Open Houses 2015 a feast for sticky beaks

Article by Marisa Harris / /
March 14, 2015 /
[Link to original unavailable] /

All roads lead to Hawthorn on Sunday . And the crowds won’t just be going to reigning AFL premiership club’s family day at Glenferrie Oval. No, more than 1200 fans are expected to converge on some glorious houses.

They will be taking advantage of the annual Hawthorn Open Houses, a fundraiser for the local St Joseph’s Primary School. The event is virtually a fixture on the calendars of people who love houses, architecture and interiors or just want a plain old sticky beak – all for a good cause, of course. Money raised will go towards rebuilding the school hall which was funded by the Open Houses day 25 years ago and three new classrooms.

“We have showcased every extraordinary Hawthorn house imaginable over the years and quite a few in neighbouring suburbs,” says event coordinator Sue Smethurst. “It’s a lovely snapshot of Hawthorn [area] history.”

While Hawthorn, for a long time footy’s Cinderella team, has won a dozen premiership cups in little more than half a century, when it comes to prestige properties the suburb’s cups runneth over too.

The visual feast open this time includes a spectacular Victorian house in Grace Park estate, which won an architectural competition when built in 1884. A recent renovation by McSteen Tan won best heritage conservation, “additions and alterations”, in last year’s Boroondara Urban Design Awards.

The Victorian Italianate mansion Shrublands in Canterbury has been on the must-have list of the Open Houses organisers for years. For anyone driving along Balwyn Road, the sprawling white house on the hill is an absolute head-turner.

In Camberwell there is a surprise – a house with an elaborate kauri timber ceiling. The Kew house, just finished after an extensive renovation, has the latest contemporary interiors. In Kinkora Road, Hawthorn, an inter-war house has been dramatically transformed into a contemporary light-filled home with all the bells and whistles by Hawthorn architect Peter Barton.

The house in Robinson Road by Canny Design is a dream come true for a family who wanted to build a contemporary home with sleek finishes. A chance dinner invitation to a Malvern home in Canny’ s Lubelso range was the inspiration: a house with four bedrooms and two bathrooms for a fixed price under $1 million.

Hawthorn Open Houses began 35 years ago after a St Joseph’s mother saw a similar thing in Scotland and thought it would appeal here.

From small beginnings the event has grown so much that Ms Smethurst estimates more than 20,000 people have passed through the doors of Hawthorn Open Houses over the years. A busload of friends from Bendigo make the pilgrimage every year. The event also draws people from as far away as Wangaratta, Tasmania and New Zealand.

Leading architects whose work has been showcased include Peter Barton, David Neill, John Wardle and Neil Clerehan.

All the St Joseph’s parents participate in Hawthorn Open Houses. Some drive mini buses ferrying people from house to house, others act as room monitors – some doing double shifts. Others stamp tickets, bake cupcakes and make sandwiches for afternoon tea.

Ms Smethurst estimates that mothers have baked 40,000 cupcakes and made 100,000 sandwiches over the years – and poured too many cups of tea to count.

“There is a lovely heritage to it,” she says.

Open Houses 2015, March 15. Purchase tickets online at or buy on the day at St Joseph’s Primary School, 571 Glenferrie Road, Hawthorn

Why we love to look

Humans are inherent sticky beaks, according to social scientist, Dr Lauren Rosewarne from the University of Melbourne.

“We’ve got this interest in looking at how people are in their private lives,” she says.

Dr Rosewarne attributes the sticky beak phenomenon, in part fuelled by reality television shows such as The Block, for the strong desire to look at other people houses.

“We want to see what happens behind closed doors,” she says. The aesthetic aspect is the other pull factor in an event like Open Houses.

“Just like we go to a museum or art gallery to see beautiful objects and paintings we like to see beautiful things in people’s homes. People are interested in design and aesthetics and how things look. We might never be able to afford things like this but it’s still nice to have a look. It’s rather like Downton Abbey. We could never live like that but it’s nice to get a glimpse of that world.”

Highlights at each house

Fermanagh Road, Camberwell

The kauri cathedral ceiling was in a school music room, which was to be demolished. It was transported to the home, craned in piece by piece and reassembled.

Belmont Ave, Kew

Chalk black walls against exposed brick, designer Winnie Lui’s copper Beads light fitting, the Octo pendant floating above a denim blue Candlewick sofa in the sitting room and dramatic floral wallpaper in the master bedroom. All this and a stunning kitchen by Matt Gibson Architecture & Design.

Moore Street, Hawthorn

The floating gate at the front of the house.

Kinkora Road, Hawthorn

The water-wall window in the children’s games room which becomes a window looking into the pool.

Robinson Road, Hawthorn

Luxurious three-metre-high ceilings, Scandinavian-inspired interiors, great sense of space.

Shrublands, Balwyn Road, Canterbury

Hand-painted ceilings and cornices, chandeliers, bluestone cellar.

Wooden it be nice

There are no shortage of Camberwell houses with high ceilings and glorious timberwork. But the word unique probably best describes the timber ceiling at Heather and Neville Schot’s five-bedroom home in Fermanagh Road.

For the couple, who own Schot’s Home Emporium in Clifton Hill, collecting is a way of life. Twenty years ago they bought a “music room” complete with kauri timber ceiling, timber arches and carved woodwork from a bayside school that was being demolished and set about bringing it to Camberwell. It was craned into place piece by delicate piece to make the breathtaking centrepiece of their family home.

“We love the very high ceiling and the way this room feels nice and bright,” says Ms Schot.

“When we bought it, the timber was all painted white so we stripped it back.”

They also bought the windows, doors and floors that formed part of the school house.

The couple, who have lived in their Fermanagh Road house for 26 years, say they love the location, the shopping, proximity to public transport and the friendly neighbours.

“We are downsizing to a shop and residence in Carlton North for a complete change,” says Ms Schot.