Steely Minimalist

A truly ‘classic’ home in an unassuming street on the edge of Bairnsdale has provided inspiration and synergy for the work of designer Jo Moulten. 

Jo Moulten’s story can be told in two parts. This story is about her love for design and minimalism and her house that has influenced her latest work. It is an example of how where we live, and the spaces that we create for ourselves affect us profoundly.

Her home has delighted and intrigued the locals for generations. They dubbed it ‘The Hanger’ for its unique curved roof design. “I grew up in Bairnsdale and always knew of it and it caused great fascination when we were little. It was so ‘glassy’ and bold. No one had seen a house with so much glass,” said Jo.

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Built in 1956 by world famous Australian architect Peter McIntyre the house is a bold statement of ‘Moderne’ architecture and for Jo represents the minimal authenticity she loves and drives her design work.

The house was commissioned by a well known Polish family in the 1950s and is set back from the road behind a high picket fence.
“My father used to drive us up here to look at the house as it was being built. I remember the family it was built for. They were a glamorous family. I remember she (the mother) looked like Grace Kelly, was about 6ft tall and she wore a full length fur coat to church on Sundays, and she carried it off beautifully.”

About thirteen years ago after many years working in Melbourne Jo returned to her home town to care for her mother. Around that time ‘The Hanger’ came up for sale.

“It was absolutely derelict when I bought it.” Not only is the house unique, Jo considers it to be one of the finest early Australian contemporary homes. She has spent the last decade restoring the house, preserving its heritage values and creating a functional home.
“It was designed by famous architect Peter McIntyre, he is an amazing architect he would have been 23 when he did it. It was so bold to do such a piece of architecture. It is a very flexible open space house, designed for a large family – but not an expensive house.

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“I was excited it was a very big undertaking. Many people may have considered it (the restoration) as a nightmare, but I considered it a creative opportunity. I’ve got a fine arts background and spent my first years working at the NGV. So from my point of view it (buying and renovating the house) was an opportunity to use those creative skills.”

The restoration of the house has been a true work in progress and is largely complete. Jo spent some time researching the internal structures and interior fittings to get a deeper understanding of how the house works in an architectural sense. “The key to the architecture is the bow arch ceiling, as an architectural element all the strength of the building is in the trusses of the arch.”

Jo considers herself to be fortunate that a number of the original design elements such as the Kobe designed sconce lights and the slot windows, which are used commonly today in modern building, but in the 1950s were ahead of their time, are all still intact.

“Everything about the house has a wonderful heritage quality.”
“The process and the house has taught me a lot and the house has had a very direct influence in my design.”

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For Jo part of the great advantage of living in Gippsland and within her unique home is the natural environment. “I inherited this garden, its roses and big deciduous trees, but it also attracts lots of birds. The river and wetlands nearby, I’m living in town but I could be in the country. I wake up to the birds every morning and they peck under the window. My bedroom window looks out on the Lorraine Lea Tea Rose and every morning there are dozens of birds.”

Another feature of the home is the impressive wisteria that drapes over the pergola spanning the home’s façade.

In spring the wisteria emerges ice pink at one end to purple at the other. An old tea rose blooms in harmony across the pergola. Jo said the wisteria has become a source of delight for the locals with many drive-bys in spring.

Jo’s interest in both sculpture and metalwork began when completing her coursework in fine arts and after many years working in Arts Management and stints as cultural ministerial advisor to the state government, she established Jomo Australia, a conduit to create and sell her distinctive steel pieces.

“I consider myself to be a designer/sculptor, as a designer my work is very sculptural. If you are purchasing my work you are buying a piece of sculpture, but it also has a function such as a bird bath.”

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From the large windows that dominate the design of the home you can view Jo’s pieces sitting strongly in the landscaped gardens. Each piece bounces light around the garden and reflects the colours of the changing season. A large circular piece sits at the top of the lap pool reflecting the light blue ripples of the water and the branches of the large tree alongside.

“I’m very careful in what I design, and I am careful not to mimic nature. I don’t do flowers or floral designs, the challenge is about creating something that has a dramatic interface between architecture and landscape – it is about connecting to the landscape and the architecture.”

“It’s also about capturing light, and water and the natural elements. That is the major design challenge. It is one thing to be a designer and it is another thing to be able to design for the Australian climate. My pieces are made from marine grade stainless steel. That is the only thing that I am confident will last a life time for my clients. I chose that material for its durability but also the way it captures light and the reflections of the surroundings.

“I have just always loved stainless steel. It has a pure, beautiful quality that suits minimalism. It is about getting to the essence of the design. If I can reduce it down to an essential form that is what is my challenge. That is the discipline of it – in simplification and reduction, and that makes it durable and it won’t go out of fashion and becomes classic.”

www.jomosteel.com

WORDS Rebecca Faltyn
PHOTOGRAPHS Adele Van Es