Real estate agents get to view lots of homes. But when they’re personally house hunting, what features do they look for? Biggin & Scott’s David Lack and Emma Dudley allow us a peek inside their stunning iconic YMCA conversion
Words Marg Hearn
During their 15 years in the property industry, David Luck and Emma Dudley, co-owners of Biggin & Scott Real Estate Port Melbourne, have inspected their fair share of houses and lived in many. In fact, they have averaged one household move every 18 months, a total of eight new homes to date. The most recent was prompted by the appearance of this majestic former YMCA building in their inner bayside market three years ago. It was a case of heeding the classic real estate marketing headline “a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity not to be missed”.
David contacted Emma after noticing the property was advertised for sale. Emma’s response was simply, “I have to see this.” Her instincts proved correct — it was love at first sight at the initial inspection, where she made the commented to David that out of the thousand or so properties they had seen over the years, this one was a standout.
To ensure their interest wasn’t just an emotion-driven occupational hazard, the couple sought the counsel of Provan Burdett Architects to assess whether the premises was a workable proposition for conversion into a family home that would accommodate three bedrooms, two separate living areas and adequate outdoor space.
“When real estate agents are looking for their own property, there can be a tendency to overanalyse,” admits David.
Ultimately, it was the YMCA’s uniqueness, “non-showy exterior” and vast light-filled spaces that lured them away from another local area icon, their much-cherished 1930s English-style Bank residence that featured a divine 30-metre backyard garden.
They had agreed that if they were to pack up stumps yet again, a new abode would need to really offer a point of difference to those they saw week in week out.
Ironically, David sold the property for a couple in the late ’90s who had purchased the shell from the Scout Association and undertook the major structural transformation from recreational hall into a stunning two-bedroom abode. The home was sold a year later and the subsequent owners carried out further work, creating an additional two bedrooms within the original building footprint and installing an in-ground pool, which has since been remodelled.
However, both renovations failed to address a few practical issues that were raised at open for inspections when David handled the first sale, such as the need to bring in more natural light, the need to create further outdoor space and to incorporate bathroom facilities upstairs. This buyer feedback played a major part in the otherwise non-prescriptive renovation brief.
Nine months in planning and ditto for construction, David and Emma are delighted with the “timeless and minimal” result, particularly the way it complements the original architecture and is in tune with the requirements of modern living.
Storage is one element so often lacking in homes — but not here. “Most inner-city places do not have storage. Everyone who walks in to our home is really surprised by the proportions,” says David, pointing to a decadent double garage with neatly hung bikes and camping gear stowed in purpose-built compartments.
A corrugated iron wall separates the garage and defines the lofty entry lobby and cosy library space. A second downstairs bathroom was removed to make way for a void, which extends through to the first-floor ceiling.
The downstairs floor plan was cleverly reconfigured to maximise space, improve flow and encourage additional natural light. Three smaller bedrooms positioned to the rear of the house were opened up to create what is now a casual entertaining area and fabulous children’s getaway. Additional outdoor space was ingeniously attained by borrowing a few metres from within the interior of the rear wall and now avails an undercover transition area to the pool decking.
“It’s really well zoned — the kids have their space and we’ve got our space,” says Emma of the layout, which is a reversal on the stereotypical two-storey arrangement.
“I guess you could say we’ve got the best of both worlds,” adds David.
Downstairs also comprises bedrooms for their children Fraser, 11, and Sophie, five, a laundry that was reduced to a functional but compact size and a main bathroom that required no intrusion. Designed by the former occupant who was also an architect, the bathroom is now warmly referred to as the “giraffe bathroom”, with obvious references to the 3.5-metre-high ceilings and oversized shower. Precision black groutwork underpinning contrasting white tiles is a prominent detail.
Upstairs, three smaller rooms have been merged to form an open-plan kitchen, dining and living space. To the western end, large glass industrial sliding doors mirror those on the ground level and lead to a sanctuary complete with daybeds that conjure thoughts of an inviting afternoon siesta. Wide-blade white plantation shutters enclose the space and capture tree, rooftop and city views with sunlight and breezes on queue. Interior design company Interiors of Melbourne was commissioned to design the sofas, ottomans and soft furnishings for the living space and can be credited for the nifty built-in daybeds.
Understated yet slick, the L-shaped kitchen combines a palette of marine-ply cabinetry with striped veneer trim, white stone benchtops and laminate cabinets with stainless-steel appliances while a touch of colour is introduced via blue and green splashback tiles. Located in the centre of the first-floor space, a generous island bench denotes the kitchen as a central hub and is a gathering point for family breakfasts and children’s activities concurrent with meal preparation.
