Melbourne’s Architectural Styles

Is it Victorian or Edwardian? Spanish Mission or Art Deco? Federation, Arts and Crafts or Queen Anne? Or both? Or all three?

Melbourne, and particularly Stonnington, is blessed with stunning architecture – thanks in part to the fabulous wealth created from the gold rush of the Victorian era.

During the 1880s land boom, Melbourne purportedly held the crown as the richest city in the world.

Some of Melbourne’s finest homes were built during this period, including the namesake of our municipality – Stonington Mansion (c1890).

This magnificent Italianate Victorian home was named after a small town in Connecticut, USA, where the original owner’s wife was born. Stonington Mansion was last sold in 2018 for $52million. Bargain.

I’m not sure why they added the extra ‘n’ when the City of Stonnington was formed in the 1990s, after the amalgamation of the City of Malvern and the City of Prahran.

For those who don’t know, Stonnington encompasses Armadale, Malvern, Malvern East, Prahran, Windor, Toorak, Kooyong and parts of South Yarra and Glen Iris.

It is home to 116,207 residents and 183,126 Range Rovers, or so it seems.

I digress.

One of the most interesting facets of real estate is, of course, the architecture of the homes we sell.

As an agent it’s important to have at least an elementary understanding of the different eras of Melbourne’s architecture and the key features that distinguish one style from the next.

Like Art History, it is only with hindsight and retrospective study that you can actually compartmentalise architectural works into distinct eras.

There’s no hard and fast rules – you basically go back in history and then group different styles together and slap a name on them. Whether Jasper Johns’ work is ‘Pop Art’ or ‘Neo Dada’ is up for argument.

Similarly, a weatherboard house built in 1904 might have more Victorian characteristics than Edwardian, even though it was technically built after the end of the Victorian era.

There is plenty of overlap, blending of styles and bastardisation over time with additions, extensions and rebuilds.

I remember selling a mongrel of a house once in Prahran that I jokingly said at auction had Victorian, Edwardian, mid century and 1980s origins.

At the risk of oversimplifying and offending any architectural students, here is a layman’s introduction to some of the most common Melbourne architectural styles and some of their defining features:

Early Victorian (1840 – 1860)

Formal but plain looking basic dwelling, usually without much ornamentation or verandahs. Very rare in Stonnington. Think of a worker’s cottage with a pitched roof.

Mid Victorian (1860 – 1875)

Similar to early Victorian but with more ornamentation including iron lacework, verandahs and intricate brickwork.

Late Victorian (1876 – 1901)

As Melbourne’s wealth increased, the houses became more grand. Late Victorian homes were bigger and better, with far more ornamentation, high ceilings, and taller terraces.

The double fronted freestanding examples usually have wide, arched central hallways with large symmetrical rooms on either side and are usually bright, with big windows and often easy to renovate and extend.

Materials include weatherboard (sometimes block-fronted to look like masonry), brick (Hawthorn brick is the yellow and red look), and (blue) stone. Iron lacework, decorative plaster ceilings, Baltic Pine floors, slate roofs and big marble open fireplaces centred in the room are all common in this era.

Styles include: Tudor, Italianate, Georgian, Gothic, Regency.

Edwardian / Federation (1901 – WWI)

The Edwardian era is technically limited to King Edward’s reign (1901 – 1910).

Federation occurred in 1901 and this era encompasses the Edwardian period and then extends up to 1918. Some would argue the Federation era started earlier, around 1890 and thus overlapped with the Victorian era.

Houses built in this time drew on both Victorian and Queen Anne features.

Think red brick exteriors, stained glass featuring local flora and fauna, terracotta roofs, return verandahs, bay windows, side entrances, L-shaped hallways, timber fretwork, tessellated tiles and smaller fireplaces positioned in the corner of the room.

Timber and freestanding examples can be light and airy while solid brick or semi-detached Edwardians can be quite dark and overbearing without the right use of windows and skylights. Floorplans are generally less symetrical than the older Victorians and can be harder to renovate.

Styles include: Queen Anne, Arts and Crafts, Federation bungalow.

In Part II next week I’ll cover off on Art Deco, California Bungalow, post war, mid century modern and contemporary styles.

We will return to our usual format including upcoming off market opportunities in the coming weeks. We have some beautiful homes listed for imminent sale as soon as restrictions ease and are predicting a very busy spring.

I hope you’re all surviving lockdown 2.0, which is simultaneously flying by and dragging on depending on which minute of the day you ask me.

Until next week,

David.

Property of the Week (18 August 2020)
Property of the Week (18 August 2020)

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