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August 23, 2016

Green thumbs

Wendy Alstergen and John Kirkwood’s warehouse conversion certainly places them in the city centre, but it also puts them in the perfect spot for rallying a community movement.

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  • Words: Farrin Foster
  • Pictures: Brendan Homan

It’s coming up on twelve years since Wendy Alstergren and John Kirkwood moved into their beautifully converted warehouse on North Street.

The semi-retired couple, who had only been an item for a few years before investing in this property, came from what John calls “very different architectural cultures”, with Wendy living in an old cottage in Hackney and John leaving behind a modern place in Mitcham.

 Wendy and John’s conversion… boldly celebrates and highlights the original nature of the structure from which is it born.

Taking on a warehouse conversion for their first home together meant they could escape both traditions with something entirely different.

“We both had terrific houses but we both had this notion of warehouse living,” says Wendy.

“We’d been looking at them all throughout the city and what they’d managed to do was sort of cover up all the character of it – you know, they’d put in floating floors and artificial walls.”

Wendy and John’s conversion is the opposite – with an industrial and raw aesthetic it boldly celebrates and highlights the original nature of the structure from which it is born.


 The only things more charming than Wendy and John’s lovely home are their delightful silky terriers Brock and Bella

Conceived by the couple in collaboration with builder-designer Rex Gray, the house falls into two parts separated by a galley that runs between the wings at first-storey height.

“It’s very functional,” says John. “We didn’t know quite what it would end up like, but the idea the designer had of putting the courtyard in the middle and linking the bedroom to the rest of the house with an overhead bridge… it is wonderful.”

John’s past life working in engineering services for industries like construction and mining was useful in the building process – his oversight ensured the whole project was completed in a year. The question of interior design, however, was a little trickier.

Upon moving in, the pair found that few of their existing pieces suited the home.

“Any lamps and anything we had just looked ridiculous – they were sort of coming from a completely different story,” says Wendy.

“It needed some raw things – that’s an old fireman’s hose nozzle, that lamp base there. The other one over there is a long wooden boot last for polo boots. I had those things and took them to a bloke who transformed them into the lamps – Mitcham Antiques, they are so good at things like that.

“It needed those kind of things just to have a harmony with all the slate and raw metal. To have a common language, you know.”

The house, since Wendy and John have settled in, has been many things. Wendy – an artist who works with clay – has cleared it several times and utilised it as a gallery setting for her own exhibitions, and it has often played host to friends and family visiting from interstate and overseas.

It has also become the epicentre of a movement. Wendy and John are the inexhaustible force behind WEVA – the West End Village Association, a group that has been agitating for more greenery and love to be put into this western side of the city.

“What we’re really trying to do is find something that fits the culture of the West End – which is the hottest part of Adelaide and lacks any green or growth,” says John.

“But it’s also the old industrial part of Adelaide and it doesn’t have any good buildings or anything like that – so we’re trying to bring greening in that fits with that.”

Far from being a group who preach more than they practice, Wendy and John have forged ahead and created their own community garden on North Street – something they’ve done without any Council investment.

The garden – just a few doors down and over the road from Wendy and John’s home – is filled with fruit, vegetables, herbs, flowers, two petanque pitches, a table tennis table and a pergola. This slice of nature between concrete edifices has become a mingling point for the street’s tenants.

“We have a regular gathering with all the neighbours, because they’re an interesting bunch,” says Wendy.

And that’s just the kind of thing that will help make an unconventional warehouse conversion feel like a home.

North Street Adelaide

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