Suburb Secrets
Toorak is synonymous with some of the most impressive architect-designed homes from the 20th century and beyond.

Students setting up house for the first time generally don’t look in Toorak, one of Melbourne’s most salubrious suburbs. However, in 1979, my partner and I found a large English-style apartment to rent at 80 Mathoura Road, a stone’s throw from The Toorak Village. With enormous pride when handed the keys, I gave the walls a new lick of paint and furnished it with second hand art deco furniture. At only $42 rent each week, I was sure good fortune wouldn’t last too long (surprisingly spending over two years there). Mathoura Road is now ‘paved in gold’ with multi-million dollar apartments lining the leafy address.

Given the value of real estate, those living in Toorak are well endowed for choice at their local shopping centre, The Village. The Simon Johnson Providore at 471 Toorak Road is literally a gourmet feast. Produce is sourced locally, as well as from France, Italy, Spain and the United Kingdom. Honey from New Zealand is popular as is the store’s balsamic vinegar. Those who fully appreciate the difference in flavour between six-year-old vinegar and one that’s 100 will fork out close to $1,000 for savouring the latter! Time also plays its part at Bogner, a German clothing company, approaching its 85th birthday. Founded in 1932 by Willy Senior and Maria Bogner, it remains a family-run business today. Designed for the ‘slope (ski) or the sidewalk’, those men and women who shop there prefer not to look like the ‘Michelin Man’. The quilted parkers and loose knits put the sophistication back into sports dressing. Some of the latest offerings include quilted jackets with chevron patterns, taken directly from the company’s 1970s archives.

The store Traffic at 535A Toorak Road comes with the phrase, ‘Because men are hard to buy for’. Owned by Don Gurr, this distinctive store would please any man who fits the phrase. There are vintage model ships, art by locals such as Julie Carstaris and Rob Kane, together with watches such as the Panzera and the Ikepod, not found in traditional jewellery stores. Those with a penchant for reliving the past will delight in the ERA Hi Fi record player circa 1969. 

Men’s outfitters Henry Bucks (at 476 Toorak Road) epitomises the genteel refinement of the Village. Housed in a Tudor-style shop, with white stucco and olive painted timber strapping, the interior features extensive timber panelling. The Village isn’t just for the mature clientele: there’s also Christensen Copenhagen, appealing to a fashion-savvy younger female audience. M Missoni, Diane Von Furstenberg and Number 21 from Italy sit within a store designed by Doherty Lynch. Venture around the corner to Toorak Op Shop at 1A Carters Avenue and some of the finest fashion from season’s past, end up on these racks.

My Bookshop by Corrie Perkin is also a destination point, offering an extensive array of books on architecture and design, together with fashion and the decorative arts. You’ll also find numerous books on everything from history to food. Corrie Perkin, the owner of the store, expresses her thoughts on the wall: ‘Books are not commodities they are works of art’.

If there were ever an award for staying power in the fashion industry, this would have to go to Fells’ owners, Susan Fell and her business partner Faye Shinewell. Founded 38 years ago, this boutique, now at 428 E Toorak Road, represents premier fashion labels sourced from Paris, Italy and America. Their well-heeled loyal clients can purchase everything from their designer T-shirts to their evening wear.

Unlike Fells’ success, the life of The Squire Shop (on the corner of Mathoura Road and now Sezanas coffee shop), established by Sydney-sider Di Yeldham in the 1970s, was relatively short-lived. This fashionable landmark, which thrived through the heady 1980s, has only left a shingle behind, with the words ‘Squire by Kevin Bell’, a proprietor who briefly took over before its demise. And of course, who could forget society hairdresser Lillian Frank, who established a reputation for 40 years in her salon in Grange Road.

However, Toorak is considerably more than fine food and fashion. Those with an appreciation for architecture can see some of the most impressive architect-designed homes from the 20th century and beyond. Just around the corner from The Village, at 119 Canterbury Road, is the former home of Jeff Provan, one of the founders of Neometro. Designed by Provan in the 1990s, the three-level concrete home with its zinc mansard-style roof, was loosely inspired by Le Corbusier’s Villa Savoie (designed in 1929 and completed two years later).

Those who follow architect Roy Ground’s work, will most likely have driven past the 1950s house at 24 Hill Street, which was home to Grounds and his wife. A forerunner or prototype for the National Gallery of Victoria, also designed by Grounds, the heritage-listed home remains in mint condition.

Toorak is literally the ‘who’s who’ of some of Melbourne’s most eminent architects from the more recent past. You’ll find the work of architect Guilford Bell at the head of Heymont Close. This distinctive home, with its steep Balinese-style roof, was initially commissioned by the Nicholas family (of the Aspro dynasty). You will also find homes such as 7 Trawalla Avenue, designed by Yuncken, Freeman, Griffiths and Simpson, circa 1955. Other architects who are well represented are Neil Clerehan, Harry Ernest, Walter Burley Griffin (who laid out the foundations of Canberra) and Robin Boyd, the latter’s Bridge home recently reworked by architect Stephen Jolson.

One of this writer’s favourite architectural duos from the 1960s, ‘70s and ‘80s, is the distinctive signature of Holgar & Holgar. Founded by husband and wife John and Helen Holgar, their glamorous homes are finding a new audience decades later. Their palatial Los Angeles-inspired home at 5 Eldene Court is a regular drive-past on this writer’s architectural tours of Melbourne. Designed in 1967, one can only image the lavish parties of the time, with women being dropped off at the door from the impressive circular driveway in their floral chiffon gowns.

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