If you venture from the heart of Melbourne into the city’s “middle ring”, you’re bound to find leafy streets filled with Californian bungalows, sturdy Edwardians, and a bevy of newer builds from recent decades.
But overwhelmingly, these suburban avenues and crescents feature the humble clinker – that mid-century marvel we have only recently come to fully appreciate for its architectural and aesthetic charm.
And charm is the perfect word, really, to describe the five such brick houses renovated for this year’s season of long-running reno show The Block.
The show has returned to its old stomping ground in 2023, with the homes sitting side-by-side on a curved stretch – actually named Charming Street – in the bayside suburb of Hampton East, about 17 kilometres south-east of the CBD.
The original houses were relics of a bygone era, cute and comfortable, but lacking in modern style and amenity.
All that has changed as five couples from around the country have transformed them into family homes with form and function – each with a unique interior design philosophy.
This year, the usual catch-cry of “the biggest Block ever” was swapped for a more prudent attitude, after last year’s “Tree Change” season saw contestants struggle with budgets and inclement weather while putting blood, sweat and many tears into the simply huge properties in Gisborne South.
Arguably, it has meant the 2023 contestants have been able to flex their creativity even more so than those in the past. The homes were not only smaller, but also a little easier to pull together, with the teams receiving plans for the entire homes up front – rather than room-by-room, week-by-week.
From tonal, “Japandi” design, to striking, pop art-inspired styling, the homes have personality and warmth, all while challenging the way we think of contemporary Australian living.
They are alluring, inviting and, well, charming.
Leave it to The Block to reinvent the idea of suburbia. The blond-brick houses snuggled into the mild-mannered suburb of Hampton East personify a style of architecture that dominates Australia. Often unrenovated, these post-war houses are the types of properties buyers can overlook, such is their prevalence.
However, all that’s likely to change with the rejuvenation of these properties on Charming Street. Quite simply, there’s so much to love. These houses are a brilliant example of what you can do when it comes to modernising clinker-brick homes that can appeal to a broad market.
Young families? There are so many options when it comes to using the numerous bedrooms. And Hampton East and the surrounding areas have parks galore and wonderful local and independent schools that are easily accessible.
Down-sizers? Come on in and enjoy living that is legitimately low maintenance (the only thing you need to bring when you move in is yourself, that’s how fully furnished these homes are).
Investors? With Melbourne’s population expected to smash more than 10 million by 2051, it’s hard to think you could go wrong in a bayside suburb just 17 kilometres from the city.
Kyle & Leslie
The married couple from Western Australia has tried out for The Block multiple times over the years, even though they were renovation rookies – Kyle is a firefighter and Leah is an education assistant. They say their 12-year-long relationship can handle anything – even a marathon renovation.
Leah & Ash
The Queenslanders are no strangers to getting their hands dirty – with three small kids and a business – they thrive on the action. Ash is a builder and Leah a first-aid trainer and they have done many a reno in their time, for their own homes and professionally.
Kristy & Brett
The project manager and safety advisor from South Australia know their way around a building site. The married couple has never actually renovated their own house – besides a spruce-up of the bathroom. They’re not ones to back down from a challenge, though.
Steph & Gian
The childhood sweethearts from NSW are both just 27 years old – but don’t let those baby faces fool you. Steph is the first registered architect to compete on the show and she and Gian (a tech start-up worker) have also renovated their own home.
Eliza & Liberty
These sisters from Victoria could just be the least experienced contestants the show has ever seen. Still, the personal assistant and advertising integration producer have drive and quiet determination – and stellar organisational skills to boot.
They say a good story is one that begins with a “hook” – a sentence to pull you in and make you want to read further.
It seems the same can be said of interior design; walking into this home I am instantly hooked by its arcs, swerves and curves.
From the white, rounded wall with fluted detail in the entryway, to the arched linen and laundry doorway just ahead, it’s clear from the beginning there are more enthralling twists to come.
To the living and dining areas and there are smooth edges, neutral-toned furniture accented by khaki green, mustard and gold touches. On the other side of that curvaceous wall, a gas fireplace sits neatly in its scallops, perfect for settling in on a chilly Melbourne night.
