There’s something about Melbourne architect Matthew Bird and his Theodore Treehouse apartment that draws comparison to Dexter Morgan, the fictional forensics expert who spends his daytime solving crimes and his night-time committing them. Not because Bird is a nascent serial killer seeking redemption through his work - though one look at his shovel-topped bed, dressed with disembodied hands and the sociopath starts shaping – but because he is a likeable character who mediates the conflict between outer concerns and outrageous inner impulses.
Indeed, how many architects do you know with academic tenure at a top University and a taste for the aesthetics of Astro Boy – the jet-flight Japanese cartoon that kick-started the culture of anime in the 1960’s? Unlike many of his professional peers who worship at the brutalist shrine of Le Corbusier, Bird looks to different demi-gods, even disco goddesses. “Like Diana Ross on the dancefloor at Studio 54,” he says, qualifying his holistic banishment of beige in a rental flat that he found on the third floor of a modernist Toorak block designed by émigré architect, Dr. Ernest Fooks in 1962. “I was thinking of her when I re-imagined these rooms - Motown-rich, telescoping all sight-lines out to that magnificent peppercorn tree.” He nods to the luxuriant veiling of an old evergreen, gleaned through a shimmering curtain of spanner-anchored industrial chains, across a balcony stacked with yellow gas cylinders – propped not for the purpose of a barbecue but for their playful allusion to large Lego heads. “Mission Brown is the exact shade,” he says of the much maligned 1970’s colour chosen to chocolate dip his living-room walls. “The Haymes Paint guys helped match my scenographer’s mind-set to some moody shades”. There’s Iris White in a master bedroom that looks like an ante-room to the afterlife; Black Pitch in a hallway that tunnels to it; Geranium in a kitchen coloured-matched to the ‘Sherrin’ (the official game-ball of the Australian Football League); and Revitalise in a study briefed for ‘Bunning’s’ green (but more of that corporate-crush later).
Bird’s colour-coding of space is both conceptual and common-sense, with furnishings and fixtures conspiring to make a room suggestive of another place at another time. One look to the living room’s deconstructed disco ball, bobbing above a suite of vintage velvet sofas by Dario Zoureff, and the senses suck straight back to disco-era Gotham city in the late 1970’s. “It’s actually an ‘Astro Boy’ light not a disco ball,” corrects Bird, informing that the bulbous pendant with the ‘Astro’ referential fins was formed from two laser-cut, mirrored domes, manufactured to conceal surveillance cameras. The domes no longer serve to surreptitiously observe, though the architect likes the implication of their covert function. Rather, this Bird’s-eye beauty raises the level of light and reflects the rooms many tributes to design ‘influencers’ of the 20th century.
There’s big love for American architect, Bruce Goff, the eccentric mid-century organic modernist who is framed front and centre of Bird’s ‘dining-temple’ – a space shaded with gauzy drapes of gutter-guard and furnished with a structural pyramid produced from 12 steel car-park bollards. “I think of it as a shrine,” he says of the odd-ball spatial insert supposed to recall both an Elwood beach land-mark and the architectural legacy of the ancient Egyptians. “It forces a strange formality of behaviour when dinner guests sit under it.” No kidding! Bird is one crazy cuckoo who continues the accolades to American design eccentricity across a living-room wall fitted with a full length of perforated steel (a proprietary shop-fitting). This bit of bling has been colour-printed with Buckminster Fuller’s ‘Dymaxion Map’ and propped with hardware that makes cryptic commentary on world politics – a hose-gun riveted to Russia hints at Vladimir Putin’s approach to diplomacy.
“It’s a bit of fun,” says the architect, understating years of serious research into symbolic structures made from scavenged materials, “just a rethink on interior design; a kind of journey.” This hallucinogenic trip has recently turned into Venice where his ‘Sleep Sarcophagus’ - a proposition for time-traveling teleportation in a funereal receptacle – is exhibiting at the Palazzo Mora as part of the city’s 15th Architecture Biennale. Some might consider such morbid travel concept ‘fowl’, but Bird loves to ruffle feathers. “Yes, Freud would have a field day,” he says of the mind that hatched a super-large welded steel egg, dressed with dirty blond wigs, for feature in Napoleon Perdis’ flagship Melbourne store. “I can’t help but find beauty coiling in the commonplace.”
That insight circles Bird back to Bunnings, the handyman’s emporium that is his decorative wellspring. “Mentone is my favourite outlet, but if they don’t have what I need, I do the triangle of bayside stores and beyond. I know every aisle, of every store, intimately.” It’s not your normal designer boast, but then this “Bunnings-venerating” bachelor is not your normal designer. “Tell me what is normal?” questions Bird as he wonders whether he has benchmarked it with a category-win for the Theodore Treehouse at the 2016 Interior Design Excellence Awards (IDEA). “Has the paradox of scavenged luxury finally been popularised?”