A multi-functional sculptural dividing wall element is the focal point of the palatial master bedroom as bed head and storage unit while delineating sleeping and study zones. For David and Emma, who are hands on with their Biggin & Scott business, a seven-metre-long desk spans the front wall where the 24/7 world of real estate can bubble along. The addition of a home office allows for work and life balance and for the couple to be accessible to clients. The desk is also a favoured additional drawing station for Sophie. The ensuite takes advantage of the excellent natural ventilation and vistas to Port Melbourne’s skyline, while an additional powder room is tucked away near the stairwell.
The unique style of house also presented David and Emma with the chance to “furnish from scratch” and indulge in their passion for Danish and 20th century furniture classics.
“Emma’s been on a bit of a mission in that department,” David humours.
One of their preferred shopping destinations is Angelucci 20th Century in Prahran from which the beautiful original Eames chairs and canteen table downstairs were purchased.
The 1960s Falcon chair in the library was a particular coup. Real estate auction duties had meant that David narrowly missed taking a look at the sought-after collector’s item that had previously been put on hold by Emma at Three Quarters 20th Century Furniture. On receiving the tip that another was en route from Denmark, David was literally waiting dockside for its arrival. An equally precious find in the same shipment and a reward for patience, was the footstool. “The set is often separated,” says Emma.
Emma’s mother, Jennifer Dudley, is the owner of Outback Aboriginal Art. Among the beautiful artworks showcased against the purposely neutral interior colour scheme is a piece from the Outback Aboriginal Art collection.
Yam Dreaming by the late Emily Kame Kngwarreye makes for a stunning entry in the foyer, while a sophisticated painting by Willy Tjungurrayi in yellow ochre and a hand-stitched rug that’s a cross-cultural collaboration are among other important works.
Jennifer formed her business Outback Aboriginal Art in 1992 after a long-standing interest in art and aboriginal culture, with the aim of exhibiting and promoting the work of Australian Aboriginal artists. Specialising in paintings from central and western desert people, the majority of artists represented still live in accordance with traditional Aboriginal customs. Appreciation of Aboriginal art has grown over the past 15 years. “There was always an interest from Europe and America,” says Jennifer, explaining that Australia has now caught on.
Classified as “International Style” on the Heritage Victoria Register, the exterior of the building is characteristic of European and American 1920s and ’30s architecture — clean lines and without ornamentation.
When Jeff Rudland, a glazier from South Melbourne Glass, was contracted by the couple to service the exquisite original steel-framed windows, it proved a nostalgic experience. Jeff grew up in Port Melbourne and recalled fond memories of the positive community service role that the YMCA played. In its heyday, the YMCA provided popular activities such as basketball, cricket and cooking for the locals and was open every day and night.
“The YMCA was a wonderful place highly respected by the locals for the help it gave to so many young people. It put them on the right track,” says Jeff, who was a regular visitor from his childhood through to his late teens.
The sounds of laughter and children playing basketball has returned to what has now evolved into a cosmopolitan family-friendly residence.
“It’s an easy home for entertaining at a moment’s notice and to have the children’s friends over to visit,” says David.
Buildings of this scarce nature are highly sought. Numerous parties approached with offers to buy during the planning phase. “People are always looking for warehouses,” says David, explaining that there are plenty of ware-shells in Collingwood, Abbotsford and Richmond, but there are few in Port Melbourne because most have already been developed.
But relocation is not on the agenda. “We’re settled now and we don’t want to move again,” insists Emma.
10 Renovation tips to avoid over-capitalizing
Real estate agents are often asked pre-purchase or pre-renovation advice from potential buyers and property owners/investors. It’s a useful exercise to ensure that you add value while maintaining a property’s appeal to a broad audience and avoid over-capitalising. Here are David Lack’s tips for maximising renovation returns:
1. Incorporate a powder room or bathroom on each level, if possible. If space is limited, consider a large bathroom with bath, shower, toilet and vanity unit rather than squeezing in two pokey bathrooms.
2. Select neutral tones for paint, carpet, tiles, laminate and window coverings for wide appeal. Individual colour preferences and personality can be applied via furniture, art and accessories.
3. Maximise natural light and natural ventilation in each room.
4. Maintain iconic period features.
5. Open-plan living is preferred by the majority of buyers these days for contemporary living rather than separate formal and informal rooms. If space allows, do incorporate two living areas — one for adults and one for kids — to provide retreats for family members.
6. A study is an asset but it doesn’t have to be locked away in a separate room. Consider partitioning part of another space to create a nook. Maybe there’s room in the roof space.
7. A laundry doesn’t need to have its own room — the space might be better dedicated to an additional living area. A laundry can be integrated in a cupboard, the kitchen or as part of a bathroom.
8. Storage has golden appeal to inner-city dwellers — add built-ins and make clever use of dead space.
9. Emphasis on outdoor living is increasing. Incorporate terraces or courtyards for entertaining and relaxation.
10. The kitchen is the hub of the home and is worthy of investment.