Living With Art: Kathryn Robson and Chris Rak

KATHRYN ROBSON AND CHRIS RAK OF ROBSON RAK KNOW THAT WHEN IT COMES TO ART, YOU CAN NEVER HAVE TOO MUCH. ANABEL DEAN CHATS TO THE COUPLE ABOUT THEIR GROWING ART COLLECTION.

Kathryn Robson and Chris Rak of Robson Rak.

It’s always the same question when architect Kathryn Robson and interior designer Chris Rak find an artwork that they both love.

‘Where will it go?’ asks Chris.

Kathryn’s response: “That’s irrelevant. We love it. We’ll find somewhere for it.”

And they do.

The husband and wife team responsible for many of Melbourne’s striking residential interiors have renovated their Elwood family home with restorative calm and simplicity. A restrained colour palette allows artwork to inject layers of interest and personality into small, pared-back spaces.

“We’re not calculated collectors,” Chris admits. “We’re just flippant and passionate art buyers who are still very much accidental and instinctive.”

Sean Meilak’s Rotations and Undulations and Heidi Yardley’s Doppelganger hang above the dining room table.

An unusually wide hallway in the Edwardian dwelling leads from a luminous front door painted in Obsidian Blue into the white-walled modernity of living spaces. The hall isn’t just a passageway, though, it’s a gallery intended as an experience. Kathryn reflects fondly upon the little boy who came to play last summer but stood transfixed by the graphic works of Chris Connell and the graphite drawings of Teo Treloar. Artworks were studied with precision as he navigated his way through the house. “Seeing his reaction, the pure intrigue through the art, was such a joy to us,” Kathryn says.

Joy comes in many ways and, at the end of the hall, it’s beckoning with a pop of hard-edged orange, red and blue by Perth artist Caspar Fairhall. His Double Space Double floats above a quirky sculptural yet practical Memphis French lamp from the 1980s.

In the library, above the fireplace, there’s another revelation. Robyn Burgess’s Tenement tells the story of a building in Russia with a canvas textured by oil paints crazed by drying in sub-zero temperatures.

Kathryn’s favourite work is in the kitchen above the dining table. Teamed to splendid effect with a geometric monotone pencil sketch by Sean Meilak titled Rotations and Undulations is a painting called Doppelganger by Heidi Yardley. The confronting portrait is of artist Rhys Lee kissing a cast of his own head.

These are the two works that get lingering attention in the space that opens onto garden greenery. This is where the family – boys George, 10, and Alexander, 11 – spend most of their time and where dinner party guests get embroiled in critiquing Doppelganger. They “love or hate” the work that refused to be forgotten after a visit to the artist’s studio. “Kathryn lost the plot with that one,” remembers Chris. “We love it.”

A collection of small steel works forged by Chris in earlier days as a sculptor are equal eye catchers in the kitchen. Anthrokivos 1 is an anthropomorphic geometric sculpture, a gazelle perhaps? “It’s definitely a female,” offers Kathryn.

There’s a flight of stairs leading to the second floor crowned by a heavenly skylight and finely-framed Heidi Yardley painting Royal George that, characteristically, begs for closer attention. Art and architecture in perfect harmony.

“Art is probably our only extravagance in life,” concludes the architect. “We don’t spend on expensive watches or handbags – instead we save for a favourite piece of art.”

“I could never imagine a home without art,” responds Chris, then pauses. “I think we need some more of it.” 

“And where will we put it?” laughs Kathryn.

Robyn Burgess’s Tenement hangs above the fireplace.

The wide hallway acts like a gallery at the house’s entrance.

Artworks line the hallway leading into the house.

A work by Chris Connell hangs in the master bedroom.

Kathryn and Chris always find room in their house for works they love.

Heidi Yardley’s work Royal George hangs at the top of the staircase.

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