Madeleine West's character-filled South Yarra home for sale

Not surprisingly, the kitchen is the heart and soul of the Melbourne home of celebrity chef Shannon Bennett and his partner, actor Madeleine West. But there is so much more to their inner-city mansion with its character-filled rooms and dreamy contemporary extension, now listed for sale.

While Bennett, West and their six children are moving to Toorak, their South Yarra mansion, Barwon, is an inspiring example of how a historic house can be reinvented for today's high-powered, busy lifestyles.

The original 1881 house features a mix of Italianate and Georgian influences. Colonial architect Edmund Ovey designed the house for himself while he was helping create the villas and churches of marvellous Melbourne.

Luckily, the drawing room still has the original eye-popping painted walls - an unusual feature for the period. Also the historic hand-painted panels in the hallway frieze have survived the passage of time.

It was no easy task to revitalise the mansion in a sensitive way but architects Jackson Clements Burrows have created an extension that adds verve, style and warmth to make this a wonderful stylish family home without being opulent or over the top.

"It's a great family home, a great house to share with friends and a great house to be private in," says Bennett, who heads up the Vue de Monde restaurant empire and straddles the small screen on the Channel Nine's Masterchef series.

West, who originally made a name for herself on Neighbours and now plays breakfast host Erica on Network Ten's The Wrong Girl, says: "Once behind closed doors, the home is the perfect sanctuary."

She says the architect has "given the house a clean, streamlined modernity that not only sympathises with but actually complements the historical aspects of the home".

A grand entrance hall opens on one side to the spectacular painted drawing room with frescos, marble mantelpiece and fireplace. Across the way is a masculine study in moody tones. Next, the formal sitting room is a bright, elegant room with bay windows looking on to the garden.

This is West's favourite retreat. "We have strived to create a space to escape to, to share with friends, to dream a little," she says.

It's a perfect place for some quiet time for West and Bennett, the parents of five daughters and one son. She has written a book on parenting called Six Under Eight.

For a change of pace, step into the present century with the contemporary kitchen and inviting living area, which were designed in 2013. The palette is restrained with charcoal cabinets, a sculptural white benchtop and a stainless-steel bench containing a sink and Miele induction stove tops. Other practical pluses include three ovens, a Mastercool fridge and a built-in coffee machine.

This is a fully functional kitchen - almost like a stage - where the next owner can dream of acquiring just a fraction of the culinary skills of the present one.

It was updated a couple of years ago (again by Jackson Clements Burrows) to Bennett's precise specifications.

A horizontal window behind the kitchen frames a bamboo-lined courtyard. The kitchen area also opens to a deck with outdoor cooking facilities (including a pizza oven).

One of the lovely features of the house is the choice of various outdoor dining areas - a green courtyard, an al fresco deck or pool dining - what takes your fancy?

There are also several balconies upstairs - perfect for hiding away with a good book.

The family room is a place to snuggle up alongside a floating fireplace, timber-lined wall, vaulted ceiling and muted tones.

Upstairs the colour palette is continued in the contemporary parents' retreat with its dark tones, automated window shutters, walk-in wardrobe and spacious en suite in marble with a double shower.

The children's bedrooms are in the original house. All have beautiful proportions with high ceilings, period fireplaces and built-in desks. There's a small study facing out front and a family bathroom (matching the en suite) with a freestanding oval bath and shower.

The renovation was about unlocking the ability of the house to function as a contemporary family home, says architect Jon Clements, of Jackson Clements Burrows.

"We designed an extension that is different to the original building so they reinforce the presence of each other," he says. "We used dark materials to relate back to the darker detailing of the original house, the wrought-iron balustrades and so forth." The living room is essentially a "pavilion in the garden", he says.

Of course, there are some bells and whistles hidden away. Look out for the cinema room (cleverly converted from a former garage), underground temperature-controlled wine cellar for 3000 bottles, a solar-heated pool and a fully kitted-out gym.

A subtle studio with fold-down bed and en suite bathroom is handy for guests and you can park your cars in the connecting garage or front yard. On top of the garage is a rooftop garden with perennial herbs and vegetables.

One of the big surprises is the size of the block, about 1250 square metres, which has been attractively landscaped. Now mature, the garden offers lovely unexpected vistas from various rooms and screens the house from its neighbours, creating a real sanctuary in the city.

Listing agent, from Kay & Burton, Ross Savas says: "It's an incredible renovation, extending the existing traditional home while maintaining the warmth and charm of its era. This home has a great balance of formal and informal rooms that are beautifully proportioned."

Barwon is a successful combination of a historic, character-filled home and a stylish, intelligent extension.It's not just the best of both worlds, it's the best of all worlds.

Barwon, at 38 Cromwell Road in South Yarra, is for sale through Kay & Burton's Ross Savas. Expressions of interest close at 5pm on November 21, with price hopes of $7 million to $7.7 million.

This story Madeleine West's character-filled South Yarra home for sale first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.