Five houses from five different eras, now neighbours in Melbourne’s beachside suburb of Brighton – with the contestants tasked to transform these historic homes into stylish abodes ideal for contemporary living, The Block this year is arguably one of the most challenging to date.
As each couple dives into preparation, what do they need to know about each era and, most importantly, what will be the winning approach?
We grilled five experts to find out.
House one: 1920
Economic stringency during this inter-war period, as well as the move towards modernism, influenced this style which is simple and robust with little embellishment. “Ornamentation was limited to the front porch, chimney and brickwork patterning,” says Lauren Li from Sisällä interior design. “The undeniable charm of this house is still appealing today.”
How to spot: Look for its charming and characterful facades, either rendered, roughcast, red brick or weatherboard. Inside, art deco or other design motifs on glass doors are a giveaway, as well as cornices and ceiling moldings throughout.
Best approach: When renovating, it’s important that period features from previous eras aren’t referenced. “Highly decorative cornices, ceiling roses and fireplace mantles of the Edwardian or Victorian era should be avoided,” warns Li. “Furnish with pieces designed in the ’20s, like tubular steel cantilevered chairs, and combine with contemporary furniture that embody the same innovative spirit.”
Power move: With the front rooms often intact, the ideal addition is one at the rear. “It allows the home to retain its period facade, but with plenty of space within the addition and space for a garage,” says Li.
House two: 1940
This decade boasts many popular styles, but arguably the most sought-after was the Californian bungalow. “Thankfully they’re still found around Melbourne’s inner suburbs,” says designer Camilla Molders. “The style originated in California and came [here] due to its wide eaves and airy interior that lent itself to the similar climate.”
How to spot: Homes are easily recognised by their single-storey design, front porch with columns, and simple layout. “They can easily be renovated to fit the modern lifestyle of open-plan living,” says Molders.
Winning approach: The couple renovating this one should ensure it stays true to its era. “Keep the large rooms proportions intact and retaining interior detailing like skirting boards and architraves,” she says.
Power move: For more space, an additional storey can be added to the rear. “It creates more room, yet isn’t visible from the street,” she says.
House three: 1930
The prevalent architectural style of the 1930s in Australia, art deco (or Streamline Moderne) embodies the excitement of modernisation. “It was the golden age of design, and much of it is still considered modern today,” says designer Nickolas Gurtler. “They have a sculptural feel with soft elegant curvature that is dramatically different to modern era construction, which is more angular.”
How to spot: Look for streamlined forms that occasionally incorporate nautical elements, as well as bold curvature, geometric lines, decorative brickwork and machine-tooled decorative elements. “They usually feature a flat or parapet-style roof, and steel-framed windows that curve with the architecture,” he says. “These homes stand out and catch the eye. They’re hard to miss.”
Winning approach: Like any heritage project, good research is key. “Respecting the architecture while translating it through a modern lens is vital,” says Gurtler. “The contrast between the heritage architecture and modern elements creates special homes.”
Power move: “Restoring its most beautiful qualities is the best starting point,” says Gurtler. “Adding contemporary fixtures, fittings, furniture and art will bring it into the present.”
House four: 1910
Well-built and classic in design, the Federation-style home is where the origins of today’s favourite styling features, like stained-glass windows and ceiling roses, can be found. “It’s a style of home still timeless today,” says Sara Chamberlain from The Real Estate Stylist.
How to spot: Pitched gables, dark brickwork, tall chimneys and verandahs are signature features of the era. “It’s a home with a little bit of fancy, complete with traditional fretwork,” she says. “Its classic features make it a heartstring-puller.”
Winning approach: A renovator’s dream, the original bathroom and kitchen are small, so value is added easily with a modern update. The hallway and bedrooms are generous making them ideal for built-ins and larger scale furnishings.
Power move: Given this era of home features darker colours and small windows, providing plenty of light internally is a winning move.
House five: 1950
Known for their gorgeous rooflines inside and out, homes in the late 1950s boasted mid-century modern style, a trend very popular today.
“It’s rare to find an unrenovated 1950s home,” says Sally Satriani from Beautiful Home Renovations. “Their skillion rooflines, feature stonework, and large purposefully designed windows are still sought after. They are a small-size home usually on a large piece of land, which means the original home can be kept and a modern extension can be added at the back.”
How to spot: Known for their large, painted timber-framed windows, stone walled fireplaces, high ceilings and natural finishes, homes of this era often feature pared-back elevations with fine detailed balustrading. “There is usually a free-standing carport that beautifully balances the elevation while making a feature of its flat roofline,” she says.
Winning approach: “Transform the internal stone wall into a fireplace and simplify interior finishes using matt finishes,” she says.
Power move: The roof is the star feature and is what makes this home iconic. “It’s all about that roof,” says Satriani. “It needs to be the hero of this home’s transformation.”