Working with an architect: Hood House

Working with an architect: Hood House

Brett Seakins: Can you tell me about yourselves and the journey you took to arrive here?

Glenda: Having lived regionally for a long time, the past 18 years of which was spent running a 500-acre cattle farm in Strathbogie in northern Victoria, we decided that it was a “now or never” moment to embark on a new chapter, otherwise we would end up retiring on the farm. We love to travel regularly, having experienced some remarkable places such as the Outer Hebrides and self-driving adventures across Africa, which was becoming increasingly difficult to do while running the farm. We were ready to retire from the farm, move elsewhere and free up more time for travel. After casting the net wide for possible locations to move to, we settled on Melbourne and began searching for a suitable location in the inner suburbs, lucking on this house in picturesque Carlton.

Alistair: Initially, we were looking for a place to renovate, however many of the houses we looked at had already undergone some work, none of which ever really inspired us. As time was also a factor, finding this house – with planning permits already in place – easily saved us 18 months in the overall process.

Glenda: Yes, soon after we purchased the house, we arranged to meet with Warwick [Mihaly] and Erica [Slocombe] at Mihaly Slocombe Architects and thankfully, we hit it off immediately. They were really pleased because they’d designed this project for another client, a young family, and perhaps felt that it would never be built. We loved how proud they were of the design but that they were also open to adapting the project to suit our needs.

BS: Was working with an architect always part of your plan for relocating to inner-suburban Melbourne?

A: Not really. We had project managed the construction of our previous home on the farm, working closely with a local builder, and had thought we might give that another go. As it happens, with this project already having an architect attached to it, we decided to retain their services for the whole process.

G: We were living regionally during construction, and because of the travel restrictions imposed in Melbourne during the various COVID-19 lockdowns, there were times that we were unable to get anywhere near Melbourne. It meant having Sinéad [Lim] and Warwick from Mihaly Slocombe regularly attending site was invaluable.

A: We also realized that building close to the city is a very different thing to what we had experienced previously. There were a lot of pressures on the project, from site access and building hours to negotiations with council, that Mihaly Slocombe handled.

BS: You mentioned that your first inclination was to manage the process yourselves. What was it about Mihaly Slocombe Architects that allowed you to hand over the project to them?

G: It wasn’t an instant thing. Over the course of the redesign, they listened attentively and responded thoughtfully. There were things in the initial design that we weren’t rapt with, such as timber ceilings and slate floors and an elaborate kitchen island bench that could be moved to make way for big parties, all of which they were happy to reconsider. A big item that we wanted to change was the position of the kitchen; we wanted to swap its location with the living area, but they held firm. I think that after that discussion, we felt happy to surrender to the process, feeling safe in the hands of people who knew what they were doing. Now that the build is finished, we can see that the kitchen makes sense where it is.

BS: Tell me a little bit about how the process was structured. Did you feel that it was a collaborative one?

G: Right at the start of the process, after we’d initially met the team, Mihaly Slocombe arranged what they called a “discovery meeting.” It was really just a session in getting to know each other, where we could bring along some of our inspirations and where they could explain in detail the rationale behind the design of the project. It was a great way to get everyone on the same footing. The communication was easy and the process was very open after this.

BS: What challenges did you face in the construction phase of the project, and how did having the architect engaged for this phase assist you?

A: Well, we built the entire project during COVID-19, only moving in a week or two after Melbourne’s sixth lockdown ended. There were some interesting moments contractually, however, Mihaly Slocombe were very helpful in getting us across the line. The key assistance was navigating variations – something foreign to us – with the architects managing most of them before they needed our input.

BS: Which elements of the process surprised you, or was it largely as imagined?

G: We relaxed into it pretty early on, once we knew we were in good hands. The whole process then became a series of nice surprises. We were excited throughout the build to see all of the creative solutions and design elements materialize – things that we never would have thought of ourselves.

BS: Would you work with an architect again, and would you recommend it to others?

A: We would definitely work with an architect again. Although with COVID-19 and everything else, the construction phase was pretty intense, so we’re not looking to go through it again, perhaps ever!

G: Having said that, we would definitely work with Mihaly Slocombe if we did, and we would recommend the process to others considering embarking on the same path.