It’s not hard to see why Caringal Flats often stops people walking by in their tracks.
The vibrant coral building is an architectural gem in Melbourne’s inner suburbs, made up of a six-storey tower block with a single-flat on each floor, linked via a skybridge to a curved three-storey block.
The heritage-listed apartment building by John William Rivett has managed to retain its original structure and enchanting maze of mid-century style staircases. And as of last year, the facade was bought back to life, with the architect’s original eye-catching colour scheme, after years of being a tired beige tone!
But, in 2016, when Ellul Architecture’s Ben Ellul and his partner Genevieve purchased their first home here, the 1948-designed complex had seen better days. Despite the years of neglect, Ben saw the building’s potential.
‘There is only one 58sq m flat per floor, ensuring each flat has four aspects with floor to ceiling glazing overlooking the Melbourne skyline,’ Ben says. ‘That’s a pretty amazing starting point for any project.’
Ben re-designed and built the apartment upgrades himself, with help from family and friends across a five-month span, rearranging the floorplan to make it the couple’s dream family home. Sleek black joinery throughout and a raised kitchen created a greater sense of space, while removing internal doors made the most of the apartment’s amazing views – where ‘no sunset is ever the same’.
Around the same time, fellow architect Gretel Stent of Manna Architects and her partner, interior designer Thom McCarthy, also found Caringal Apartments in their hunt for a project to call home.
‘I was searching specifically for one-bedroom apartments as I knew it would be a manageable design and renovation exercise,’ Gretel says. And while Ben’s apartment takes in the iconic cityscape, Gretel says her first-floor flat’s view of the trees made it feel ‘like a tree house’.
Her intention for the renovation was to ‘let the original features speak for themselves’, focusing on incorporating more storage and using the joinery pieces as a way of dividing space – showcased in additions like clever open-shelving that helps separate the living from the bedroom.
As luck would have it, both these apartments were finished in 2021, and the building’s body corporate also completed their extensive restoration works the same year, with guidance from Heritage Architect, Nigel Lewis. Nigel took paint scrapings to determine the exterior’s original colour, and used these to make a custom paint colour for the facade – ‘Tahara Coral’ – restoring it to its former, retro glory!
‘Whilst some of the owners may have initially hesitated, since the works have been completed, there has been nothing but overwhelming positive comments,’ Gretel notes.
In addition to enhancing Caringal Flats’ architectural significance, the success of the renovations here (both inside and out) adds weight to the growing trend of first home buyers seeking to buy and add value to heritage apartments, rather than houses. ‘Given the property market, and our desire to live in the inner city, an apartment was really the only option for us,’ Ben says.
‘Living in an apartment is often perceived as a compromise. [But] there is a real sense of community living in a complex like Caringal. I hope by people seeing what Gretel and myself were able to do to our respective spaces on a modest budget, it will encourage others to consider this as a viable option.’