Porte-Cochere entry from the street, with mature trees and marble and stone inlaid path and entry


I've been cleaning up my studio, and flicking through my old files of tear sheets, most from the 90's and early 2000's - long before digital magazines, websites and Pinterest took over. It's been interesting to see firstly what I was interested enough in to tear out back then, but also what has stood the test of time. 


Villa Beckwith

One that had interested me enormously at the time (90's, Belle Magazine) was an Italianate villa on the Swan River in Perth, Western Australia. It was built by Peter and Valerie Beckwith, who were inspired by the villas along Lake Como in Italy. They named it "Villa Beckwith" and it cost a reputed $18 Million to build, with the blocks of land they purchased (three separate houses were purchased and demolished) running down to the Swan River from Jutland Parade, Dalkeith - true Millionaire's Row in Perth.

side garden with antique French statue

Peter Beckwith was a Managing Director at Bondcorp, one of Australia's biggest companies in the 80's, that collapsed spectacularly leaving shareholders with nothing, and that resulted in most of the directors facing court over allegations of fraud, and the founder, Alan Bond eventually (after many attempts at evasion with a conveniently failing memory...) doing jail time. 

entry hall with inlaid marble floors

Peter Beckwith died of a brain tumour before he was hauled up before the courts, and his widow put the house on the market. It's a rather sad story in many ways, but it exemplifies the excesses of the 80's and was done to such a high standard, that I thought it was an interesting project to feature.  


Stair foyer with the chandelier from an Irish Castle

The house was designed by the renowned late Sydney based Architect Espie Dods, who specialised somewhat in a classical aesthetic and a high net worth client base. Interiors were designed by the late Lady Victoria Waymouth, who flew out from London and oversaw every detail for the 4 years that it took to build and decorate.  The house was completed in 1990, just a few months before Peter Beckwith died, and was finally sold in 1996 for $8.5 Million, a record in Perth at the time, but far below its original build cost. 


casual living and kitchen area


a glimpse of the kitchen, built in Germany

Every detail was considered in this house, which was to be the family's long term residence. Antique street lights from Chile on council land led to the front gates and the stone and marble forecourt and porte-cochere. The entry features a chandelier reputedly from an Irish Castle and that cost £35,000 at the time, specialist paint finishes contractors were flown out to lavish attention on the tiniest detail - rooms were stencilled by men who had previously worked on the restoration of the Sistine Chapel. Cornices were wrapped around into closets and all soft furnishings were trimmed with passementerie and made in England. The kitchen was designed and built in Germany before being shipped over for installation. The gardens featured Antique marble statues imported from France, and mature trees that were craned in to give an established feel. 

Formal Living room with beautifully made curtains and stencilled borders on the walls in soft ochre, green and red

Here you can see the wall stencilling and trim detail

These images always looked a little empty to me - I'm not sure that the family was inhabiting the house at the time of its sale. Perhaps a reader in Perth might know? There are none of the bits and pieces of family life around - photos in frames, artwork of substance... bedside tables are empty of all but lamps. 

Valerie Beckwith's bedroom with cream lace curtains to filter the Perth sun, and a cream and soft blue/ red scheme

some of the detail from the curtains - cream fan edge fringe, and the lining in the sprigged fabric, a tieback in cream and blue


The daughter's bedroom in pink and green

The daughter's bedroom with stencilled wall and a ragged paint finish


The matching ensuite bathroom


Another view of the rather exuberant tile scheme for the ensuite

The son's ensuite bathroom, with another interesting tile choice. I remember this being all the rage in the 90's

Pool area

The house has gone on to be sold several times since then, with the last listing in 2011. Sadly from the photos it looks like it was given a big dose of white paint, and the beautifully made curtains are gone - shiny purple ones in the casual living room were certainly not original. Valerie Beckwith's green and cream and blue sprigged curtains in her bedroom are replaced with gilded valances, her daughter's bedroom with its green and pink stencilled walls is now a shade called bland. Certainly while some aspects of the original schemes are very dated now, remembering that this house was decorated nearly 30 years ago gives some perspective on the fact that the quality in this makes the interiors stand up to the test of time. 


