Many architects and developers feel quite comfortable knocking over buildings to create a ‘vision’. Let’s face it, it’s much easier to start with a blank canvas than mould something from the past into something new and relevant for today. However, in the case of the Botanic Collection, in Domain Road, South Yarra, the significant Marcus Martin apartments, dating from the mid-1930s, will be beautifully integrated into a new development. Designed by Powell & Glenn, the 1936 design, a landmark building in the botanical gardens precinct, will continue to form an important link in the highly valued streetscape. “There is a heritage overlay on this building, but there were still a number of interested parties who would have challenged that overlay in court,” says architect Ed Glenn, director of Powell & Glenn, who worked closely with heritage architect Bryce Raworth.

Glenn, as well as his colleagues, obviously has a deep respect for the work of Marcus Martin. “Look at the way his apartments border the courtyard garden. The proportions are exquisite,” says Glenn, who was as captivated by the subtle detailing, including the distinctive pitched roof, the scalloped columns framing entries and the ornate window detailing, the latter evoking a strong Japanese aesthetic. “I love the combination of the modesty of the design, as much as Martin’s moments of exuberance,” says Glenn.

What could have become a ‘pile of dust’ will be transformed into seven beautifully proportioned apartments. Four apartments will form part of Martin’s design, while the other three, located to the rear and accessed via Kurneh Place, will provide a subtle and finely crafted backdrop, the three at the rear conceived as ‘garden apartments’. With the entirely new apartments each having generous north-west-facing terraces (4 by 7 metres) and generous floor-to-ceiling glazing throughout, these monumental apartments will offer privacy, along with a sophisticated and elegant contemporary interior. “We looked closely at original photos of the property at the time it was first built, including the many stone walled beds,” says Glenn, who is working closely with landscape designer Jack Merlo. These deep beds, combined with dense planting, will form an important feature in both the new apartments and the reworking of the Marcus Martin design. Even the original low scalloped-edge front fence will be retained, but now lined with hedges to create a subtle ‘veil’ to Domain Road.

For Powell & Glenn, reworking a period building starts with the floor plan, ensuring the proportions are appropriate for contemporary living, as much as the ‘journey’ immediately past the threshold. For kitchens and living rooms, natural light from at least two directions is paramount. One of the apartments located in the original building, for example, currently has two small windows. In Powell & Glenn’s design, full-length glass, and steel doors and windows that will connect the living area to a generous terrace, will replace them. “From this living area, the owners will enjoy unimpeded sight lines down Marne Street,” says Glenn. The position of the kitchen also weighs strongly on Glenn’s mind when spatial planning is at hand. “You want a level of separation from the kitchen to the dining and living areas. No one wants to hear the sound of a dishwasher,” he adds.

The contemporary and the period have been beautifully enmeshed. Crisp shadow lines and contemporary materials feature in the kitchen and bathrooms, finely juxtaposed with the period detailing of the Marcus Martin design. In many instances, these period hallmarks are entirely new, but replicated to the nth degree by Powell & Glenn. Door accessories, including the wonderful Japanese- inspired security doors fronting each of the apartments, will be retained. “It’s like reinstating the ‘cufflinks’ to the original fabric,” says Glenn.

Stucco walls, a feature of the original 1930s building, will appear in the Martin House apartments in the form of the original stipple paint finish, along with reproducing cornices and even fire place surrounds that formed part of Marcus Martin’s original design.

The two and three-bedroom apartments, with a separate study, show how, when conceived with thought, a period building of this stature can be retained, enlivened and enjoyed by a new generation. “As with Powell & Glenn, we are mindful of how this Marcus Martin fits into this prominent streetscape. The building has an important provenance and is an example of the fine craftsmanship that marked many of Martin’s homes and apartments,” says Kay & Burton Projects Director Damon Krongold. Perhaps others who see the completed project will rethink their stance that the past is irrelevant and it’s only the present and future, that matters. “It’s our responsibility to create the finest and most luxurious apartments, with the past providing the means to move forward,” says Glenn.

Images courtesy of The Botanic Collection.

Contemporary architectural language integrates seamlessly with Martin House’s historic fabric, a timeless aesthetic dovetailed into modern living. Walled gardens and lush landscaping create a sense of discovery.

The two and three-bedroom apartments, with a separate study, show how, when conceived with thought, a period building of this stature can be retained, enlivened and enjoyed by a new generation. “As with Powell & Glenn, we are mindful of how this Marcus Martin fits into this prominent streetscape.


Lifestyle & Design

Be the first in the know

Receive the latest Kay & Burton property news delivered straight to your inbox.

Subscribe now No thanks!