WORDS Leanne Amodeo IMAGES Armelle Habib PRODUCTION Julia Green
A love of art and gallery spaces put this couple ahead of the curve when they renovated and curated their colourful, light-filled Melbourne home.
Michael Mabuti and Susan Chung have a knack for creating good-looking homes that reflect their passion for design. They have renovated three to date, and their fourth property – purchased a few days after they happened to visit the park nearby – was just the challenge they were looking for.
The 1887 cottage in an inner-Melbourne suburb needed a lot of work, but they loved its historic beauty and could see the potential. “With our background in building and design, we’re always searching for the worst house on the best street in order to evolve it,” says Michael, founder and director of construction company Seventy7 Projects.
Soon after purchasing the home in 2012, they commenced a brief renovation – a new kitchen and rewiring, plus upgraded bathrooms – before moving in with sons Jasper and Mannix. Then, in 2015, they engaged Stefan Bagnoli of Bagnoli Architects to undertake a major renovation.
It was important to all parties that the streetscape’s predominantly Victorian character be respected, so they kept the original façade and gave it a fresh coat of white after adding a new corrugated-iron roof. The front room was kept intact and converted to a home office, where Susan – the creative director of design studio Made By Pen – does most of her work.
Everything beyond the office is new. The two-level rear extension features clearly defined public and private spaces: a library, three bedrooms and two bathrooms upstairs; the living areas downstairs. Circular pivot windows flood the living areas with natural light, and a second entry on the northern side allows guests to bypass the front door altogether.
The renovation was a collaborative process. “Stefan would suggest ideas and we’d come up with ways to implement them,” says Michael. “And if it didn’t work out, we’d find another way.” Details were worked on as they arose, which allowed for a degree of experimentation, manifested in some outstanding design features. Perhaps the most striking is the spiral staircase of steel, timber and brass. Brass is also used in the kitchen’s joinery, countertop and backsplash, which will develop a delicious patina over time.
Timber battens beneath the kitchen skylight and living room bulkhead form an understated accent that reinforces the importance of wood in the scheme while providing a neutral backdrop for Michael and Susan’s collection of designer furniture, lighting, art and objects. “Part of our brief to Stefan was having open-plan living areas that would allow the house to function like a mini museum or gallery,” explains Michael. “Most of the walls were designed for the art we already had.” Pops of colour abound in the mix of contemporary abstract, portrait and street styles.
The artworks perfectly complement key pieces of furniture the couple have accumulated over time, from a classic Pierre Paulin chair to a contemporary Patricia Urquiola sofa. Each is a talking point, without the living spaces feeling like a showroom; the furniture is there for the whole family to use and enjoy. And while Susan says there’s more to do and that Michael may never be done tinkering, neither of them seems to mind.