It’s an iconic building; ask anyone who regularly makes the trek through to South Bank’s parklands, and they’ll know exactly which you refer to. But its rejuvenation, designed by Surroundings and carried out by MCD Constructions, has been supreme.
Over lunch – lemon ricotta chicken in proscuitto, if you’re interested – Lesley Anne (affectionately known as LA) was more than happy to tell us how she came to own the Dock Street Warehouse. “We were living in a modern, boxy home in Taringa,” she says. “We did mean to downsize – we thought we could get an apartment here or across the river. We randomly stumbled across this home on a Sunday. On the following Thursday, we bought it.”
Starting life as a warehouse in the 50s, it was a double-storey home when LA and Andrew were handed the keys. Had a building inspection been carried out, LA admits she would have probably abandoned the warehouse. “There wasn’t any single part of this house that was easy,” says Cam McDonald of MCD Constructions. “There was so much consideration from everyone, but from the moment I saw Surroundings’ sketch-up of the design, I was so excited to do it.” Suzie Wiley, architect at Surroundings, agrees. “Everything had to be perfect. The attention to detail is pretty extraordinary.”
Entering the home, the appeal is instant – whether it’s the sense of home permeating the space, or the stunning surrounds, it’s hard to say. The outdoors live inside in the form of a courtyard, filled with towering frangipanis that make their way up two storeys. “We wanted the home to be a journey through spaces,” explains Laura Pascoe, architect at Surroundings. “From the different spaces in the home, you can see the garden – it’s a really nice view in a home without a yard, and acts as the central feature to the entire space.” The ‘eccentricity’ of landscape designer Darryl Mappin led to the tiled, bland courtyard becoming what it is now, a sublime mini-park in the midst of Brisbane’s urban landscape. “You have courtyards,” says Cam. “This? It’s like a forest.”
On the lower level, a guest’s sanctuary is light-filled and self-contained, featuring hand-crafted lights in the bathrooms and artwork from LA and Andrew’s collection. The flexibility of space – and the ability to ‘retreat’ and escape to secluded spaces in their home – was key for the couple, a design statement echoed throughout the home. “It’s a very shared space, created with the intention to share with different people.”
The second floor hosts LA’s two favourite spaces: the library and gourmet kitchen (“we spent a lot of time on these”). Trailing into the library, it’s obvious why. An exposed brick wall meets rustic timber floors (formerly railway sleepers, Laura explains), creating a sense of warmth and vibrancy. It’s something out of a tale as old as time, especially when you look out the windows either side. Out one, the frangipani forest looms below; out the other, a striking portrait by Guido van Helten almost blends into the courtyard wall, serene in its beauty. The kitchen offers that same sense of contempo-classic style, with aged copper detailing and white tiled feature walls working to make the space look better the more it’s used. “The materials in this house are really about creating that sense of age and history,” says Laura. “There’s this idea that the space will change over time.” A butler’s pantry, tucked around the corner and lined with LA’s collection of framed degustation menus, acts as a servery for dinner parties and entertaining in the home.
The artwork is varied throughout the home – whether it’s a piece sourced from art galleries, from traditional communities in Alice Springs (cleverly hiding the television in one of the main living areas), or from little antique stores in Melbourne, each piece was carefully placed to “achieve volume” in the home, Suzie explains. And in Melbourne, the team found a piece of Australian history – the old lighting board from ABC’s Countdown studios, a tactile piece now sitting proudly on the wall. It’s there to stay no matter what the years bring; at 300kg, no one would be in a rush to move it.
Connecting each level to the next is what Suzie terms as the ‘spine’ of the home – the incredible staircase, featuring aged steel in a ribbon-style design and raw brass screening to act as a balustrade. “I wanted a connection between the levels, that loft-style feel,” LA says. “This design was key to that.”
The master bedroom is minimalist and natural, a beautiful look that translates perfectly to relaxation. The wallpaper stretching around the room was handpainted by Laura (“it was the biggest painting I’ve ever done,” she laughs), in a flowing, organic design. Up a few stairs, LA and Andrew’s ensuite beckons. The same crisply classic theme in the kitchen translates here, with brass finishes sourced from The English Tapware Company adding a sense of age to the space. A variation on his-and-hers sinks allows the pair to have their own space, while still shared. And again, the more it’s used, the better it looks. The room takes advantage of bright Brisbane light through two skylights. “With neighbours nearby, we couldn’t have windows,” says Laura. “We compromised with skylights.”
Finishing it off is a rooftop garden, with soaring views across the Brisbane River and CBD. It’s a place you can’t imagine leaving, not willingly; it’s the perk, LA says, of living in a house designed just for her. “It all flows and comes together in a really natural way,” she says. “From the builders to the designers, the collaboration in creating this space means it just works.”
Photography by Camera Obscura