Sixty one years — or 22,265 days — flew off the calendar when Peter McIntyre walked back in the front door of a Beaumaris house he designed and had last visited in, he reckons, 1956.
Greeted by John and Sue, the children of the Grant family who had commissioned one of Melbourne’s radical young modernist architects to plan a two bedroom house in the sandy heathland of a new suburb, they immediately wanted to talk to him about the colour scheme they grew up with in the house with curving roof volumes and exposed wooden trusses.
“Aubergine, coral walls, and yellow,” recalled Sue, now Sue Coffey. “Grey carpet, black and white chequered tiles in the entry, and black and white striped wallpaper in the dining room,” said John Grant. Now all gone, he added. “Mum had an attack of the beiges.”
McIntyre explained that his own famous 1954 River House, suspended over the Yarra at Kew, had similar construction methods and the same colour scheme rendered in Tip-Top Paints.
“After the grey period of World War II, Tip-Top were making these incredible colours and it was like we’d been let out of jail. But those colours? I’m not sure you were supposed to live with four to five different colours in a bedroom for a long time.”
McIntyre, 90, who could only make the visit back to Beaumaris at the weekend because he’s too busy working during the week, remembered that originally there was a planter box of Monstera deliciosa at the entry. And despite its black conical shape being so central to the living room, he couldn’t remember the firebox.
John handed over a drawing McIntyre had made of the original unit, and then the typewritten correspondence between the architect and his parents, Alan and Barbara. The letter of April 14, 1955, formalised the commission and agreed to pay £48 for delivery of the first rough sketches of the only house Peter McIntyre built in the modernist hot-spot of Beaumaris.
The rest of the paperwork showed the Grants had taken out a building permit through the City of Sandringham and a War Service loan for a “dwelling” that would cost them £3500 and that they would occupy for their whole lives. Mrs Grant passed away only a few months ago.
It was Barbara Grant who had asked McIntyre to take on the job at a dinner party. McIntyre couldn’t verify that but was bemused recalling an allotment on a dirt road “in a new area with no sewers and no services because it was on the outskirts of Melbourne – like Balwyn”.
The ageless architect, who built the Grant house in the same period that his practise partnership made the nationally-significant Olympic Swimming Pool on Batman Avenue, was very pleased with “how well the roof trusses have survived”.
With the gently barrelled roof shape, the “bow-string” wooden trusses are one of the wonderful features of the house that is now under an interim heritage protection order. “We invented the trusses as a very economical way of spanning space,” he explained.
Being able to pre-fabricate the trusses off site “was a way of building very cheaply and in the post-war era when there was an incredible housing shortage, the whole criteria was cost and speed’.
Having had only one owner and given how relatively intact the house is, John and Sue would hope that any future owner might be of a mind to respectfully restore the Peter McIntyre composition. “It’s a really wonderful house and we loved growing up here”, Sue Coffey said.
McIntyre would hope for that too. While personally “it feels remarkable to walk into something I did so long ago, it is a marvellous bit of history that is in prime condition. As one of the few houses built like this, it is worth maintaining”.