A modern industrial-style home with a heart

Clever design and judicious specification of surface materials have transformed an imposing but unfinished new house into a beautiful home.

We wouldn’t be surprised if the odd errant day-tripper knocked at the door of this new home at Dromana, south of Melbourne, expecting to sample a nice Mornington Peninsula Pinot or stroll among sculptures. Because the place is imbued with the kind of modern industrial grandeur you see at cellar doors and art galleries – it sits atop a hill, rising up over three levels, with walls constructed from poured concrete and rammed earth, and black-metal-framed windows opening up to a panoramic view of Port Phillip Bay. But when designer John Crooks first visited, something important was missing.

Benchtops: Essastone Bitumen Igneous finish. Cabinetry: Laminex White Textile. Island front & panels: Laminex Impressions Sublime Teak.

Crooks specialises in kitchen design and his clients, serious foodies and frequent entertainers, had bought the house from a builder before it was completed. The kitchen, for them the most important room in their home, was an empty shell. and while the pragmatic part of their design brief was to accommodate multiple ovens and other appliances, and expansive work and plate-up areas, they also wanted the kitchen to be “the crowning glory of the entire home”, as Crooks puts it. A space for “eating, sharing and socialising” that celebrated the industrial character of the rest of the house.

We’re pleased to say that Laminex products were specified extensively in the final design. Talking to Crooks about his work, it became clear that those products were chosen to serve three key design strategies that enabled him to successfully deliver the project.

Balancing industrial materiality with texture and warmth

The empty kitchen, with its polished concrete floor and monolithic rammed earth wall, had the potential to be hard and unwelcoming. This was tempered somewhat by a Japanese-inspired dark-stained timber ceiling, and it’s a theme that Crooks picked up on, specifying surface materials that balanced the industrial design theme with more approachable, warm textures and tones.

The benchtops are Essastone in Bitumen Igneous finish, which Crooks describes as having “a slightly gnarly character but with a tactile matte feel”. That feel comes from a variable gloss that’s applied to the product’s surface during the manufacturing process. As the name suggests, it creates the impression of volcanic rock, complementary to the rammed earth and concrete, yet more naturalistic and pleasing to the touch.

Benchtop: Essastone Bitumen Igneous finish.

Laminex White Textile laminate panels and doors are offset by panels of Laminex Impressions in Sublime Teak, which again bring a tactile, organic counterpoint to the primary materials palette. But this timber-look finish was also chosen because it harks back to Modernist furniture from the 1950s to early 1970s. Combined with the row of conical pendant lights hanging over the island bench, it softens the home’s overall industrial feel with a style that recalls the mid-century factories of Melbourne’s inner suburbs, and brings it down to a more friendly human scale.

Not “designing out” the building shell

Designing a kitchen within an existing building shell brings constraint. But in this case it also brought the opportunity to showcase the rugged beauty of rammed earth. Other designers might have plumped for floor-to-ceiling cabinetry along this wall to maximise storage, but Crook exercised restraint, with a design approach he refers to as the “cropped tower look”. Cabinetry, incorporating elevated side-by-side ovens, runs roughly halfway up the wall, setting up a beautiful direct contrast between the rough rammed earth, complete with exposed toggle bolts and formwork markings, and the refined woodgrain texture of Impressions Sublime Teak.


By treating the cabinetry here as an insertion into an existing structure rather than looking to design an entirely new room, he allowed the different elements to work off each other, creating an effect greater than the sum of its parts. But this also brought aspects of his clients’ personalities into the kitchen. The “cropped tower” doubles as a display shelf for personal objects, reflecting the role of the kitchen as not just a pragmatic work zone but the heart of the home.

Integrating new materials throughout the house

Crooks was also tasked with designing bathrooms, a study and cabinetry in other parts of the house, and he used this as an opportunity to weave a thread of consistency throughout the home. Essastone in Bitumen Igneous finish reappears as a study bench and a surface for bathroom vanities, while Laminex Impressions Sublime Teak is used for a floating shelving unit in the study. And throughout, white laminate surfaces are used for cabinetry panels, drawers, and doors for cupboards and wardrobes.

Vanity: Essastone Bitumen Igneous finish. Doors: Laminex FormWrap in White Satin finish with a Classic 2mm profile.

The materials palette of concrete and rammed earth defines the character of the building, but the products used for these human-scale insertions create a second layer of materiality that defines the occupants’ daily interactions with their home. And this is arguably Crooks’ greatest achievement. Yes, he’s created a highly functional and visually beautiful kitchen, but he’s also shown that a house can be grand and imposing, and exude a modern, industrial character, while also being warm, welcoming and highly liveable. From a distance, an art gallery or cellar door perhaps; up close and personal, very much a home.

Wardrobe: Laminex Polar White.

Study surface: Essastone Bitumen Igneous finish. Cabintry: Laminex White Textile. Overheads: Laminex Impressions Sublime Teak.

Designer: John Crooks
Photography: Derek Swalwell