained the plan diagram basis in the development of the design”, says Antony, while “every material selection was viewed through the lens of the original home’s inspiration”. The architects questioned materials they might typically select and would often choose a material that might be considered less ‘fashionable’ now if it was right for the period of the home. “An example of this would be the black American walnut veneer for the kitchen cabinetry. Not a veneer you often see these days but a very appropriate choice of the time”, Antony explains.
All changes, whether to the program or the materials, consciously take their cue from the original home.
Outwardly, the home is virtually unchanged, and internally one is left wondering where the old ends and the new begins. “Being in the house, you are aware that it has been updated, that is obvious, but what we aimed to achieve is the fact that it is not exactly clear what has been added, what has been updated and what is original”, says Antony. This approach is reflected in the loose furniture selection from Great Dane, which combines some mid-century classic designs with some contemporary designs that resonate with the mid-century design legacy, creating a wonderful interplay of old and new.
Some of the changes are not visible at all. The original home had virtually no insulation in the walls and ceilings and the windows were all single glazed. As Antony explains, arguably the most substantial difference between the original house and the house as it is now “has to do with thermal envelope and standard of construction.” Structurally updating the home, expanding its floor area and rejuvenating its finishes, in all of this work done in the Frankston House, Antony says that “saving the house is the most significant component of this project. It protects and retains the original home for the foreseeable future”. In doing so, the architects continue the vision of optimism and aspiration that inspired the first design nearly 60 years ago.