Founder of furniture brand Monde. Tilly Barber, has a strong love for 1960s and ‘70s timber homes located in Melbourne’s north east, especially those by renowned designer Alistair Knox, having previously lived in the former office of the prolific designer with her son, Mars (8).
The pair were beginning to outgrow the space, so Tilly decided to take a look at this house in North Warrandyte to rent, despite its uninspiring listing. ‘The photos of the house were not very appealing, it looked dark and as though it had had a bit of a funny renovation,’ Tilly said.
Those hesitations were quickly alleviated upon viewing the property and its expansive grounds, encompassing two self-contained homes (the main house and cottage); a pool; and tennis court.
Tilly saw potential to share the property with her friend Bianca Dansie, founder of Shen Space, who could live in the cottage and have a clinic/treatment room on site.
‘I felt that it was a really fitting opportunity for us, so we pursued it together,’ says Tilly.
‘The home has a generous amount of space. We envisioned a big dining table that would host as much delicious company as it does food and wine, gardening, chooks, bees, long lunches in the paddock, community retreats, lengthy conversation by the fire, courtside Pimm’s, and summertime swims after school.’
This house was originally designed by Alistair Knox in the 1970s, and renovated in the 90s — although little else is known about its history. Many of its original features remain, including the brick facade, timber-lined interiors, and brick floors.
Upon moving in, Tilly and her friends did a big day of garden maintenance, while Bianca tended to the main house with a scrubbing brush and a bucket of paint.
Tilly then turned her attention to furnishing the house in her distinctive, exacting style. ‘I searched far and wide for furniture to suit the space, and a solution to disguise the faux terracotta tiles throughout the home’ she explains. ‘I ended up making my own dining table and sofa and installed floating sisal tiles and rugs in the tiled areas.’
Tilly even tried her hand at creating ‘shou sugi ban’ — a centuries-old Japanese method of preserving wood by charring it with fire. ‘Naturally, I took it upon myself to burn my bed and one of my bookshelves. Luckily it wasn’t a disaster and I am really satisfied with the result, especially the texture and depth in the grain,’ she says.
Other pieces have been custom made for the home, such as the coffee table designed by Sean Brickhill.
‘Sean Brickhill and I spent a number of months going back and forth sharing inspiration, resources on Japanese joinery and architecture before we decided to come together to make something… Sean then meticulously handcrafted and perfected each component of the table,’ says Tilly.
‘Collaborating and witnessing the process of other makers has been my most valued learning experience in furniture design, but it is also where a lot of meaningful friendships have been founded too; so naturally I cherish the items in my home that reflect this.’
The property and its grounds are a big effort to maintain, especially as renters, but Tilly and Bianca wouldn’t have it any other way.
‘I get a lot of satisfaction from living on a block that commands us to get outside and in the soil,’ Tilly says.
‘We love living among native bushland, near to the water, and within 30 minutes of everything we could possibly need: school, farmers markets, the city, and the Yarra Valley. It’s all within reach while feeling the perfect amount of distance from “it all.”