Brush with Frame

by Megan Morton, BELLE – Artists at Home
April / May 2005

What started as an indulgent way to shift his left-brain analytical mind into right-brain intuition has turned former accountant Waldemar Kolbusz into one of Australia’s most exciting art talents.
His astute abstracts, brimming with visual energy, are sought by everyone from Arabian sheiks to the apartment-dwelling chic. And when a Federation house, built in 1903, came on the market three years ago in Mt Lawley, the Perth suburb Kolbusz grew up in, he bought it the very next day.

Although the house was dressed with a lot of cane, brass, lattice and a detailed heritage-colour paint scheme, the only reservation was where to put his painting studio. Having lived in an architect-designed home before, Kolbusz decided to sit quietly before pulling together his dream design team or interviewing architects. His patience paid off as the house’s potential began to reveal itself, leaving him thinking what he needed most of all was a thoughtful builder, willing to work spontaneously.

“It was essentially a really small job so it meant that we solved problems as they arose while working towards the list of things I was after,” recalls Kolbusz. At the top of the list was his painting studio. It needed to be detached from the house with a separate entrance.

Next he wanted two oversized bathrooms with an emphasis on luxury. Plus a reasonably impressive kitchen with generous entertaining spaces. An existing jacuzzi was earmarked for removal, then adopted into the bigger plan. And so the house’s problems were solved, mostly by simply raising the back courtyard to the level of the living room.

This doubled the available living space by extending it seamlessly to the new courtyard, as well as creating a lower level to build the studio. Water services dictated the layouts of the kitchen and bathrooms. And the wish list was completed when the jacuzzi was wrapped in concrete, with the help of a friend, landscape architect Jo Taylor. It’s a lovely renovation story that doesn’t just have the good bits at the end. His builders, Joe and Sam Cicerello, a local father-and-son team, employed a full band of Italian tradesmen. “The house was basically built by four old short Italian best friends!” says Kolbusz, who was born to Polish parents. At his own lunch break from painting, he would hear them all sit down to a proper lunch of delicious Italian fare.

Tackling the renovation in piecemeal fashion and being on site meant that Kolbusz could daydream over the design and resolve elements before the tradesmen started work the next day. While the front of the house is left completely untouched and the back concludes at his boxy modern studio, what happens in between is why the house succeeds as a space. The clever interplay of genres and styles from all periods gives a subdued impact.

Not only is the house an ideal creative environment, but the large expanses of the walls means that Kolbusz can hang work up for weeks before it goes off to its designated gallery “to make sure it is resolved”. This checkpoint process means the house is an ever-changing gallery for his work, and is also home to the works of many other young Australian artists he admires, such as David Bromely, Lisa Roet, Lisa Wolfgramm, Rachel Coad, Steve Lopes and Rhys Lee. “Some of the work I’ve had for ever, other pieces are quite new,” Kolbusz says, admitting that he changes them around when the mood takes him. A professional track system is hung on all walls so transferring paintings is effortless. Art isn’t just confined to the living areas, however – a larger piece, Noah by Joshua Fitzpatrick, hangs in the laundry. Why should a mundane room like the laundry miss out?

As a result, the house is a beautiful play in expressive design, where Kolbusz’s spirit shines through in every room. It’s a marriage of old and new, made perfect with a third, painterly dimension.