Project Sheet: Castle in the Sky

With a treasure trove of Australian art and historical pieces, this warehouse gallery-cum-family home in Melbourne’s South Yarra reaches new heights. Pilar Mitchell writes.

When a dwelling is a gallery as much as it is a house, the challenge lies in balancing the warmth of home with the stillness and space required for an art collection. Architect Oliver du Puy’s solution was space and colour planning at M Penthouse, a dramatic warehouse in Melbourne’s South Yarra. 

“It was all about flexibility, spatial planning and a soft-hued palette that made the artwork the feature,” Oliver tells me. “The front rooms are public rooms, where the majority of the art is located, and the functional spaces like the kitchen, pantry, laundry and powder room are centrally located, with the bedrooms in the rear.”

The public space and living space are designed as two distinct areas whose boundaries float within the original walls of the warehouse. “They’re separate from the original structure, and the warehouse ceiling is unobstructed,” explains Oliver.

The concrete kitchen island which was poured in-situ is a sculptural element that serves as a central point from which the rest of the home radiates. An eagle sculpture by Bruce Armstrong presides over the threshold to this part of the home, inviting visitors in. 

Oliver worked with the client’s extensive art collection, ensuring the design elements didn’t compete with works such as the energetic, vibrantly-coloured figures depicted in Sidney Nolan’s Ned Kelly series paintings.

“It was important to work around the collection and create wall space for hanging. Often the artwork is colourful, so our work was more subdued, unifying and minimalist so as not to detract from the beauty of the artworks.”

The colour palette is restrained, neutral and calming. Wire-brushed French oak, stained in black is featured across the custom joinery, while the floors are pale oak timber. The walls and ceilings are painted white, while the steel floor-to-ceiling windows surrounding the plant-filled conservatory are black-edged. 

Artworks such as Tim Storrier’s The Runner with its iconic ember-outlined silhouette are bright against this neutral palette. Opposite Storrier’s piece, on the other side of the four-metre high salvaged hardwood front door is an abstract work by David Rankin which interacts playfully with Storrier’s energetic piece.

The collection mixes treasures of Australian art with family heirlooms and historical pieces. A pair of warriors glazed with red and black from the Ming Dynasty adorn the sideboard, while an elegant turquoise and red 17th century Bonaparte cabinet breaks up the minimalist lines of the other furniture pieces. The Irish elm refectory table in the library comes from a Benedictine monastery in Ireland. 

Just as the art collection is the unique centrepiece of this tranquil home, so too is the historical warehouse in its suburb, a rarity amongst the Victorian houses. The building peeks above the treetops, its many windows framing a view of the Botanic Gardens and the city beyond, which are artworks in themselves.

Featured image: Tim Storrier’s painting The Runner hangs in the living area. Courtesy: Oliver du Puy. Photos: Tom Ross.