Lyon Housemuseum

Challenging the assumption that the home is a private entity, Lyons combines public museum and private house.

Music, theatre, painting, sculpture, dance or cinema can become forces that move beyond collective experience and veer quickly into the realm of passion. The possession of art and its visibility are a constant source of debate. While the liberation of high art out of the stately homes of the Victorian era and into the gallery for all to see has its obvious benefits for the general public, it often removes the work from its intended context. Viewing a family portrait in a huge room with thirty other portraits corrupts the scale of the experience and perhaps removes the enjoyment from the education.

In the domestic scene, the role of art is often limited to the purchase of a painting for a special occasion, or a print that complements the decor of a room, or perhaps as an experiment in collecting art as a pastime. In recent years, the commodification of art as an investment or as part of a self-funded superannuation package has confused the notion of why you might collect art. At its best, good art is purchased by people who love it - but how they choose to display it in their private realm is an entirely personal agenda. Far away from the white gloves and stale air of curators and galleries, owners of good art hang it in a manner that allows them to enjoy it every day. Occasionally, generous individuals or families open their homes to the public to allow their collection to be seen. This is important not just because of the chance to see the work, but more critically to see the art in a house - an intimate, particularly curated personal space.

Corbett and Yueji Lyon have embraced the proposition to open their home and their collection, creating the Lyon Housemuseum in the Melbourne suburb of Kew. The idea of the Housemuseum is far more eighteenth century than twenty-first. This access to a personal collection of important work has seen many houses around the world become small galleries. The Sir John Soane’s Museum in London, the Frick Collection in New York and, closer to home, John and Sunday Reed’s Heide II at Heide Museum of Modern Art in Melbourne. In each case, the collection has a direct relationship with the architecture, where the complexities of space form a dialogue with the pieces it contains.

The living room.

The living room.

Image: Dianna Snape

At the Lyon Housemuseum, it is the shift in scale that is most compelling. The “normal” function of the house is wrapped around two volumes for art, one black and one white. The black box is closed and almost impenetrable, designed for projection and video work that needs control of light. The white cube is open to light and occupation, with balconies that look down into the space, allowing multiple views of each work. Between these two spaces is a wonderful collection of rooms, some long and thin, some vast and high, some tiny and intimate, all weaving a rich matrix of domestic stuff among the expansive collection of Australian contemporary art. The Australian bit is important - for over thirty years, the Lyons have systematically collected good Australian art, pieces that have become exemplars of this period in Australian art history. Howard Arkley, Callum Morton, Patricia Piccinini, Tim Maguire, Peter Atkins and Daniel von Sturmer, to name but a few, are represented in the collection.

This is not an ostentatious exercise, but a considered exploration of how a substantial collection of art might be integrated into a residence. The spaces seem in constant flux between the dominance of the art and the prominence of the architecture. Occasionally the balance is uncomfortable, with a piece struggling for room in its host space, but this only heightens the nature of the investigation. Some spaces are purpose designed for an artwork; others welcome a particular scale of work. Integral to this exploration is how the house might function in a public context when opened for visitors or researchers. In response, the architecture carefully considers the privacy of the house’s more intimate points (for example, the bathrooms and children’s bedrooms). The result is a deep plan layered with clever circulation. Elaborate joinery units conceal small works as artefacts, with doors pivoting and panels sliding to reveal the precious contents inside.

The eastern facade showing the pixelated lettering on the wall.

The eastern facade showing the pixelated lettering on the wall.

Image: Dianna Snape

Externally the Housemuseum is a restrained object. This is surprising considering the highly expressive institutional and educational work of Lyons, the architectural practice of which Corbett is a director, along with his brothers Carey and Cameron, and Neil Appleton and Adrian Stanic. Ribbed zinc cladding undulates over a glazed ribbon of glass that connects the sculpture courtyard with the work inside. The perimeter wall of the corner block that holds the Housemuseum manifests the wit of the authors, with the name of the two streets pixelated into the brick pattern.

In contrast, the interior is lined with plywood panels that fold from ceiling to wall and into the joinery elements. A texture appears across the ply that, on closer inspection, reveals a collection of quotes, texts and conversations that seems to describe the spirit and process of creating the building. In fact, although it can never be read, the text forms the word art, embedding the intention in the soul of the house.

This gesture reveals the real tension in this project - those moments when the architecture is seen as a layer of the artwork. The architecture, through space and material, curates both how the house is lived in and how it aids understanding and, fundamentally, enjoyment of the art within.

Products and materials

External walls
VM Zinc; Alucobond.
Internal walls
Custom-fabricated timber panels; Boral plasterboard.
Aluminium frames, clear glazed; Silent Gliss motorized blinds.
Aluminium frames; solid timber doors, painted.
Concrete floor with polished concrete topping slabs; Alpaca carpet.
iGuzzini low-voltage lighting.
Miele dishwasher and microwave; Viking stove and oven; Kleenmaid coffee machine; GE Monogram fridge.
Grohe tapware and fittings; tiled surfaces.
Mitsubishi fully ducted airconditioning; hydronic panel radiator heating.
External elements
Polished and honed concrete; bluestone pavers.
Custom-designed furniture by Lyons, manufactured by Xilo; Poliform, Cor and Space Furniture.


Lyons Architecture
Melbourne, Vic, Australia
Acoustic consultant Marshall Day Acoustics
Audiovisual Urban Intelligence
Builder LBA Construction
Cost consultant Slattery Australia
Electrical consultant Umow Lai Melbourne
Furniture fabrication Xilo
Interior design Lyons Architecture
Landscape consultant Lyons Architecture
Lighting consultant Lyons Architecture
Panel lining fabrication and specialized joinery Mortice & Tenon
Polished concrete flooring LBA Construction
Structural consultant Bonacci Group
Town planning Urbis
Zinc cladding Academy Roofing
Site details
Location 219 Cotham Road,  Kew,  Melbourne,  Vic,  Australia
Number of stories 2
Site type Suburban
Building area 1060 m2
Category Commercial / public buildings, Residential buildings
Type Culture / arts, Houses, Residential
Project Details
Status Built
Design, documentation 60 months
Construction 24 months
Client Corbett Lyon and Yueji Lyon
Website Lyon Housemuseum



Published online: 1 Aug 2010
Words: Martyn Hook
Images: Derek Swalwell, Dianna Snape


Houses, August 2010

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