Wednesday, 9 January 2019

Lost and Found Vanne Trompf and Percy Everett

Lost and Found
 Percy Everett and Vanne Trompf 
This is the story of three buildings, two architects and a lifelong love of the Moderne.
 My Art Deco epiphany came in 1972 when a friend came back from London with Bevis Hillier’s catalogue to the ground-breaking World of Art Deco exhibition at the Minneapolis Institute of Art in 1971. The book lit a spark within our group of friends and we became hunters and collectors with an insatiable appetite for all things Art Deco. Deeply infected with the Deco bug most of our spare time and money was spent in op shops, antique shops, auctions and flea markets until our student shared houses were styled to the hilt in what would now be called Acid-Moderne.
 I knew it had got serious when we had a whole room devoted to rescued mirrored tables.
.    We scoured the city and suburbs making guerrilla raids to country centres and revelled in the architecture but it would take another forty years to discover that it is Percy Edgar Everett’s work that holds the distinct bass line to the rhythm of Art Deco architecture in Melbourne and indeed all of Victoria.
Bursting with clutter we realised that to feed this obsession we would have to dispense with items in order to find space for more. I found a vacant classic tiny deco boutique with rounded brass bound windows and a classic door motif Both no longer in place] that became our logo at 109 Collins street Melbourne.

 It was still a working gentleman's hair salon in 1973 called Jockels with Mr. Bill Routlege on the scissors and strop in the basement. A small group of mates and I leased it, kept the name and became gonzo Art Deco dealers. When we opened Miss. Whiteman of Le louvre flounced in, looked us up and down, saw the faux leopard skin on the ebonised Bauhaus style desk and offered a regal welcome to Collins Street. We had passed the toughest test.   
 We eventually passed on the shop on to my friend Paul Craft of Paraphernalia who moved up from the Block Arcade.
In 1975 I embarked on another equally strong passion, a life of professional cooking and restaurants. Our dining rooms were filled with chrome and bentwood littered with Ward, Lowen, Sebel and Featherston chairs that, to most people, was just “shabby chic mix n match”. But bookings from the cognoscenti sometimes discreetly asked for the Featherston stem chairs and table by the bookcase.
After three decades at Sunnybrae Farm and Restaurant near Birregurra Diane and I were looking for a small modernist house to retire to and in 2013 we stumbled upon a little “Eichlerish” house in Kyneton. The architect was not known to the real estate agent or the council and it would take four years to identify the designer as Vanne Trompf who had a practice in Kyneton in the seventies.

 Vanne was part of the modernist movement in Melbourne and was for a time a lecturer at RMIT.
I wrote Vanne a note to say how much we loved the house and he offered a cheeky invitation to check out his aluminium earthship on a big farm in the shadows of the Grampians.

On arrival at Chez Trompf you are greeted by an understated Zincalume covered courtyard housing water tanks where the tail of a 1953 silver aluminium H G Mulliner coachwork, Type R Bentley Continental’s Batmobile bum protrudes out of the southside garage.

 Vanne had said he liked aluminium. The functional eco features of his 1983 house can be read clearly from the brutalist exterior and sits perfectly in the landscape. It’s a slow reveal as you enter to the 180-degree views of the Grampians. The interior is based on Indian Havelis that allow cross ventilation with rooms divided by low walls that do not extend all the way to the ceiling. A brutal natural granite two-sided fireplace takes central focus in the living areas. The walls are decorated with early designs, his daughter’s paintings, rich textiles and the work of [another Australian Art Deco hero] his relative Percy Trompf’s iconic posters.  The Grampians follow you through the house and you can feel the spirituality of country.

 Over a cup of tea, we learn that due to Vanne’s poor health, the farm has been sold and they are moving to Hamilton. On the way out, Vanne’s wife Judy says how thrilled he was to hear that his little house in Kyneton is being lived in and loved.
We decide to spend some time in Hamilton before returning to Kyneton and stumble upon what at first looked like a white landlocked tugboat bursting out of an embankment and that early thrill of unexpectedly finding a great Art Deco masterpiece came flooding back. 

Percy Everett’s building is in the grounds of the Hamilton Base Hospital and one of the nurses explained that it was originally a tuberculosis “chalet”. It is only after probing Professor Google that Percy’s epic story as chief architect of the Victorian Public Works Department from 1934 to 1953 is revealed.
The TB sanatorium, one of a number that Percy designed, was for the use of 14 patients and all the design elements are purely functional from the tubular X Ray room to the ramps and the semi open fully glazed northern orientation. It was built in 1944-5 but by 1947 Tuberculosis had found a cure and while many of the other Chalet have gone this little tugboat that could, in my opinion the most playful and personal of his buildings, is thankfully fully conserved and serving the community as a modern rehabilitation centre. Percy’s career is too important for an amateur like me to summarise here but a look at Rohan Storey’s collation of Percy Everett’s greatest hits on the link below will reveal how important his work is to the architectural fabric of Victoria. Who is going to write the Everett book?
Postscript: Sadly, Vanne Trompf died in 2017.  

This was published in Spirit of Progress the Journal of the Art deco and Modernist Society of Australia Spring 2018


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