How architect Harold Desbrowe-Annear left his medieval touch on Melbourne's north-east

How architect Harold Desbrowe-Annear left his medieval touch on Melbourne's north-east
How architect Harold Desbrowe-Annear left his medieval touch on Melbourne's north-east

Architect Harold Desbrowe-Annear was the pioneer of the medieval movement in Australian home design, especially in Melbourne's north-east.

Born into a Bendigo mining family in the 1860s, raised on Westbank Terrace, Richmond and matriculating from Hawthorn Grammar, Anneal was articled in the office of the architect William Salway.

Salway's office was designing trophy homes, Raheen for Edward Latham in Kew, Moondah for James Grice at Mount Eliza and Millswyn Court for James Gatehouse in South Yarra.

Desbrowe-Annear was especially following the English Arts and Crafts movement closely.

He became responsible for much of the medieval inspired work in Heidelberg, Ivanhoe, Greensborough and Alphington.

His Macgeorge house at the confluence of the Yarra River and Darebin Creeks is still viewed as a stunner.

In the early 1900s the then Ascot Vale-based Desbrowe-Annear and his wife Florence headed to live at EAGLEMONT near Heidelberg.

His father-in-law James Chadwick had paid £170 for three building blocks high on Mount Eagle.

The couple built a home for themselves. Their home differed to the other two as it initially had a corrugated iron roof, painted red to replicate the expensive Marseilles-pattern metal tiles. The tiles were added at a later date.

The neighbouring father-in-law's home, that became known as Chadwick House, has been recently listed for sale at $3 million.

It is a medieval-inspired Arts and Crafts style home with half-timbered roughcast walls, a hipped and gabled Marseilles-patterned tile roof, arcaded chimney stacks and cantilevered gables. 

Chadwick House sits in 1,460 square metres of established gardens on The Eyrie with views capture by the Heidelberg School artists including Arthur Street and Walter Withers who had mixed socially with the Desbrowe-Annears.

How architect Harold Desbrowe-Annear left his medieval touch on Melbourne's north-east

The home was first sold in 1922. It last traded in 1988 at $715,000 when sold by university professor Robert Reid to the architect Peter Crone and wife Jane, who undertook an award-winning restoration.

The home has been returned to its original condition, winning the national award for heritage from the Australian Institute of Architects in 2008 for Crone, who first became aware of Desbrowe-Annear in the 1960s. 

He was a student of architecture at RMIT on a class visit to EAGLEMONT to walk around the homes designed by Walter Burley Griffin and Desbrowe-Annear.

The class text, Robin Boyd’s Australia’s Home, published in 1952, referred to Annear’s inventive approach.

"Every new commission for a house was an invitation to experiment with a new device for a window or a cupboard or a detail of construction,” Boyd noted.

In 1902 Desbrowe-Annear gave a lecture at his local library where he quoted the emerging influential designer William Morris's 1880 lecture, The Beauty of Life.

"Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful.”

Embracing open planning, Chadwick House (pictured throughout), added to the Victorian Heritage Register in 1996, is a four bedroom, two level home with a stately dining room, a library and a living area with adjoining sitting room, opening to a verandah with views. 

How architect Harold Desbrowe-Annear left his medieval touch on Melbourne's north-east

Internally the house has extensive timber panelling with Charles Voysey-style built-in furniture and storage space.

Guided by the notions of ventilation, aspect, sunshine, views, along with a healthy atmosphere, the home comes without the then very dominant, long passageway technique.

The swagged and ogee-arch slatted balcony balustrading have been borrowed from northern European 14th and 15th century domestic styles.

How architect Harold Desbrowe-Annear left his medieval touch on Melbourne's north-east

These are exemplified in the white rough cast and black stained timbering both internally and externally, an early example of medieval revival style unique to Heidelberg.

Miles Real Estate Ivanhoe agents Stewart Oldmeadow and Elisse Farquhar, who initially gave a guide of $3.15 million to $3.35 million, have had an offer that seems likely to result in a sale.

Harriet Edquist's biography, Harold Desbrowe-Annear 1865-1933 : a life in architecture suggests he was an iconoclast and maverick, having been trained in the academic classicism of the 1880s.

She described the three EAGLEMONT homes as a "remarkable episode in Australian domestic architecture".

By 1914 Desbrowe-Annear was living in South Yarra with his upmarket clients commissioning Glynt at Mount Martha for the Henty family, descendants of Victoria's first European settlers. It bears a similarity to another of his designs, Delgany at Portsea.

After his 1933 death, Edquist noted his work was soon to be eclipsed by the modern movement, which was not interested in history or acknowledging its debt to pioneers.

This article first appeared in The Weekend Australian. 

Jonathan Chancellor

Jonathan Chancellor

Jonathan Chancellor is one of Australia's most respected property journalists, having been at the top of the game since the early 1980s. Jonathan co-founded the property industry website Property Observer and has written for national and international publications.

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