Architect Ariane Prevost is not what I had been expecting. I’ve gone to chat with her at her famous home, Marimekko House. I’ve been there less than two minutes and already am realising that this is an architect very different to most I know.
You can freely accuse me of stereotyping an entire profession here, but when I first meet most architects, most of the time I find they are a bit on the quiet side, a little reserved, and not just modest but downright humble about what they have created, sometimes to the point of seeming almost embarrassed about it. When I ask them a question, many will think long and hard first, and sometimes they get stuck for words when put on the spot, and fall silent. Finally they burst (and half of them will be flushed in the face). “Can you email me questions later?” they beg. “It will come to me better when I can sit down and think about it and write it out.”
Not Ariane. I don’t think she has once been lost for words, or finds it difficult to describe what she feels. She is sassy and loud, furiously eloquent and startlingly outspoken, and dives headfirst into our interview; there is no need for the usual warm-up period. And this is her house.
This post was originally published June 2, 2014, on my original blog format here.
When I arrive, her husband Neil Garnett shows me in. Ariane is in construction gear and steel-toed boots scrubbing her hands at the kitchen sink after a long, hands-on day on-site at her latest build – her next home, which she is calling “Pussy Galore”. (Which I later find out is because its roof and garden will be covered in pussy willows… so it is more innocuous than it sounds… I guess).
Within two minutes of our meeting she is telling me how much we have been conditioned to think we should build a house a particular way. She fervently hates bland, cookie cutter project homes even though she says they have their place in the market. “The West Australian public in particular have been brought up on a diet of project homes… everything has to be shiny and clean and smooth. Oh, I am so over perfection!”
She says it is frustrating that many people consider resale value and what’s “expected” first and foremost when designing and building their family home. “You should build your house for the way you and your family like to live your lives, not the way everyone thinks you should live your life,” she says. “Design your house for your family.”
With Pussy Galore, (Marimekko House is going to auction on June 21st) Ariane is again aiming to challenge traditional building ideas. She loathes that many people go for a mass-produced project homes because they believe it is their only build option. With her latest project, she is determined to challenge the opinion that great architecture does not necessarily have to come with an impossible price tag, and is taking a well-known display home and proving that one can build something truly bespoke and beautiful for the same price.
But that’s a house for another story… I am here to share with you guys this place. Marimekko House was designed by Ariane and built just two years ago (although you would never be able to tell by the established gardens and tall poplar trees) this very unique home has gotten a lot of attention, and has been featured in a host of architecture publications and TV programs, won awards for its unique kitchen and gardens, and was a finalist in House magazines Australian House of the Year 2012.
Marimekko House gets its name from the striking steel bris soleil panels Ariane created for the front elevation, the pattern in the Cor-Ten steel inspired by the famous Finnish design company’s bold patterns. The streetfront is beautiful, with thick succulents edging the concrete paths. Ariane and I start our interview in the living room over coffee, and later, a gin and tonic (“Shall we have a drink? It’s past five o’clock now”) as she shows me through. If I thought the house was gorgeous from the outside, it’s even more incredible inside. Ariane designed it to be sustainable with a big focus on recycled, low-maintenance materials and raw finishes, and a huge connection to the outdoors, with doors that can completely open the house up to the outdoors. Huge windows and windows take in the views of the parklands beyond the house, while the lush rooftop garden offers sweeping views across Mosman Park. “Everything about this house is about the sun, wind and light,” says Ariane.
“I propagate ‘slow architecture’,” she says. “You create as you go along – good ideas manifest themselves through the process. That is what life is all about – not bloody Christmas or Easter!”
The house also had to be extremely easy to live in, unpretentious and fuss-free – and have enough space for eight adults. Yes, eight – Ariane and her husband, Neil Garnett, and their adult three children – each who were, when it was built two years ago, all living with their partners.
There is plenty of separation, with two bedroom wings – one upstairs off the rooftop deck, for Ariane and Neil, the others on the ground floor. Each bedroom wing has its own living space/study, and along with numerous outdoor areas there is also the large kitchen, dining and living too, so it is easy to understand when Ariane says they never felt cramped, even with eight adults living here.
Oh, and the family includes the animals. Everywhere we walk, we are followed by the furry trio – Poppy the poodle, Frieda the blue heeler and Skipperdee the Burmese cat, named after the turtle in the children’s stories on Eloise who lived in The Plaza. True to Ariane’s beliefs that nothing in a home should be too precious, the animals wander about in the smug way a pet does when he lives the sweet life and knows he has free reign of his house. Poppy the poodle jumps onto the couch, covered in beautiful Marimekko fabric, to contentedly chew her tennis ball. None of the materials are precious, although Ariane strikes me as being more relaxed about the casual livability of their home than her husband is.
“Neil says, ‘The bloody cat is putting fur everywhere,’” she says. “I say to him, it’s a CAT. That’s what they do!”
Ariane is not one for fussy finishes or hovering over a table in case someone leaves a mark – (in fact, she shows me a mark on the dining table from a vase from her son’s wedding, held here. “But now I look at it, and I remember the wedding,” she says.
Here, inside and out, surfaces are predominantly raw and exposed, even the external cedar, which has turned a beautiful aged grey. “Once you start adding finishes to natural products, you have to keep doing it,” she says. She loves low-maintenance living and doesn’t believe a home should necessarily need to require a lot of upkeep. The herringbone red brick floors are one of my favourite features here, and fuss-free – plus warm in winter and cool on hot days.
Another of my favourite features is the award-winning rooftop terrace. A hater of wasted space in a home, Ariane loves flat roofs and says they make a lot of sense, not only for passive thermal purposes but for the overall feel of the interiors. She tells me she doesn’t see the sense in giving over a third of your height restrictions to a pitched roof (and as a benefit, the ceilings through Marimekko House are lovely and high).
Thickly covered in plantings, pots of trees and decking, the concrete roof keeps the rooms below at a comfortable temperate while its large rainwater tanks supply the home with drinking water. The succulents were all started from teeny tiny plants… now they’re dense and lush. Tumbles of succulents spill over from the roof deck down the walls of the house, draping the windows like curtains. Ariane gives me some cuttings for our garden. It’s a wonderful space – with mature frangipanis and an arbor, under which Ariane and Neil’s son got married. “We have had fantastic parties up here,” she says.
When you are inside this clever house, or even outside on the alfresco areas, its perfect blend of angles, windows and greenery means that not a single neighbouring soul can see in. I comment that the house’s wonderful sense of privacy is just one of the features I love about it. Ariane agrees. “Neil and I are nudists and we love being here,” she announces. Maya x
Would you love to live here? Do you think a house should be non-precious, or do you not mind the upkeep of materials? What is your favourite thing about Ariane and Neil’s home? Would you love a rooftop deck? And are you a nudist at home too?
Architect Ariane Prevost, her husband Neil, who works in the sheep industry, their son George, blue heeler Frieda, poodle Poppy and Skipperdee the Burmese
Mosman Park, Western Australia
Owner Arianne Prevost, who also acted as site supervisor and landscape architect. Contact [email protected]
Laser-cut Cor-ten steel bris soleil screens to front, award-winning rooftop garden with deck, herringbone brick floors, rammed earth walls, commercial-grade bi-fold doors that completely open the house up to the outdoors, open-plan living, award-winning ‘six room’ laminate kitchen, dining overlooking garden, ‘man-land’ living room, upstairs living, four bedrooms, three bathrooms, gate to adjacent parklands at rear, treed valley views, beds of succulents, garden sculptures, 780sqm block, rear gate opening onto parkland
Heather Robbins of Red Images Fine Photography