The Story of a Lifetime – Kew Residence by John Wardle Architects

Words by Rose Onans
Architecture by John Wardle Architects
Photography by Gavin Green

Kew Residence, the home John Wardle has lived in with his family for 30 years and recently renovated, represents a project in which decades of lived experience is interwoven with the interest in the narratives of geography, history, material and craft that is a powerful motivation within John Wardle Architects’ work.

Three significant elm trees that occupy the site, John speculates, represent key periods in its history. The oldest tree, a rugged Scottish elm, is presumed to have been planted at the time when the land was nothing more than the horse paddock and stables of the neighbouring Edwardian mansion. And the pair of smooth-barked Dutch elms near the road he believes grew in the 1950s, when the original house was built and the garden established. The newest iteration of the house is the fourth element that enters the equation; carefully situated between the trees, it signifies the next chapter.

John and his family have lived in the home since 1990, and in that period it has been renovated three times. With this most recent renovation, John commandeered the former playroom views of the city for his study, the kitchen and bathrooms were renovated, and he designed new joinery that is as much an extrusion of the architecture as it is an insertion into the spaces. The changes are substantial, but above all they are meaningful. Just as a narrative forms from a series of connected events, “when I look around the house, I see things that have linked from one to the next,” John says. Connections – some abstract, some overt – are constantly created, between past and present, between garden and architecture, and between the building and furniture, objects and art collected within.

The Japanese ceramic tiles that are found in the home are representative of John’s passion for ceramics. His long interest in Japanese ceramics has been nurtured by his association with Australian distributor Artedomus, a relationship that extends far beyond that most architects would have with even the most valued of suppliers. Custom tiles were created for this project, with Artedomus working closely with John Wardle Architects and Tajimi Custom Tiles to produce the highly unusual ceramics for the ensuite, powder room, bathroom and kitchen.

Artedomus also sourced a range of Agape products for the home, each of which is a reflection of John’s lifelong fascination with Italian design, craft and history. In the ensuite, the Agape Nivis basin is described by William Pearse of Artedomus as being “like fallen snow”, their soft undulating white expanses contrasting with the textured tiles and precise rectilinear nature of the space itself. Similarly, the orange Kaa Showerhead and Handshower Sets, designed for Agape by Giulio Gianturco, add an unexpected contrast of vibrant colour. And in the powder room, the Agape Solid Mirror and Bjhon 2 pedestal basin are sculptural pieces that hold their own within the space.

Drawing on the narratives inherent in an object, a material, a space or a site, the project exemplifies its owner and designer’s personal and professional passions. Everything here is interconnected, the house seems to say, everything tells a story. Some of these may be legible to the casual observer, others are known only to the family who have inhabited the house for 30 years or to the man who has designed three of its successive iterations, but each has a formative role to play.