Fire-gutted 'architectural masterpiece' restored to former glory
Tim Bult and his wife Lisa Church were enjoying an end-of-year overseas holiday when they received the phone call every homeowner dreads — their house had burnt to the ground.
“It was a very, very difficult time for our family, Mr Bult said.
“But let’s put it into context — nobody was hurt thankfully.”
Paganin House, the family’s home in Perth’s western suburbs, is far from your average three by two — it is an eccentric 1960s post-modernist building designed by revered Bulgarian architect Iwan Iwanoff and named after the family who built it in 1965.
Just days before Christmas in 2015, the entire building was gutted by a blaze that devastated not only Mr Bult and his family, but Perth’s architecture and heritage communities more broadly.
The temptation was there to make an insurance claim, walk away and start over somewhere else.
But Mr Bult told ABC Radio Perth he and his wife were determined to rebuild the home exactly as it was.
“We loved the home so much,” he said.
“Primarily we wanted our beloved family home back, but there was certainly an aspect of wanting to preserve this part of Iwan Iwanoff’s amazing design portfolio.”
Paganin House is one of many examples of Iwanoff’s work in suburban Perth. (Supplied: Restoration Australia)
Re-creating art without the artist
Iwanoff died in 1983, making the mammoth task of re-creating his unique and intricate design from scratch seemingly impossible.
However, Mr Bult discovered Iwanoff’s original handwritten blueprints for the home were being kept in storage at Western Australia’s State Library.
“When we discovered that structurally the skeleton of the home was OK and we found the original drawings, all of a sudden we thought there was a chance we could do this,” Mr Bult said.
Three years later, the restoration of one of Perth’s most recognisable homes is complete.
“It was a difficult job,” Mr Bult said.
“There were amazing tradespeople that had the skills required to build houses the way they were built 50 years ago.”
The project has been documented in an upcoming episode of the ABC’s Restoration Australia TV series.
“It was a very daunting task, and in the wrong hands that could have been a disaster,” host Stuart Harrison said.
“The Paganins were big Perth stone and timber merchants so the house is a real showcase of beautiful materials.
“It’s just as good now in 2019 as it was in 1965 — it’s a perfect model for a house.”
Bulgarian architect Iwan Iwanoff designed a series of remarkable buildings around Perth in his brutalist, post modernist style. (Supplied: Restoration Australia)
Iwanoff ‘a shining light’ in Perth
Iwanoff designed a litany of architecturally significant buildings in WA, among them the heritage-listed Marsala House in Dianella and the Northam Council Office and Library.
“Iwanoff is to Perth what Gaudi is to Barcelona,” Mr Harrison said.
“He was a critically important figure and was a shining light in Perth in the 1950s, 60s and 70s.
“He did incredibly great work and did these exceptionally good modernist houses that got more expressionistic as he went on through his career.”
Built in 1976, Iwanoff’s Marsala House is WA’s youngest heritage-listed home. (Supplied: WA Heritage Council)
Mr Harrison said Paganin House and Iwanoff’s earlier works sparked a shift towards the use of expansive panels of glass and open space in home design.
“That was actually an entirely new idea that a house might have that degree of transparency, that much connection, view and amenity,” he said.
“They’re probably the first houses to really understand Perth’s climate, with shading on all of the windows and also the introduction of open plan living and connected spaces.
Paganin House was built in 1965 and makes use of open space and expansive glass panels. (Supplied: Restoration Australia)
You either love it or hate it
Mr Harrison admitted Iwanoff’s bold designs were not everyone’s cup of tea.
But he said the community’s perception of what a heritage building looked like was evolving.
“I think we’re beginning to appreciate it,” he said.
“I don’t think anyone questions art deco in terms of its historical importance now, and that’s where we are with modernism now,” he said.
Paganin House is unlike any other home in the neighbourhood. (Supplied: Restoration Australia)
Many ABC Radio Perth listeners were familiar with Paganin House and were happy to learn it had been restored.
Susan — “This home is a gorgeous head turner, noticed it even in fast traffic last week!”
Julie — “I very fortunately went to a home open for this house before it was sold to the current owners. I grew up in the area and it was always my favourite house in the world. OMG it is amazing! So glad its been restored and thank you to the owners.”
Anonymous — “Often drove past the Paganin house and loved watching its progress. We recently finished up our lease rental of a lovely old mid-century house in City Beach. We were the last tenants of our house. Now it has been bulldozed to the ground, making way for a modern mansion I expect.”
The restoration of Paganin House will be featured on Restoration Australia on ABC1 and ABC iview on Sunday at 7:40pm.