Architecture + Design

Featherby House

Designed by iconic architect and Bulgarian born Iwan Iwanoff, Featherby House, built circa 1971, is a stunning example of his brutalist style characterised by concrete blocks and distinct rectilinear form.

We spoke to current custodians Ashley and Danielle Walker about their experience owning and restoring such a unique piece of West Australian architectural history.

Featherby House

What was the original inspiration behind buying Featherby House and undertaking a restoration of such an historic home? 

When we purchased Featherby house we were really lucky. We weren’t really looking but a quick Google search of “ Iwanoff for sale Perth “ brought up Featherby House. Within 7 days we had written up an offer.

In spite of the renovation that had been undertaken and removed many of the features that made it an Iwanoff, we fell in love with the house and the fact it had a sunken lounge room which was really cool.

I don’t know that we really set out to undertake a full scale restoration when we bought the house, but that sort of changed when we started to do research and found the plans in the state archives at the Battye Library and managed to find out more information on the house. The other thing that allowed us to consider undertaking the restoration was hubris and a level of naivety about how long it would take and how much it would cost.

Knowing what we do, we would do it again (I think) as we love the house as a place to live and there is a real sense of pride we feel when people say that they appreciate what we have done. It still surprises us how many people genuinely appreciate and care about Iwanoff and his work.

Have there been any surprises throughout the restoration process? 

Throughout the restoration process there have been a lot of surprises not just physical surprises but also what we have loved the most is some of the personal surprises. We have made some great friends along the journey, got to meet and know some members of the Featherby Family who have been very supportive and helpful and we have also found out some really amazing stories about certain features of the house, like finding out the original front door was saved from the tip and is used as a coffee table.

What original features of the home do you love most? 

Many of the original features of the house were removed over the years as the house was renovated, but our favourite original features would be:

The ribbed blockwork above the fireplace in the sunken lounge. This had been covered with plasterboard and was the first feature we “ discovered “. It may sound silly but the excitement of that moment was something we both remember and was the catalyst for starting the restoration.

Finding the original mosaic tiles on the stair cases was a great moment also. They have a 50×50 brown mosaic with terracotta riser and we didn’t know these had been tiled over, so to find these and to be able to salvage the stairs is really great. I also like the fact that there are some signs of wear and damage. They aren’t perfect but they are 50 years old and had been tiled over for 20 years so it’s all part of the story.

Bob Featherby was a cabinet maker of some note, so to be able to have one original piece of cabinetry left in the house is really special. This is the cabinet in the dining room which we stripped back and restored. It had been painted 3 different colours over the years, so to get back to the original veneer gave a real sense of connection to the original owners. Once again, this cabinet isn’t perfect, but it’s part of the story.

What are your favourite areas of the house? 

The area of the house we love would be the sunken lounge room. Having the fireplace, large glass sliding door to the balcony overlooking the golf course and of course the bar. This is a really special room with a unique feeling. After all, sunken lounges are just pretty cool.

What do you love most about Iwanoff’s work? 

Iwanoff was so far ahead of his time with the way he designed spaces and Featherby House is a great example of this. All of the “ public “spaces are not separated by walls but rather by cabinetry, or changes of level. All of the spaces have their own feel but they are still always connected to the rest of the house. The houses are also highly liveable and every aspect of the design is considered.

Iwanoff also understood the Perth weather and in particular the hot summers and how to cool the house with passive ventilation, as most of his work predates air conditioning so this was a major design consideration.

Are there any words of advice you would give to homeowners looking to undertake a restoration? 

To anyone looking to undertake a restoration, I would say make sure you have more money than you think you need and also family who don’t mind you moving back for periods of time. Our restoration took 5 years and we moved back with my parents twice for 4 months at a time.

Also, be clear on the outcome you want to achieve, and if this is your “ forever “ house don’t cut corners or compromise, if it takes a few extra weeks to get the right product or the right tradesperson. This can be really hard, but a couple of years later you will look back and be glad you did.

Finally, enjoy the process and try to have fun…