The real hero in this story is revealed in the kitchen. Its island bench is curved, yes, but not on the sides as would be expected. Instead, the stone has been etched out in a semi-oval shape at its centre, highlighting timber underneath and making space for a breakfast bar.
Timber cabinetry and sleek black appliances (including a Vintec wine fridge and Dekton steam ovens, warming drawers, coffee machine and more) sit behind the island, while another arched doorway leads to a butler’s pantry fit for Goldilocks – not too big, not too small.
Walk up the stairs and rays shine through two Vtech skylights in the ceiling, which have been taken up to the roof pitch. A landing leads to the bedrooms and main bathroom, the latter of which has a curved, fluted glass shower screen and overlapping, oval-shaped wall tiles in earth-toned terrazzo.
The two kids’ bedrooms are pretty in sage, and bold in navy respectively, but it’s the main bedroom that sets the imagination alight.
There is texture everywhere, from the ivory boucle furniture in the giant sitting area to the arched popcorn-wall bedhead. More arches sit behind in the walk-in wardrobe-dressing room, which leads to the en suite, where two vanities are each perched on semi-domed tiled walls – between them is the entrance to the shower.
Just when you thought this plot could not twist further, you find a surprise downstairs and out the back.
Yes, there’s a beautifully landscaped garden with a round above-ground pool and well-appointed al fresco area, but the HUGE guest accommodation (which not only houses a bedroom and bathroom but also a Pilates studio) is just jaw-dropping. What’s more, it has its own entry to the street at the side of the main house. What an ending.
Bright, bold and brimming with retro flair is this wonderfully mixed bag of lollies. A peek of the twisting stairwell catches my eye as I pause in the entry hall to see the study/bedroom on the right. A grey marble fireplace and pink, teal and marigold accents hint at what is to come.
Through to the living room and a show-stopping pastel pink wall surrounds the fireplace, while the remaining walls – a smokey grey – allow the vibrant colour in the artwork and furniture to pop in contrast.
Two steps – tiled in marbled green, white, black and pink – resemble liquorice all-sorts and lead to the sunken dining and kitchen area. The kitchen island is also clad in lolly-esque tile; the thin pink fragments reminiscent of musk sticks.
Dark cabinetry encases the kitchen appliances and continues into the butler’s “nook”, which houses a hot-pink espresso machine to rival Barbie’s.
Up the winding stairwell lined with retro photography is a large second living room and study area. The two kids’ rooms feature curved walls used to make little dreams come true – one has a “stage” with curtains that open and shut, and the other has a rock-climbing wall.
Also on this floor is a spacious bathroom with powder-blue sinks and a corrugated bath inside a huge walk-in shower, and the grand, main suite. Its scalloped ceiling, dramatically furnished walk-in wardrobe and en suite tiled in grey diamond mosaics make it an opulent retreat.
Downstairs and out to the backyard are more creative (and confectionary-inspired) tile choices in the al fresco area, with mint-green marbled “kit-kat” tiles on the bench, which houses a barbecue and pizza oven.
There is also a self-contained studio with a black marble bathroom and a Murphy bed.
A towering Himalayan cedar tree makes this home feel established, and ready to entice its next sweet tooth.
In the 1950s, homes usually had separate kitchens, dining and living areas. It made sense at the time; no one wanted to see how the proverbial – or actual – sausage was made, and the home cooks (let’s face it, usually women) were keen to play the ever-collected hostesses.
By the ’90s, Australians had gradually moved toward open-plan living. Kitchens, dining and lounge rooms became one large space for families to connect and chat while dinner was made; often still by the woman of the house, but this was changing, too.
Thirty-odd years later and things may be changing again – at least they are in this home – which has a bold and unusual separate lounge room.
From the moment I step through the front gate, it’s immediately apparent how private this house is. The front yard has a high fence and tall plants, creating a welcoming outdoor lounge area.
The largest home on The Block, it sits on the corner where Charming Street takes a bend, allowing the property to have two street entrances.
