Black Rock’s beach strip may sport some of Melbourne’s most beautiful bayside mansions but none of them quite catch your eye like the glass frontage of Greville Pabst’s “fishbowl”.
Pabst co-founded WBP Property with Patrick Brady in 1992, taking it from four to 250 staff, and recently stood aside as chief executive of the company.
He remains executive chairman and is now best known as a property commentator, appearing on everything from ABC radio to his role as a judge on Channel 9’s hit DIY series The Block.
It was those years valuing, buying and talking about property that inspired Pabst to turn his stuffy Greek-style mansion into a modernist dream glasshouse.
“The locals refer to this house as ‘the fishbowl’ since the windows have no blinds,” he says. “I don’t mind but I think it took my wife some getting used to. But I love the fact it lets so much light in. You feel alive in this house.”
This boy from the rapidly gentrifying Melbourne suburb of Footscray built his business with his wife Lisa and two sons at his side and now lives in one of Port Phillip Bay’s slightly undervalued suburbs.
“Black Rock doesn’t get the same attention as say, Brighton, but it has some amazing views and a real community vibe,” he says.
The Pabsts bought their Black Rock pad for $1.2 million back in 2003 but it’s an area where prices have shot up, and it’s certainly not the property they moved into 12 years ago.
“It was a 1960s Mediterranean-style house, lots of concrete, lots of marble, pillars and a few lion statues out the front, it was very … well …” he says, leaving the though unfinished.
After nearly eight years in the Mediterranean monstrosity, Pabst decided the family had enough money and the kids were old enough for him to recreate their home and get the bay view he had always desired.
Pabst says some of the structure of the original house has been kept and he particularly values having concrete slabs for both the ground and first floors.
“A lot of houses with two storeys have timber for their first floor but ours has concrete for both, and downstairs has solid brick walls, so it’s a really solid house even if the concrete is not great for wi-fi,” he says.
But keeping a concrete floor seems like a small detail in this revolutionary renovation where the Athens-like pillars made way for a window that dominates the frontage, with no curtains to boot.
“When a lot of those houses were built they had really small windows and they didn’t really maximise that view of bay, so that’s why I decided to have one massive window out the front,” he says.
Pabst may love property but the uncluttered walls are dedicated to he and Lisa’s first love, Australian art. The couple hung a John Olsen painting (from his Lake Eyre series) the day before this interview, while signed copies of Olsen’s books sit proudly in the middle of the dinner table. On the opposing wall hangs a large painting by indigenous artist Tommy Watson.
“I just love his expression, he’s a living treasure and many of his contemporaries have passed away, and if you look closely at this Lake Eyre work you can see the kangaroos,” he says.
But the ultimate piece of art in Pabst’s palace is the breathtaking view of Port Phillip Bay from the massive window, through which passers-by on the other side might spot his boxer dog, Lexi, watching the waves.
“We have seen yachts and flotillas and even dolphins from this window, in terms of our art, it’s the landscape,” he says.
Original article as featured on THE AUSTRALIAN