For those that aren’t in the know. Open house Melbourne is a registered charity and is a part of the Open House Worldwide Network founded by Open House London 25 years ago and now in more than 40 cities globally. Its aim is to offer the public free and direct design experiences in a non-elitist manner. An idea that obviously resonates with the public as it annually reaches around 750,000 people worldwide.
Thanks to programmes like Open House I was able to experience the opulence of one of the few surviving 19th century mansions that sits slightly hidden off Orrong Road in Caulfield North. I must have driven passed it a million times and never noticed which probably says more about how much you don’t see getting around in car. Although a lot of the interior appears to have been restored there is still a lot of work to be done but as a photographer it was truly inspiring getting to spend a bit of time in some of Melbourne’s lavish architectural history.
Originally called ‘Sylliott Hill’, it was renamed ‘Ontario’ in the 1880s reflecting the Canadian heritage of its new owner Alexander William Robertson. Robertson was a prominent Melbourne businessman who was a co-owner Cobb and Co. company. He had the mansion redeveloped in the French Second Empire style by commissioning the German-born architect, John A. B. Koch, to remodel the house into a 35-roomed mansion. The interior features gilt embossed wallpapers, ornate stained glass and a rare trompe l’oeil ceiling. Renamed Labassa in 1904, it was home to Melbourne’s elite until 1920 when it was divided into flats. The residents included Hollywood’s most famous Australian silent-film star and other colourful bohemians.