Blond timber herringbone floors lead from the entry hall to the kitchen and dining which opens onto the front deck. The kitchen is sleek with white cabinets and matching handles. The maroon and white marble island bench anchors the space, while a mid-century-inspired pendant light sits over the large dining table.
Then comes the separate lounge room, a large walkway with a two-way fireplace that takes you to the quiet and cosy, yet roomy, space. I imagine lounging here in peace – the clattering of pots and pans a room away and out of ear-shot.
To the backyard and a paved patio houses a barbecue and pizza oven. There’s also a below-ground pool, a lush garden and grass area. All of this takes in a coveted north-western aspect, perfect for those sunny days by the pool.
Upstairs are the two kids’ rooms and the main bedroom suite – the latter featuring Vtech skylights and a fireplace. The home also has a completely self-contained guest accommodation accessible from the second street entrance – indeed separating it from the rest.
I have never been to Japan, nor have I been to any Scandinavian country but, for some reason, the “word” Japandi actually makes perfect sense as a way to describe the vision for this house.
Neutral is one way to describe the palette here, but don’t mistake the term for a synonym of boring – it is anything but. Plastered beams feature throughout each ceiling in the home, adding a point of texture and intrigue.
A clever flip of the original layout puts the dining room when the kitchen would have been – on a higher level than the lounge and actual kitchen. When they say Japandi – they mean it. Lantern pendants in beautiful beige sit subtly above the dining table on the mezzanine, while a nib wall hosting an inset fireplace separates the space from the sunken lounge.
The kitchen is minimal – most of the business of cooking and preparation can be done behind it in the butler’s pantry.
Outside are two entertaining areas – a pizza oven and a cosy nook for the winter (and let’s face it, in Melbourne that could be all year) and a pool for the summer.
Also on this level is a guest bedroom and another bedroom/study. Coffee and taupe tones are present throughout, showing off the high calibre of design and planning.
Upstairs are two kids’ rooms styled in sage and terracotta that would inspire even the most reluctant to consider the pitter-patter of small-human noise. A functional and similarly-hued Jack and Jill bathroom separates them.
I challenge any lover of the sartorial to walk into the main suite and its simply monumental dressing room-wardrobe not to gasp. Audibly gasp … or even squeal.
Everything has been considered here and it is a dream that even Carrie Bradshaw would be envious of.
Back to the front of the house and its impressive, mature magnolia tree gives even more gravitas to the home’s skilful design – no matter which cultural aesthetic you’re fond of.
If you’ve ever visited the Pocono Mountains in Pennsylvania, you’ll know the cosy feeling of staying in a log cabin, curled up by the fire, perhaps with a glass of red. A cabin it is not, but the warmth and wistfulness of this house puts me right back in the oak-lined peaks of north-eastern USA.
The entry is not in the front, but rather around the side where a timber-slatted enclave surrounds the glass front door. A grand foyer to the right of the staircase leads to the guest suite and the powder room and laundry.
On the other side of the stairs is where the grandness kicks up a notch. A gigantic island bench sits opposite the spacious dining area and spans most of the length of the superbly laid out kitchen.
From its plentiful storage to its perfect work triangle (or more accurately, rectangle) between the sink, the fridge and the two ovens – one on the wall and one a part of the tangerine-hued Smeg cooktop and rangehood. A butler’s pantry leads to the laundry. There is a real understanding of how families live in this house.
Down two steps to the living room and a circular fireplace just off-centre greets you. Out sliding doors to the left is a winter al fresco area – almost another room really – with overhead heating and a rustic dining table.
Back into the lounge and a rust-coloured modular couch divides the space to create a comfy spot to veg out. Pops of cobalt blue beautifully contrast.
Out another set of sliding doors is the pool, an outdoor bar table and a lounge. Guest accommodation opens up to the pool area with timber-encased bifold doors.
Upstairs, the bedrooms come off a large retreat – as does the main bathroom with mint green sinks and large-scale terrazzo tiles in rust, mustard and slate. The main suite has a dressing room, a fireplace and a moss feature wall in the en suite – if that doesn’t say “mountain lodge” I don’t know what does.