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“For us luxury is about the experience,” says architect Rob Mills. “We want to challenge, excite and surprise.” Essential ingredients to staging a thrilling experience are the ‘functional sculptures’ that adorn each of the extraordinary residences he and his team bring to life. Prominently placed, sinuous spiral staircases are Mills' signature.

In his own three-storey Armadale home, black marble stairs set in an elegantly ribboned coil beckon visitors. Reaching the second floor, the sound of babbling water gradually fills the air. A grand piano and banquet table greet you quietly and confidently in the main living space. A low brass seat captures your eye. It runs the length of the linear water feature flowing across the entire floor length to a park beyond. Above, through skylight reveals, light streams in. You note the soaring, sweeping interior forms, inspired by the cornette-like curves of Le Corbusier’s famous chapel at Ronchamp. Mills, you muse, has created his own temple to domestic bliss, a tranquillity base.

Then it hits you. A glimmering golden light flash, from across the marble floor. It’s like a Jeff Koons sculpture, a kitchen dipped in gleaming brass. Here is an architect with a sense of occasion – and interior drama. Mimicking the interior contours, the brass kitchen flairs at one end lending its reflective surfaces a funhouse quality that further animates sunlight through the room. “It’s the first time I’ve used brass,” says Mills. “Warm, rich, colourful and bold, brass is sophisticated. It lifts and dresses the grey interior, and makes it more glamorous.” But it’s not simple glamour. The bling isn’t the thing.

Contradiction and counterpoint run through Mills’ work – and contribute to the excitement and surprise. He speaks of his house having “masculine and feminine qualities”. Heavy industrial steel extrusions on the exterior contrast with the interior’s subtle brass details, framing interior windows, doors and mirrors, which in turn hint to the kitchen centrepiece. Black marble juxtaposes with grey and white marble. Brass offsets stately grey interiors. Curved surfaces meet rectilinear geometries. Stone and stucco provide a backdrop to flamboyant colours and plush fabrics.

When conversation turns to luxury he reflects that he’s “the last of the generation that defined luxury as the things you own. That’s a part of luxury, but it’s not the important part,” he says with the inflection of someone who has finally unlocked the secret. Mills values the less material, a sense of wellbeing, as much as the objects around him. “The more at peace you are, the greater your ability to enjoy a truly luxurious experience,” he believes.

Indeed the latest in a series of cinematic vignettes that Mills premiered at the Salone del Mobile Milano 2019 entirely forego the architects’ fine detailing and sculptural qualities. Instead The Search, his latest offering, presents panoramas of rugged coastlines, stoic rock faces and expansive oceans. The view is the thing here and the viewer is left to imagine. Launched at Contraste, with the support of Head Chef and owner Matias Perdomo, The Search “allows the viewer – who’s imagining building their own home – to put themselves into the picture. To recall a dream” says Mills.

In the architect’s case, the linear water feature that flows through his Armadale home is the abstracted manifestation of happy childhood memories fishing on the Howqua river in Victoria’s Alpine region. Wilderness trips inspired his Ocean house retreat. The Search is both mission statement and field guide.

“To create iconic houses you need amazing land,” says Mills, whose practice also helps clients source exceptional sites, which he’s recently done in Byron Bay and Mosman. “I really wanted to work on the best commissions in the world and I knew I would find them where the land was. Land is the greatest influence over what we are creating.”

Architecturally, however, his touchstone is Philip Johnson’s Glass house in Connecticut. In the iconic modernist building set on 80 hectares, Johnson was at one with nature, describing his home as “the world’s most expensive wallpaper. I hold that as one of the best residences in the world,” says Mills. “Johnson knew better than anyone how to own the land he was on.”


At Lorne on Victoria’s spectacular Great Ocean Road, Mills constructed his own modernist pavilion. The Ocean house frames forest on one side, ocean views on the other. Cylindrical sleeping quarters anchor the rectilinear building, reminiscent of Johnson’s cylindrical brick bathroom/fireplace within the Glass house. Naturally spiral staircases occupy the cylinder, but here there are two – external and internal.

“Our designs are grounded by some very pure forms,” says Mills. “We use the circular stair a lot because it’s such a pure form and the entire house can belong around it. It makes sense of everything. Pure forms create pure experiences.” If an architect’s home offers their purest form of self-expression, Mills describes his own homes as having “honesty”.

“The materials are unadorned,” he explains. “We express the natural colour of timber. We don’t paint it. We polish concrete floors rather than put tiles or carpet on them. It’s pure design crafted from raw materials.” For all the essentials of good architecture – acoustics, air quality, warmth – the important part is how you feel mentally and physically says Mills: “I don’t think you can appreciate luxury unless you’re in a calm space of mind.” How can architecture create an experience?

“The ability for your eye to travel from the landscape through the building,” Mills explains. “In the Ocean house’s case, out into the sea. It’s completely uninterrupted. You’re able to dwell and live completely within your environment and experience it without being out in the wet and cold of the forest and the wind and wave of the ocean. You can visually experience it, but you’re cradled by the building.”

“I like the spiritual element,” Mills confesses. “I do want to take you to a higher place with our design. We have a choice in life – we can live a normal life or we can reach out for more. And I want more.”

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