Levantine Hill Homestead

July 26, 2013

In this ambitious decoration project, young Melbourne studio Molecule creates intimacy and warmth in a grand 28-room homestead in Victoria’s sprawling Yarra Valley.

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Above: A vast dining room table with hand-cast bronze wishbone legs, designed by Daniel Barbera, is teamed with antler chandeliers and chairs upholstered in bold floral fabric

It’s not every day you find yourself arriving to work by helicopter. But such was often the way for Anja de Spa, Richard Fleming and Jarrod Haberfield –co-directors of Melbourne-based architecture studio Molecule – when they were engaged to design the interiors for the larger than life, but completely empty, Levantine Hill Homestead.

Located in Coldstream, the homestead is an arresting sight perched high on a hill with 360-degree views and surrounded by 70 acres of rolling vineyards, paddocks and a helipad. “It’s 200 squares [2000 square metres] of house – it’s huge,” Haberfield says. “And its scale proved to be the most challenging aspect.”

Featuring five bedrooms and eight bathrooms, the homestead has few doors and a breezy floor plan, with spaces that flow and face dramatic vineyard views. They’re best appreciated from three key living zones: the Great Room (a grand, lodge-like space at the centre of the house), the light and summery garden room beyond the Great Room and the huge casual lounge.

A custom-made Emperador marble table with leather-wrapped legs, also designed by Barbera, sits with wing back chairs and an Arco lamp in the reading area


“Trying to find a unifying approach that would work, and not just divide the house up into small portions, took quite a lot of discipline as designers,” says Haberfield. As for the clients, they wanted something “unashamedly rural” – with natural timbers, stonework and opportunities to showcase their art collection.

Molecule’s key objective was to create flexible spaces that could be used for a number of different activities. Hence, the lounge has an area for board games and another for breakfast, while the Great Room contains a formal sitting and adjacent formal dining area. It means there’s always some- where to read a book, play cards or have a conversation.

A consistent colour and material palette is used to unify the grand residence


Tying the interiors together is a carefully edited fabric and colour palette. The recipe includes shades of greens and reds interspersed with florals and checks, which are layered across fittings and furnishings against a natural palette of stained American oak floors. Furnishings include custom-made rugs from Designer Rugs, upholstered chairs with piping and diamond buttoning, and soft fabrics featuring delicate patterns and flourishing florals.

“We tried to choose these heirloom- inspired fabrics. They have a sense that they hover in time,” explains Haberfield. “And the only way that we could make such a big house feel intimate was to make it slightly similar throughout.”

The designers used the project to explore how a contemporary homestead might come together


Molecule co-founder Anja de Spa adds: “The project was a rare opportunity to explore how the feel of a contemporary homestead might come together. The fabric story is particularly strong, and we were able to layer texture and pattern in a way that might feel too eccentric in an urban project.”

Ingrid Murray, Molecule’s design assistant, was charged with managing the project’s 39 suppliers. She sourced and priced products from all over Melbourne, which also strongly aligns with the studio’s philosophy for using local talent wherever possible.

A traditional aesthetic rules in the library


“We tried to really spread it around a bit. It was a tough time for suppliers last year, but because of the scale [of the project] it felt better to have many suppliers and each of them have their parcel of work,” Haberfield adds.

With so much space to fill, the solution was to work backwards from the move-in date, in November 2012. “It’s the opposite approach of how you would normally source projects,” he says. “Instead of having a vision, and then finding that piece and having it made, it was more about imagining what was already there and how everything might come together.”

And rather than work room by room, as is often the case, de Spa and Haberfield worked in waves on particular furniture types. The first wave was imported furniture. In the Great Room, two striking chandeliers made from deer antlers were sourced from Richmond Park in London, while in the lounge, an antique patisserie bench from France sits quietly against a wall, and a vintage European gym bench now works effectively as a coffee table. It’s also conveniently within reach of the owners’ Shih Tzu, Caesar. “I like to think old furniture stays alive,” Haberfield says.

Soft, muted tones in the bedrooms, with views out to the Yarra Valley


The next wave was local furniture. An eclectic assortment of jugs, ceramic vases and vintage brassware was sourced from Chapel Street Bazaar, while larger custom pieces, such as a table from Tide Design in the lounge, as well as classic pieces including the Coupe Arco by Joe Colombo, from Euroluce, make a statement.

In the Great Room, timber beams that were formerly part of an old grandstand from the South Melbourne Football Club have been converted into a series of trusses. Together with the mammoth stone fireplace in the centre of the room, designed by a local stone- mason to match the plinth that encircles the exterior of the house, these features add a sense of gravitas. Above, a pair of trophy deer heads injects a touch of whimsy.

Timber beams from the South Melbourne Football Club grandstand have been used as trusses in the Great Room, while a stone fireplace divides the sitting and dining areas

There are other surprises, too. Beneath the 6.3-metre long, red gum dining table – the only piece that the owners had already sourced – are finely sculpted, hand-cast bronze legs crafted by Daniel Barbera, of Barbera Design. Barbera also designed the Emperador marble table with leather-covered legs, located in the board games section of the lounge room. This is de Spa’s favourite space. “I think the moments of intimacy we’ve created in the large volumes of the home is a particular strength of the project,” she says.

With only a five-day window for absolutely everything to arrive, nothing was left to chance. “It was a military operation,” Haberfield laughs. Adds de Spa, “We wanted the sense that the furniture pieces had been compiled and collected over time – with a degree of provenance and character. We worked hard to source a variety of antique, vintage, reproduction and custom furniture.” “I’m just thrilled that now it feels like someone’s home. Because we had to really investigate conceptually how this house could feel like a home and try to achieve that,” Haberfield concludes.

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