There’s no shortage of fashionable sophistication in the real estate that occupies the most highly prized streets of Melbourne’s premier suburbs.
What’s less common is a display of personality, and even rarer is a property bursting with passionate, colourful, confident personality.
That was what we had with socialite Lady Susan Renouf, and that is what we find in her Toorak residence, which retains its buoyant animation six months after her death.
It’s completely inadequate to describe the house on the elevated north side of Struan Street – a stroll from Toorak Village cafes one way, and Yarra River parklands the other way – as a single-storey four-bedroom dwelling with under-house garage, three living rooms, dining room and a landscaped garden, because it’s the ambience rather than the structure that stays with you. Struan House is a conversation piece.
However, because a lady’s flamboyant style may not always be to everyone’s taste, it must also be said the house has well-proportioned rooms on a balanced footprint that could be reworked or cosmetically overhauled.
Its location and orientation are second to none and its size would suit a couple or a family with older children.
The French provincial luxury styling came with the major renovation that Lady Renouf gave the 1950s build after she bought it in 2009.
Its rejects the bland and the commonplace, featuring voluminous drapes, co-ordinated wallpapers, embellishments, and precisely matched trims of braid, gimp and cord that border wall panels above the dado rails.
The first hint of something special is tucked behind the front garden, a lovely tangle of roses, azaleas and irises under an elm and maple trees.
It’s a tall side gate that’s a sculpture of garden tools soldered together, suggesting a place of amusement as well as hard work lies beyond.
Immediately inside the small marble-chequerboard porch, there’s a wall of mirrored pillars and a dark-stained oak floor that runs cross-ways, indicating an unusual asymmetrical floor plan to come.
An en-suited bedroom, perfect for guests, is at the front above the garage.
The other bedrooms form a wing on the opposite side, past the dog-leg hallway: two smaller rooms near a powder room and bathroom; then the main bedroom, leading through a dressing room to its own bathroom.
The suite is not only huge, but lavishly decorated with soft furnishings in milk-tea and Wedgewood-blue.
At the front of the house, the Miele-equipped kitchen is on the east side.
It has buttercup walls, chandeliers above a timber island bench top and plenty of practical and display cabinets.
There’s a creative leap in the adjoining dining room. Above sponge-painted walls is Lady Renouf’s signature feature – a pleated black-and-buff fabric ceiling that gathers at the peak, from where a crystal chandelier hangs like a giant earring.
Three linked living rooms fill the rest of the house. There’s a formal lounge, with gas-log fire, striped wallpaper, chandeliers and generous drapes across a bay window.
The cosy sitting room or library has built-in shelves, cerise walls and french doors connecting it to the conservatory.
The tile-floored conservatory with bar makes a dramatic finale. Wrapped in glass, including its soaring ceiling, it catches the north and west sun and forms a seamless transition to the sunny paved terrace.
In this sublime outdoor space, enclosed by a tall timber fence faced with lattice, all painted black, European influence abounds and so, too, does personality.