TO VISIT ARCHITECT Madeleine Blanchfield’s newly completed family home, Tree House, in Sydney’s eastern suburbs is to experience a severe case of house envy. Her longstanding interest in interiors (she worked alongside David Katon of Burley Katon Halliday for a decade) shows in the marriage of the structure, the furnishings, and highly curated art. Godammit, her BOYY leather bag, in a shade of rich cognac, is the same tone as the Saarinen ‘Womb’ chair it sits on. “I’ve never been able to separate interiors and exteriors. You live on the inside and I have always approached the design as a holistic exercise, as a total object”, says Madeleine. Not only is this interesting aesthetic, but it is also practical. “If we’re designing a kitchen we want to know where that window is,” she adds.
She is also a problem solver. The original 1920s California bungalow sat on a steep site dropping almost three stories to the road and so she relocated the living space to the top-level allowing for expansive ceiling heights, glass, light, and garden views. There is the legibility of structure that is almost Japanese in its sensibility and a calm, measured quality that the timber paneling and neutral furnishings impart. “Of course, doing your own house you have to ask yourself, what do I stand for?” she says. “It was also a loaded project because I had to consider what did I want for my family and to meet the expectations of my husband, also an architect.”
So, when surrounded by all this perfection is it hard to imagine Madeleine in her early 20s, a graduate from ANU in Canberra, working in an architect’s office for 10 pounds an hour and living Harry Potter-style under the stairs of a London house. “I shared with four skanky guys and hot water was coin-operated so the mornings were always particularly dark and cold,” she recalls. “But on the upside, it was intellectual and intense, and I traveled throughout Europe, which was a new experience for me.”
She acknowledges her time at Burley Katon Halliday as formative. “David Katon was a great mentor and taught me to be brave and stick to my guns to get what I wanted – especially on-site where I now have a reputation for being ferocious,” she laughs. “When I would get uptight and overly concerned with getting everything right, his great sense of humor would diffuse things reminding me that nothing we were doing was life or death.”
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