Taking long walks around their neighbourhood in Ascot Vale to escape the monotony of lockdown opened Chryssie and Buzz Swarbrick’s eyes to the suburb’s architecture.
“Walking around the five-kilometre radius, we saw a lot of different houses and styles,” Buzz says. “Before this [the COVID lockdowns] happened, I didn’t really pay much attention to Victorian architecture. I just thought a house looked nice or it didn’t.”
Buzz sketched the couple’s own Victorian-era home as a gift for Chryssie, and then started making drawings of neighbours’ homes to give to them.
Buzz and Chryssie Swarbrick have turned Buzz’s drawings of houses into a lockdown business. Credit:Jason South
The 35-year-old works as a product engineer at a tech company and, with two young children, says he hasn’t had much time to be creative or artistic over the past few years, but drawing the houses felt “almost therapeutic”.
More neighbours started asking for drawings, so the Swarbricks set up a business called Goldie & Bee, as a nod to their nicknames, using Instagram to post and sell the artworks.
“In the middle of the long lockdown, it gave us a connection in the community,” Chryssie says. “It brought brightness to those days.”
Buzz Swarbrick’s drawing of Beatrix cake store in North Melbourne.
Since starting Goldie & Bee in June last year, Buzz now draws buildings across Melbourne and beyond.
“It’s been the most wonderful positive experience, has really connected us to the beautiful architecture of Melbourne that we’ve always loved, taken us to new suburbs and connected us to the great stories behind the facades,” Chryssie says.
The couple learnt that Melbourne has more decorative cast iron than any other city in the world and can now identify a Federation-style house quickly through its use of Australian flora and fauna in design motifs.
They have enjoyed spreading a little lockdown happiness, with Buzz giving a drawing of beloved North Melbourne cake store Beatrix to the owner Natalie Paull.
“Now, every time I go in and order cake, I have a little chat,” Chryssie says. “Especially with lockdown, the line is down the street. I said to her, ‘You bring so much joy into our lives, we wanted to bring some back to you.’ ”
The Swarbricks are often surprised by the details people want included in their drawings, such as a request to feature a run-down workshop at the side of one house that belonged to the owner’s grandfather, or to focus on roses along a front fence.
It is this subjective rendering that Professor Hannah Lewi at the University of Melbourne says makes documenting suburban architecture through drawings “a bit more special” than photographs, which are ubiquitous on platforms such as Instagram.
“It’s not an exact facsimile of a place, as you can exclude or include, and it gives a certain character,” she says. “We have really seen increased appreciation generally of your local community over the last two years. Everyone’s horizon has narrowed greatly.”
Chryssie says the lockdown project has made the couple appreciate Melbourne’s neighbourhoods, alongside earning some extra cash, with commissions booked out until May next year.
“I think we underestimate the connection people have with their houses,” she says. “Spending so much time in lockdown now, I think people really appreciate where they are and where they live.”
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