This Modern Australian House Will Give You a New Appreciation for Concrete Blocks

published Feb 21, 2020

This Modern Australian House Will Give You a New Appreciation for Concrete Blocks

published Feb 21, 2020
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Name: Patricia Callan and Pete Bakacs, and kids
Location: Ocean Grove, Australia
Years lived in: 6 years, owned

Patricia and Pete are passionate about modernist architecture and design. So much so, that when they spied this home for sale online, they decided to move from Melbourne to Ocean Grove—situated on the surf coast—one and a half hours southwest of Melbourne.

Patricia is the creator and editor of the popular website Modernist Australia, which profiles Australian Modernist homes for sale. She runs the site out of a passion for design, but also with the hope that fellow modernist lovers can save these homes from the wrecking ball of new development. Pete is a graphic designer, artist, and fellow modernist lover.

Their house was designed in the late 1970s by a then up-and-coming architect named Eoin Barnett. Still practicing as an architect (and also as a retail planner), Eoin has been available to Patricia and Pete for questions, like inquiring after the names of paint and stain finishes, and even for explaining the house’s design quirks. They have also discussed designing a house extension with him, 40 years after he originally built it.

Apartment Therapy Survey:

Our Style: Minimal, with art and 20th Century design focused. We don’t buy much as the house only has so much room, but what we do get is ideally long-lasting and all about quality of materials and design. To that end, 95% of our stuff is secondhand from opshops and online markets, crafted for a lifetime.

Inspiration: The older, pre-boomer generation (like my mother and Pete’s grandmother) who grew up before the consumerism explosion and possess a healthy attitude to buying (rarely) and quality (as much as possible), mending, and making. Keeping it lo-fi with minimal tech on display. “Handcrafted Modern” by Leslie Williamson is a favorite book filled with artists of this same vintage and all their homes are stunning in their creative simplicity.

Favorite Element: The architecture. This house was a first/own home project by a newly graduated architect in 1979. This house is everything because of its orientation and design with open kitchen, huge walls of glass, and concrete block. It creates the light and spaces, which ultimately steers human mood.

Biggest Challenge: Heating—though our lovely old wall heaters heat work, they are getting old and there is nothing on the market anywhere to adequately replace them aesthetically—we flat out refuse to put a big, white plastic box on the wall. The hunt continues.

What Friends Say: When they walk in the first time and say how nice it is—though many can’t find the words to explain quite why. That is great Modernist design for you; it creates an inexplicable vibe of calmness and welcome.

Biggest Embarrassment: The fairy lights of death—every time we wrap fairy lights on a tree in the front yard, the tree dies! It’s happened twice now; we are too scared to
condemn another of our trees to a similar fate.

Proudest DIY: Pete’s home office/studio. Built by just him and a builder friend four years ago over many weekends. It’s a ripper and better constructed than many new houses we think!

Biggest Indulgence: New stove and oven we replaced two years ago (along with the kitchen counter); we went over our modest budget a little. That said, I love to cook and we use them everyday; it’s a bit like a pair of glasses, you balk a bit at spending that much more, then realize cost per use is pretty darn low in the end.

Best Advice: Wait to find a home you love and let it tell you what works—you cannot
completely remodel a beautiful old Federation home into a mid-century modern one or
vice versa and whatever you do, do not get rid the original materials that give it era-specific character. It’s too difficult/expensive to ever get them back, eg: exposed brick,
moulded terrazzo, and slate or cork flooring.

Dream Sources:

  • Real Estate pics – see all the listings on Modernist Australia!
  • Mid-Century Architecture books – specifically the Case Study Homes series and anything by Philip Goad on Australian MCM.
  • The aforementioned “Handcrafted Modern” book by Leslie Williamson.
  • 1960s and ’70s movies and TV – especially loving the counter culture as seen through Hollywood lens. Some great examples are Liz Taylor’s Big Sur cabin in “The Sandpiper” (c.1965) and Megan Draper’s canyon bungalow in “Mad Men.”





  • Cooktop — Steel Brand
  • Oven — Fisher and Paykel


  • Painting (over bed) — c. 1960s and was my father’s.
  • Painting of Moggs Creek — Milton Webb c. 1950s from op shop
  • Linen — Society of Wanderers


  • Striped couch/divan — c. 1970s, from a local clearing auction house
  • Curtains — IKEA
  • Swivel chair — Secondhand/clearing store

Thanks Patricia and Peter!