Bringing the past into the future

By Shane Scanlan

CBD couple Soma Giovannini and Tom Carson read layers of stories in our local buildings that the rest of us don’t even notice.

The Franklin St residents live to restore our beautiful built-heritage, particularly the grand buildings which made Melbourne truly “marvelous” in the 19th century.

Tom said: “Melbourne could have been like Paris, had we chosen to keep the Victorian-era city intact.  People would travel to see it.”

There’s nothing militant or provocative in this comment, but there is considerable regret.

The pair are founders and co-directors of Abode Restorations, a boutique-scale building restoration company aimed at the smaller, domestic end of the industry.

Stone mason Tom laments the neglect that is often used to circumvent the current conservation regime, but reflects that working with owners who love their heritage buildings is a dream lifestyle.

“The stuff that is kept because people want it has the best protection,” he said.
Soma said: “We’re very fortunate that there are people around who think about this the same way as we do.”

Within the partnership, Soma looks after the admin, the promotion and the client liaison.  Tom is hands-on as estimator, project manager and foreman.

“And the cleaner!” he laughed.  But this level of involvement is deliberate.

Having built a former business to an industrial level, he turned his back on the de-humanising administrative burden and stress that comes with this territory.

His former business restored Melbourne’s GPO, the State Library and St Patrick’s Cathedral.

And, while the results are exquisite, the scale of the enterprise kept him isolated from the hands-on action.

“As you get bigger, you get further away from the detail,” he said.

The new business is small, personal, connected and, as a consequence, deeply rewarding.

Tom mused that the incidence of mental health issues amongst master craftsman would be almost non-existent.

“There’s something life-affirming about making beautiful things,” he said.

For Soma and Tom, the reward is in preserving the legacy of a bygone era when the expectations and workmanship standards were vastly superior than they are today.

Soma happily admitted to nostalgia and romanticism and said: “We appreciate the detail, the craftsmanship, the line, the form, the thought and the consideration involved.”

Her background is in design and art.  Fashion design is at the top of the list, but other life-chapters include graphic design and painting.  Having ticked off her bucket list living and exhibiting in New York, Soma was up for a new challenge when the pair stumbled upon the idea of starting Abode Restorations.

They were both ready for the new adventure and haven’t looked back.

“There is so much to learn every day,” Soma said. “Where we sit now is so exciting.”

Soma is a CBD-local through and through, having lived here for 11 years.  Tom is a more recent convert to the lifestyle, but has taken to it with aplomb.

Two-wheel transport is the default now, with even the tradesmen being encouraged to go by bike.

The convenience, stimulation and excitement of the CBD are familiar attractors for this couple.

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