Grand Designs Australia: Retro Mix


A ’50s-inspired home that’s a sweet treat for the senses

House details

House: North Balgowlah House
Location: North Balgowlah, Sydney
Date commenced: August 2014
Date completed: August 2015
Cost: $1.7 million

Colour Palette: Concrete floors, white walls and timber joinery are injected with Seidler’s signature primary colours of blue, red and yellow–green combining to create an authentic modernist colour scheme

Warwick Noble and Melanie Hughes aren’t your average married couple. With a love of all things ’50s, the duo have adopted the decade as not just a passion, but also a way of life. So what’s the missing piece? An iconic home that reflects the pioneering spirit of the age, of course.

Already living in a ’50s-style fibro house with stick-on bricks in Sydney’s North Balgowlah, Warwick and

It’s an effort to not just replicate iconic design, but also update it without losing what made it cool in the first place
Melanie fell fast and hard for modernist architecture, with its simple lines and minimalist aesthetic. Garnering inspiration from the Rose Seidler House and iconic US marvels including Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater, Philip Johnson’s Glass House and Mies van der Rohe’s Farnsworth House, the bar was set incredibly high. But Warwick and Melanie were committed to building a home that delicately balances their ’50s love affair with the needs of day-to-day family life. “It’s an effort to not just replicate iconic design, but also update it without losing what made it cool in the first place,” observes Peter Maddison.

Beginning the build in August 2014, the 1951 fibro was demolished to make way for a fresh slab. A relatively smooth build, progress was swift, with zig-zag steel quickly installed, which holds up almost half the house. By December, glazing was present, marking the project’s transition from building site to home. But with the property quickly taking shape, Peter raised concerns about the home looking like a bag of mixed lollies when he discovered the plans to use pastel panels on the garage and exterior of the home. “There’s been a lot of overthinking as we’ve been so desperate to do this and it’s taken years to get to this point,” admits Melanie.

Pushing ahead with their vision and politely ignoring Peter’s advice that “great design lies in the deft touch” and reassurance that “white space is OK”, a stone fireplace was installed in January 2015 to great effect. An iconic marker of decades past, it’s a real feature of the interior, which is full of custom joinery that ended up costing a whopping $250,000. However, once installed, the cost of the bespoke joinery demonstrated its worth, with a huge bench running the entire length of the living, kitchen and lounge spaces. Sticking to the minimalist aesthetic the ’50s is known for, Melanie and Warwick went back to basics, selling their collection of vintage furniture and buying classic investment pieces that
won’t date.

Completed by August, the end result is a striking residence that subtly commands street presence, with several neighbours hitting the brakes when driving past. Upon entering, Peter remarked that you’d almost expect “Ol’ Blue Eyes himself to walk out the door”. In classic ’50s style, cacti are abundant and a garage door is clad with pastel-coloured panels of different sizes. Inside, the interior is a capsule of sophistication and simplicity, with Featherston chairs present in the living room, which flows directly to the kitchen and lounge spaces. These areas can be cut off with sliding timber doors or opened up to achieve the ultimate flow.

Upstairs lie the bedrooms and bathrooms, with daughters Evie and Lola enjoying having their own rooms for the very first time. A breezy deck accessible from the three bedrooms offers water views, as well as a closer look at the cactus garden atop the roof.

“Reaching back to ’50s Palm Springs and dragging it to this Sydney suburb was always going to be an experiment because this house is more than a copy,” says Peter. “They’ve achieved that elusive balance, a house that’s a work of art but also one a family can live in. Is this place as good as those pioneering designs of the ’50s?” Thanks to an obsession cultivated over many years, we have to admit Warwick and Melanie have created something that’s pretty darn close.


Originally from Grand Designs Australia magazine, Volume 5 Issue 2
Written by Annabelle Cloros
Photography by Nick Wilson