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This Melbourne Home is a Modern Monochrome Treehouse

Pitched amid the trees in a leafy Melbourne suburb, this contemporary cocoon is a sophisticated escape from the city

By House & Garden South Africa | March 18, 2022 | Architecture

There is something altogether halcyon about time spent in a treehouse – that nostalgic yearn for a carefree escape from the demands of everyday life. For a busy homeowner, this neutrally driven three-bedroom penthouse, suspended above a canopy of greenery in Melbourne, is such a refuge – a modern treehouse that is both sanctuary and hub for entertaining.

It is the sort of space Australian interior designer Tamsin Johnson is known for – thoroughly liveable yet unmistakably stylish. And it is an ethos that the homeowner had already bought into, so her brief to Tamsin was simple: ‘Let your imagination run wild.’ For Tamsin, the project was irresistible. ‘I was inspired by the owner’s trust and faith in me to have the vision for her apartment and see it through in every loving detail.

Photography by Sean Fennessy
Photohgraphy by Sean Fennessy

Thanks to its location in the idyllic South Yarra suburb, close to the Royal Botanic Garden, the top floors of this Art Deco apartment building seem to almost float among the trees. To complement and contrast against all that verdancy, Tamsin took a pared-back approach to the interiors. ‘The scenery of the gardens informed the palette, providing plenty of colours against which the monochromes would look elegant and timeless. I wanted to create a calm sanctuary that was not overly furnished and where colour was subtle and materiality appealing amid the classic scheme,’ she notes. But first, Tamsin had some serious restructuring to do.

Once a gloomy, boxy set of rooms with a paucity of flow and light, this space required a full-on gut job to harness its potential. Tamsin set about re-configuring rooms and removing walls to open them up and wash the floors and walls with natural light. The designer eschewed solid doors for a more lustrous touch, using steel-framed glass doors to improve flow and airiness. ‘They connect the spaces and allow more light in, while still giving the living area the feeling of being a separate zone,’ she explains. She also flipped the entry to the kitchen to connect it with the living and dining areas and added recessed shelves to the living room, which mirror the Art Deco style of the building itself.

Photography by Sean Fennessy

‘I wanted to introduce glamour but balance it with raw, organic elements that ensured the house was calm and welcoming as well as beautiful,’ says Tamsin, who installed Belgian sisal carpets in the living zones, creating a sense of underfoot consistency. ‘The materiality blends smoother, “tougher” surfaces such as those of the doors and windows, and the stainless steel kitchen, with softer, more organic ones, such as the sisal floors, the warm timber of the parquetry floor, the Calacatta Viola marble in the kitchen, the ceramics on display and the sumptuous Mario Bellini for B & B Italia ‘Le Bombole’ linen armchairs and Living Divani cotton sofa.’

When it came to the furniture, the designer sought out pieces that were all about comfort and did not overwhelm the predominant calm. The ‘deeply inviting’ seating in the living room was juxtaposed with clean-lined pieces such as the ’80s black leather Mario Botta chairs. Organic shapes come through in the objets, and little touches such as the brass handles on the mirror-clad bedroom cabinets and the shapely mirror in the living room.

Photography by Sean Fennessy
Photography by Sean Fennessy

Monochrome moments throughout the home deliver a dose of Parisian sophistication. ‘I think Melbourne has a little bit of that Parisian urban elegance about it,’ says Tamsin.

‘I wanted to create a contemporary space that felt timeless, like a Parisian apartment.’ Black-framed works by local Australian artists echo the lines of the doors and windows, offset by the recessed arched cabinets. ‘I wanted the cabinets to look as if they had always been part of the apartment, and the ’20s French ceramics are so fun as they feature little feet and facial parts in their forms,’ she explains.

When asked how this home embodies a quintessential Tamsin Johnson project, the designer answers, ‘It celebrates how pieces from different eras – vintage, contemporary and custom – can work together, and how a home gets its special energy from the mix of these and from the harmony (and lovely disharmony) of the textured and the smooth, the raw and the finished, the relaxed and the refined.

Photography by Sean Fennessy
Photography by Sean Fennessy
Photography by Sean Fennessy
Photography by Sean Fennessy
Photography by Sean Fennessy
Photography by Sean Fennessy

tamsinjohnson.com

Written by Jessica Ross