Workroom's South Yarra Residence | Project Feature
South Yarra, VIC, Australia

Rose Onans

Dave Kulesza

John Bornas, of Workroom, has created a feat of design and engineering with the South Yarra Residence, transforming a dark industrial building into an elegant, spacious and light-filled apartment.

Architect John Bornas, of Workroom, took a dark, aging industrial building on South Yarra’s Toorak Road and created a spacious, light-filled modern apartment that seamlessly blends old and new. The project is a feat of design and engineering, and a delicate balancing act between aesthetics and functionality. The project is the latest for Workroom, the small architectural studio he and his partner Jo-Anne Gleeson founded 1999 with the simple intention of ‘making beautiful what would otherwise be mundane’. In the South Yarra project, this approach results in a space that is understated yet breathtaking, finding elegant solutions to complex architectural problems.

Workroom - South Yarra Apartment - Australia Architect - The Local Project

Architect John Bornas has transformed the industrial building into an elegant contemporary apartment. Photographed by Dave Kulesza.

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The South Yarra Residence sensitively combines modern luxuries into the original structure. Photographed by Dave Kulesza.

Despite enjoying making things as a child, John, who was born in Argentina before moving to Australia at an early age, did not initially gravitate toward architecture. Whilst trying to find enjoyment in his studies of mathematics and philosophy, he discovered architecture and never looked back. ‘I see architecture as art with a purpose’, he says. ‘I’ve always loved art and design, and been aware of how spaces can affect you – like the sense of awe as you enter a church’. Architecture, therefore, is for him more about the space than it is about the surrounding walls, meaning that ‘the walls are the medium in which the space is designed.’

TImber Wood Detailing - South Yarra Residence by Workroom - The Local Project Feature Interview
Furniture Interior Detailing of South Yarra Residence by Workroom - The Local Project
Workroom - South Yarra Residence - Australia Architect - The Local Project

The residence is light-filled and spacious thanks to a courtyard running the length of the apartment. The colour palette is restrained and subtly references the building’s industrial heritage. Photographed by Dave Kulesza.

By focusing on the space, rather than the bricks and mortar, Workroom’s designs are timeless, created as an elegant expression of the personality of the client, rather than a design driven by trends. Asked if he could pinpoint a particular one of his designs from the past 20 years and assign it to a particular time or period, he is unequivocal – absolutely not. Yet, he accepts that ‘while spaces haven’t changed, people’s expectations of them have’, and social media means trends and fashions are more accessible and desirable to people than ever before. Part of his job, as an architect, is finding out not only what clients may want, but why they want it. How does a particular feature or trend improve their life or provide value to those living in the space?

In the case of the South Yarra apartment, the clients were old friends of John’s and had done several projects with Workroom, including a retail space and a beach house. When it came to the brief for renovating the industrial building to create a modern apartment, they asked for a similar design to the beach house. While John says that locality is important to the design process, as location and environment provide a unique set of parameters and opportunities for each individual project, in each case ‘the design language is the same’. So, while a beach house and an inner-city warehouse apartment could not be more different in theory, in practice the same approach applies.

Courtyard Design - South Yarra Residence - Workroom Australian Interior - The Local Project
Workroom John Bornas South Yarra Apartment - Australia Architecture Interior Design - The Local Project

Top, the courtyard is a new addition, created as an elegant solution to the problem of letting natural light into a building that once housed offices. Below, the residence seamlessly blends old and new in harmony. Photographed by Dave Kulesza.

John summarises this as ‘finding elegant solutions to problems. There may be many possible solutions, but for me, the right one is the most elegant one’. Light and space were key to the original design for the beach house, but were in short supply in the original warehouse. To solve this problem, John, along with Workroom’s engineer, Haydn Morrell from 4site Engineers, designed a long courtyard corridor, running down one side of the apartment, thus creating an aspect to look out onto. While cutting open an entire side may seem a drastic change for an old building, the colour palette and thoughtful use of texture in the residence creates a seamless integrity that balances the old and new aspects in elegant harmony. Traditional industrial materials such as concrete, glass and steel reference the building’s industrial heritage, while contemporary aspects such as the luxurious tiling more subtly references the existing exposed brickwork’s texture. By interpreting the client’s vision for an urban version of their light-filled contemporary beach house and sensitively responding to and taking inspiration from the original building’s construction, Workroom’s design allows the whole to becomes greater than the sum of its parts.

John Bornas of Workroom - The Local Project Feature Interview - South Yarra Melbourne Project
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John Bornas sees his job as an architect as ‘making the mundane beautiful’. Right, the contemporary tiling pays homage to the texture of the original brickwork. Photographed by Dave Kulesza.

While ‘timeless’ is the key word when discussing Workroom’s design, over 20 years John has seen technology develop and become more accessible. He sees sustainable design as irreducible from good architecture, ‘not an add on, but always a given’, so the developments in technology are a welcome progression. Solar arrays and battery storage are some of the more well-known changes in this area, but sustainable technology is influencing other aspects as well – a new Workroom project in Byron Bay will feature a ‘lagoon-like’ swimming pool, with bio-filtered water that is entirely chemical free, to that point that it is drinkable, making it healthy as well as environmentally friendly.

Kitchen Interiors Design Architect - Workroom Melbourne South Yarra
Stairway Interior Feature - South Yarra Residence by Workroom - The Local Project

Blending technology and contemporary design with timeless spatial awareness, John is committed to contributing positively to the built environment and finding elegant solutions to architectural problems through Workroom. In the almost two decades since founding Workroom, the practice has grown but the approach and design language remains the same – making the mundane beautiful and creating art with a purpose.

Photographed by Dave Kulesza for The Local Project.

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Interior Designer Australian Melbourne Architect John Bornas of Workroom
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