The casual living room now with purple curtains

The formal living - gone are the green curtains and hand stencilled walls

Valerie Beckwith's bedroom today - the valances on the windows were kept and gilded

The daughter's bedroom today with green walls gone and rather dispiriting curtains

The property was subdivided in 2005 and side blocks including the croquet lawn were sold off for development

The new kitchen as of the 2011 real estate listing

Floor plan from 2011 listing

Overall what I liked about this house and the reason why I kept these tear sheets for so long was the very, very high standard everything was done to - the bones are fantastic and of the highest quality, with world class designers involved. The other thing was that the Tuscan and Provencal style, which became so highly fashionable in the 90's and which has now fallen out of favour, was so well suited to our climate here in Australia. This house looks quite place appropriate with its shutters and Mediterranean date palms in the front garden, far more so than the Georgian style which replaced it in the 2000's. Everything revolves in design though, and it will be interesting to see when this style makes a comeback.

Hope you enjoyed this trip back in time.

Photographs: Robert Frith, Belle Magazine, early 90's with accompanying article written by Anne-Louise Willoughby.

2011 real estate photos were via realestate.com.au

11 comments:

  1. The rooms are enormous. I imagine that presents a problem of its own when trying to decorate. For all the detail, some of them look strangely empty. The building itself is beautiful and I agree we just don't build for our specific climate or environment here in Australia. But what is the alternative to lowest common denominator construction, where most people are happy just to have option A and option B? Building outside the project box can be expensive and even if you are prepared to take a buy & hold strategy, you still need to meet bank valuation requirements, which often consider you a 'niche' project.

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    1. They are strangely empty, which is why I think maybe they weren't being lived in. Even for a photo shoot you'd see a bit of day to day life scattered around, but there are so many empty walls and lack of things that I really think the family had moved out (perhaps to somewhere else overseas?)
      Lower cost housing is definitely difficult when you have limited options, and construction costs are so high here in Australia this adds another level to the whole thing. I think though that any good design has wide eaves, verandas and responds to the sun patterns as a starting point. These things don't really cost much more money, particularly to design around the sun patterns, but unfortunately a project home builder rarely considers it as they're about mass and churning it out, and there's only so much leeway for individual design changes.

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  2. My father when he moved to Florida to take advantage of no state income tax got coaxed by his bimbo 4th wife into joining a gated country club community with a first rate golf course and practice facilities which he liked so they gave him a sweetheart deal hoping his WASPy pedigree would help attract the New Money which it did. Florida has what's called the Homestead Act which means the government can't seize your home no matter how you obtained the funding so every high finance swindler facing indictment pored all their liquid assets into a gaudy home at this club. Never forget Lesley Stahl of 60 Minutes doing a segment across the street from my pop's home of some junk bond raider and showing this disgusting turreted monstrosity while itemizing the properties amenities and then informing viewers of the widows and orphans he swindled to build something so disgusting.
    That 4th wife, a year older than me, who almost achieved her life's ambition of being a Playboy Centerfold, was hoping the 60 minutes cameras would pan and catch pop's home.
    She thought this was glam.

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    1. Oh dear... on many levels. There seems to be a human instinct though to show everyone that you've made it by building something very large and grand, and it seems to be universal - Bernie Maddof is a great case in point with his lifestyle built on other people's money.

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    2. Just for the record, GSL is a product of his father's first wife...the one who tutored his dumbass through Duke...

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  3. Oh dear Lord. It is hard to believe that anyone in his right mind would paint over that beautiful stencil work, and the lovely hand painted details. And the curtains! What on earth???
    I shouldn't be surprised. The same thing happened in Montecito; John Saladino did the most beautiful job of an estate called "Las Tejas". The Italian artist spent two years hand painting beautiful frescoes and ceilings, gorgeous curtains; similar to the house you showed.
    An actress bought it; I do not believe ever even moved in, and painted absolutely everything white.

