28 October 2021

Aranda home renovation to pay homage to modernist architect Dirk Bolt

| Katrina Condie
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New owners Elle Cobanov and Chris Coombe are itching to get their teeth into the renovation of a Dirk Bolt-designed home in Aranda.

New owners Elle Cobanov and Chris Coombe are itching to renovate their Dirk Bolt-designed home in Aranda. Photo: Kiernan May.

An interior designer and builder couple have embraced the opportunity to restore one of Canberra’s most distinctive modernist homes to its former glory.

Newlyweds Elle Cobanov and Chris Coombe instantly fell in love with the Aranda home they recently purchased off-market, and jumped at the chance to preserve an important part of Canberra’s history.

Designed by iconic mid-century modern architect Dirk Bolt and constructed in 1967, the Gidabal Street home was one of many freestanding dwellings designed in the six years Bolt lived in Canberra.

Bolt’s stunning designs find the desirable middle ground between extremes and often create an effortless flow between contrasting materials and spaces, and this Aranda home is no exception.

Interior designer Elle and her builder husband Chris fell in love with many period elements of the property and plan to bring the house back to life.

“The iconic Canberra mid-century design, with the flat roof, timber features, the blockwork, was exactly what we were looking for,” Elle said.

“Plus, it needed a lot of love and we’re in the perfect position to do it.”

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The couple will keep as much of the original design, footprint and façade as possible, with slight modernisation and modification work, while undertaking a full structural revitalisation.

“It does need a lot of work structurally, but we’re up for the challenge,” Elle added.

“It’s going to be a real labour of love to keep it authentic – we’re even keeping the custom shoe racks from inside the robes to make sure we preserve the legacy of Bolt’s beautiful design.”

The enclosed verandah and blockwork

The enclosed verandah and concrete blockwork are just some of the features that attracted Elle and Chris to the property. Photo: Kiernan May.

Originally designed for a public servant who was set to move to Canberra but never arrived, the Aranda home was purchased by Anne Willsford in 1984, who occupied the home for the next 37 years.

Unfortunately, Anne was unable to maintain the property as well as she would have liked, and when the time came to sell her home, Anne was hesitant to put it out to market.

Being in a highly sought-after area and needing major rectification works, Anne was concerned that potential buyers would knock down the historic home.

Living area

The new owners plan to retain the stunning timber panelling in the living areas. Photo: Kiernan May.

home.by holly sales agent Sally Strang appreciated Anne’s desire to preserve this important piece of Canberra’s history and she said finding “the perfect buyer” was paramount.

Architect Shannon Battisson from The Mill Architecture will assist with architectural advice for the exciting renewal project. She says architecture of the mid-century period is in a precarious position right now.

“Serious investment in their maintenance – and a need to bring them up to current standards of living and environmental performance – rests awkwardly alongside the fact that these buildings are not yet considered old enough to be heritage,” Shannon said.

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“It’s vital that, wherever possible, these properties are given a new lease on life and remain part of Canberra’s next chapter.

“Considered renovation and adaption will ensure we don’t find ourselves wishing that we’d held on to an important part of our heritage.”

Shannon says the Aranda home is a perfect opportunity to preserve an important part of Canberra’s history.

“The house has a beautiful relationship to both the land around it and to the incredible views across Canberra,” Shannon said.

“My favourite spaces are definitely the sun-drenched living spaces and the wonderful enclosed verandah.

“I find immense satisfaction in seeing these buildings standing proudly after our work is done, knowing that they will live on with a new family to appreciate them.”


The light-filled mid-century modern kitchen designed by architect Dirk Bolt is a feature of the home. Photo: Kiernan May.

Sally says maintaining the historical significance of such an important moment in design history, while getting to know her clients, are the highlights of her job.

“It’s an incredibly rewarding experience connecting passionate buyers and sellers with an appreciation for MCM design,” she said.

She has an unwavering passion for mid-century modern design and often comes across beautifully designed homes that need a little love, just like this one.

“The thing I enjoy most about working in Aranda is discovering these older, architectural gems,” she said.

While the refurbishment will be a large undertaking, this home looks set to be one of Bolt’s most significant works in Canberra for many years to come.

Sally Strang is a property specialist in Aranda with a passion for mid-century modern design. She often comes across beautifully designed homes that need a little love, just like this one. For more information visit Home.byHolly and call Sales Agent Sally Strang on 0410 626 731.

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So encouraging to hear that not everyone wants to demolish our history

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