Open House Melbourne: window to our world

RoyalAuto magazine

The Open House scheme is an invitation to see how the other half lives.

Story: Larissa Dubecki. Photos: Anne Morley
July 2018


The first Open House Melbourne swung open the doors of just eight buildings on Swanston Street. From that small beginning in 2008 it has grown into one of Victoria’s biggest cultural events, charting our growing obsession with how we live. In 2017 the event extended into regional Victoria, launching the first Open House Ballarat.

The 10th anniversary of Open House Melbourne on 28 and 29 July is expected to exceed last year’s record of 80,000 participants. More than 200 properties will be putting out the welcome mat, and the record 27 private residences signed up are attracting, as always, a great deal of ticket-selling fuss. On average, visitors get to see four to five buildings each day. 

‘After the twin obsessions of the AFL and brunch, Melbourne’s favourite sport involves real estate.’

Triangle House, Toorak.


The queues outside stately mansions and mysterious industrial sites are easy to understand. The hot demand for entry to tiny workers’ cottages, compact new builds and retro-fitted apartments, however, show that Open House Melbourne is more than a beguiling opportunity to stickybeak at some of the metropolitan area’s most incredible buildings. 

After the twin obsessions of the AFL and brunch, Melbourne’s favourite sport involves real estate: not just the buying and selling but reflecting on the role design has played in the city’s evolution, and gauging the direction in which our living spaces are headed.

“People are always fascinated with the places that show an alternative way of living,” says Victoria Bennett, Open House Melbourne’s business and program manager. “This year there’s a big trend in the very modern smart homes being fully wired in and connected, and an increase in high-rise and apartment living. We’re also really seeing a move to smaller-footprint homes, including the 5x4 project in East Melbourne, built on a footprint of five by four metres. We’ve almost come full circle from the days of two-room workers’ cottages.”

‘Sites with constraints force innovative solutions.’

Cubby House, North Melbourne

The economic benefits that flow from being based in an area with a higher density of economic activity are the factors that have historically dictated our real-estate priorities. 

“People think it’s about fashion,” says Nathan Taylor, RACV home advocacy and advice manager. “But change in preference for housing types isn’t just driven by aesthetics, it’s driven by wealth and what we value as a society. 

Cubby House, North Melbourne.

For most people, housing is a compromise between how we want to live and the practicalities of budget and supply. The rise of the small-footprint home is testament not only to an expensive property market but a new consciousness around sustainability, carbon footprints, and just how much space we really need for a happy life. Bigger is no longer necessarily better.

The striking Triangle House in Toorak is a perfect example of a minimalist footprint cleverly designed to leverage maximum impact. Architects and designers Richard Fleming and Anja de Spa of Molecule Studio took the wedge-shaped 200-square-metre block and created a hardworking family home for their clients over two levels. Fleming says he thrived on “the challenge of the Jenga puzzle nature of the build, the trickiness of it all”.

‘Open House participants are reminders that small-scale living is having its second twirl around the block.’

“Sites with constraints force innovative solutions. We worked hard to create multiple spaces. To make biggest use of the limited footprint we co-located uses, so a dining table can be nudged into a nook and there’s a door that pivots to break the space between living and dining areas that’s open by default.”

Other Open House participants are reminders that small-scale living is having its second twirl around the block. The Cairo block of apartments on Nicholson Street, Fitzroy, played with the notion of capsule living in the 1930s. Modernist architect Best Overend pioneered a new way of minimal living in functional units with built-in or fold-down furniture and external communal dining and laundry spaces (the tour will give the opportunity to see a relatively untouched unit as well as one cleverly redesigned for the modern age by Nicholas Agius Architects).

Retrofitting older-style buildings is also becoming increasingly popular due to the prohibitive cost of new builds and the move towards apartment living beyond the student years. The Westbury Street Rooftop Garden in St Kilda East (pictured at top of story) is an oasis capping a traditional 1950s apartment block. It turned what resident instigator Sonia Bednar described as “one big blinding white reflective heat-producing surface” into an inviting, natural indigenous landscape for residents to enjoy while capturing rain and reducing and improving stormwater run-off.

“We did it for environmental reasons but we didn’t realise how significant the social aspects would be,” says Sonia. “People who have kids who were going to move away have stayed put because the green roof is a place for the children to play and a beautiful place for us to socialise and be among nature. Every building should have one.”

Cairo apartments, Fitzroy.

Cairo apartments, Fitzroy.


Look for us at Open House 

Victorians love their homes and invest a lot into creating the perfect space that is comfortable and safe. However, a lot of us don’t really know what makes our home tick.

RACV is proud to announce we are an official partner of Open House Melbourne 2018. Join us on Saturday 28 July for a conversation with Australian design guru Peter Maddison of Grand Designs Australia and Maddison Architects to discover how innovative design can improve our homes from the inside out.

To find out more visit openhousemelbourne.org

While Dromana’s McCraith House is not in this year’s Open House program, it remains a modernist standout in Victoria.


What house is that?

Late Victorian (1875-1901)
Resembling earlier Victorian types, growing wealth meant a grander appearance that incorporated elements of the Italianate style.

Queen Anne (1895-1910)
Derived from styles that revived elements of Queen Anne (1702-14) architecture, these houses are complex and grand. 

Californian bungalow (1910-1930)
Pursuing the ideal of simple houses in a natural setting, the bungalows are more rustic than preceding styles.

Inter-war (1918-1939)
Including styles such as Spanish Mission, Georgian Revival and Art Deco, these dwellings have a simplicity of style that reflects both economic stringency and the move towards modernism.

Post-war (1945-1965)
Prosperity brought bigger homes designed for family living and were often characterised by the triple-fronted brick-veneer.

Modern (1945-1970)
Open-plan living and simplicity became the rage, and walls were opened to the light with large floor-to-ceiling windows. 


Open House Melbourne. On 28 and 29 July, more than 200 buildings around Melbourne will open their doors. Open House will also run talks, events, tours, screenings, and more throughout July. 

Open House Ballarat will run in September. openhousemelbourne.org

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