    Obliterating the most gorgeous things.
    It is just so sad.
    You are totally correct, those original interiors stand the test of time.

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    1. The curtains were the most puzzling thing to me Penelope! To take down those beautiful handmade curtains and replace them with things like the shiny purple ones is just so odd. But the paint is par for the course here - everyone loves white paint, and by the looks of the ghastly kitchen that was put in the new owners wanted it to look fresh and modern... which made it bland and boring in the process.
      That is a terrible story about the Saladino decorated house! Unfortunately when you live somewhere where people move every few years, and want to have their house featured in AD regularly for the publicity, I guess this becomes normalised. Was that an Ellen DeGeneris house? I think I might remember something from the Cote de Texas blog on it?

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  4. I would still sell my soul for the original kitchen. It was made to last as I guess all the furnishings were. Country houses in England don't feel the need (and probably don't have the money!) to upgrade on a whim of fashion and to me they endure as no other houses do. We all crave the newest most modern most fashionable interiors but reality brings us down to earth and our homes are I think more comfortable as a result. Maybe the subsequent owners just had too much money to spend....I certainly would NOT have let the purple curtains within cooee ..... Interesting post thank you Heidi.

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    1. It was all definitely done to last originally. I feel this house suffered from what a lot of expensive houses in Australia have: people that are tapped out once they've spent $12M on a house, rather than too much money. They don't have the money to furnish them properly after that with art, furniture, decent sized rugs etc. There's a joke in Interior Design where we say that Sydney is the land of the $6M house full of IKEA furniture and polyester sheets, and it's not far from the truth. In a lot of places getting into the market costs so much that there isn't anything left over for the bits inside after. People will always justify spending on a kitchen as they think they'll get it back in the sale price. Furniture... not so much. While you could say that the owners of such houses should then move down a notch in the house and have better things inside, I think that for a lot of people as property has continuously risen in the past 20 years that they prefer to stretch to a different bracket and then decorate with lesser quality stuff. I'll put up a few more of my old tear sheets I think.. what is interesting is that the things that still look good are fairly traditional, and decorated over time. The things that have dated are of course the more modern style bathrooms, kitchens and living areas. The traditional could easily have a few tweaks to update it, the modern couldn't. x

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    2. Do agree about the Tuscan and Provencal being appropriate to our climate and lifestyle. But this house and its history gives me the creeps. It's a certain kind of crazy megalomaniac show-off who goes for this expenditure and size. Usually far more money than sense - on this occasion during the insane inflated period of Bond and Christopher Skase. People who were determined to show they'd made it! As though this house built on fantasy money by a literal robber baron was a demonstration of this. Beautifully built maybe, but otherwise a failure built by an extravagant manic failure. Bond went to luxury prison, Christopher Skase escaped overseas but was hounded for the rest of his shortened life by the media and police. The one beautiful building he had created was the Sheraton Mirage Hotel - beautiful in concept and execution. The bones of it still exist because they were excellent but today it lacks the lovely accessories and style, and the flowers, of the early days. It's not surprising that subsequent owners of the Beckwith house painted over or got rid of the original beautiful work because the building itself, its size and extravagant showiness probably appeals most to nouveaux riche philistines.

      So funny your comment about top price Sydney houses furnished with Ikea! Best wishes, Pammie

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  5. Yes, entirely agree with the reasons you liked this house enough to save in your files, and the architectural style does seem appropriate for a hot climate. Do tell me, has the Spanish influence reached your shores yet as I can see beautiful hacienda influenced structures would work well with the extreme heat.

    It is, of course, sad when one homeowner buys a property and the first thing that happens is a complete overhaul of the previous owner's style. However, I do understand why that happens, especially for those of us that have very particular opinions on how things should look ;-) Does not excuse those shiny purple curtains though!

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Architect & Interior Designer. Mother of three. A sometimes Cook, Baker, Reader, Gardener, Fashion Lover, Renovator, Writer of random things in South Australia email me on anadelaidevilla@bigpond.com
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