THE LAND between Warrnambool and Port Fairy is dominated by Tower Hill, an inactive volcano. The Western Districts of Victoria are scattered with conical volcanos – these inspired Robin Boyd’s remarkable (but slightly unloved) Tower Hill Visitor Centre (1969) with its sweeping cone like roof. For years, Boyd’s little gem was the key piece of architecture in this region – now there’s another reason to visit.
Right in the centre of historically rich Port Fairy is Drift House, an exemplar of how to merge heritage with design. A few years ago, Brunswick-based Multiplicity started a process of re-imagining a ruined Georgian style house – for clients who wanted to bring life back into this bit of town with a new boutique accommodation venue. A four room hotel, Drift House, sits half in the old house and half in a new extension of the same size. It’s a bet each way and the perfect statement for our heritage obsessed times – we can both preserve and still create the new.
Sitting on the corner of Gipps and Regent Streets, the old house faces east toward the Moyne River, its deep verandah catching the morning light through the filigree of the iron fretwork. The new ‘box’ sits to the west of the original building, and faces north on its short side. This elevation features rotating perforating screens, a reworking of traditional filigree, which also allows users to vary their like condition from inside (at the push of a button!). The gap, a giant ‘shadow line’ between the new and old buildings, separates but also provides entry and access into three rooms. Inside this corridor, the rich stone of the original house is exposed, whilst a deep orange carpet stair takes visitors up to the first floor suites.
Each of the suites is between a big hotel room and compact apartment – with living areas and bedroom spaces that are separated to varying degrees. Each also is very different – exploring different ways to divide, articulate and occupy space. Multiplicity have a love of preserving the existing – both buildings and objects – and this is on show here.
Entered through the original front door, Suite One is open, original walls have been removed to create a single large generous space that makes the most of the relative small Georgian sized windows. A brilliant green painted ceiling lends as distinct sense of modernity to the space, but with a sense of height typical of the pre-modern.
Also in the original house, Suite Two is more divided between bedroom and living space, and enjoys the elevated verandah overlooking the river. A stripped back fireplace sits simply within the light green walls. Above is a crystalline re-invention – two ornate fireplace surrounds with mirrored insets are push together to create a new kind of capital at the ceiling. All the rooms feature artworks by owner and artist – with Suite Three featuring a full wall collage facing into the cosy living space.
Suites Three and Four are more challenging in the way they divide space, befitting their location in the ‘new bit’. Suite Three, downstairs, is split into three zones by timber batten screens – zones for lounging, bathing and sleeping. This suite is the warmest in feel, the rough recycled timber adding texture. Three also enjoys an outdoor space – a small courtyard to the west sits between the new façade and old fireplace – the warmth continues outside with this stoic remnant of the old outbuildings.
Most radical is Suite Four – an exercise in splitting space in a linear way. This room learns from the experiments of early Modernist houses, with moving walls and rooms that connect to each other through sliding doors. The kitchen/toilet/bathroom strip is like a giant piece of joinery. Its rich blue mosaic tiles recall holiday houses of a simpler time, whilst lights are switched with rarely seen string pulls. Here also some of the original house’s wonderful stone work is exposed at the room’s entry.
There’s a word to describe what this kind of project does – Gesamtkunstwerk – German meaning ‘total work of art’. In such a project, the work of the designer cuts across all scales – from the urban corner down the door handle – each scale is seen as a design opportunity. This doesn’t happen a lot in housing or indeed accommodation work – as furnishing can so often be quite separate from interior design, architecture, heritage, and urban design. Here, client and architect have worked together and across these areas to forge a living piece of design and heritage.
98 Gipps Street