When Graeme Smith and his wife Liz decided to move closer to the city, Hawthorn was the obvious choice. Long-time residents of the eastern suburbs, the couple had lived in Burwood East for 28 years before downscaling to a three-storey townhouse in Hawthorn East.
“We wanted somewhere that was a bit more convenient to town,” says Smith, as well as somewhere with a wide range of public transport. “And just to have more things at our doorstep.”
Smith was no stranger to the leafy blue-ribbon suburb. He grew up in nearby North Balwyn and Kew, and his mother had lived in Hawthorn for many years after becoming an empty nester. He appreciates its more cosmopolitan qualities, but also its peace and quiet.
One of Melbourne’s more moneyed suburbs, Hawthorn’s tree-lined streets host heritage homes and manicured gardens, but the presence of Swinburne University ensures a buzzing atmosphere along its main drags. The west side of the neighbourhood follows the curves of the Yarra and there’s no shortage of sprawling parks and sports facilities.
“My favourite market in Melbourne,” is how Andrew Leoncelli, CBRE Victoria’s managing director, describes it. “Hawthorn ticks all the boxes. You’ve got very good retail amenities, lifestyle amenities, and then good public transport.”
In recent years the suburb’s more traditional restaurants have been supplemented by a new generation of on-trend cafes and eateries, such as Bawa on Burwood Road, which opened to much hype in October 2015 and still does a roaring trade two years later.
Inspired by the designs of Sri Lankan architect Geoffrey Bawa, which blended built environments with nature, the cafe’s fit-out is airy and decked with foliage – fitting for a Hawthorn venue.
“Our design aspect really does fit into the suburb well,” says co-owner and head chef Chris Griffiths, who grew up in Hawthorn. “It’s a beautiful suburb. You can drive down side streets and feel covered by trees.
“I find Hawthorn’s not as relaxed as Fitzroy and not as snobby as Toorak. People are very approachable and very friendly.”
Wade Nicholson-Doyle, owner of Hello Sailor cafe on Auburn Road, agrees. It’s an approach he’s tried to mirror in his business.
“We wanted to create a cafe that has zero attitude, so there’s no too-cool-for-school kids working there, everyone’s very relaxed and chilled,” he says. “I’ve noticed that a lot of the locals know all our staff by name.”
Occupying a heritage building on a corner site, Hello Sailor draws a wide and varied clientele, from older customers and mother with babies during the week, to younger groups on weekends and even the odd Hawthorn footy player.
Nicholson-Doyle believes that alongside its proximity to the city and its friendly locals, Hawthorn’s extensive array of cafes is one of its biggest drawcards.
“It brings more people to the streets,” he says. “I think everyone offers something a little bit different as well. They all kind of compliment each other.”
Smith says there are “tonnes” of cafes close to his home, and he has some favourite spots for dinner too, like south-east Asian fusion restaurant Okra, The Beehive Hotel, and The Meat & Wine Co.
“We can walk to quite a few of the restaurants and the rest of them we get on public transport,” he says.
The suburb’s strong student cohort also means there’s no shortage of places to eat on a shoestring.
“If you want a quick, cheap meal, you go down Burwood Road or Glenferrie Road and you’re lost because of the degree of choice you have,” says Smith. “I find that aspect rather good. Even when you’re just walking around the streets, it’s a bit more interesting than just having old fogies like me.”
Boutiques are another fixture of Hawthorn, dotting Auburn and Glenferrie Villages, with stores such as Hokey Curator, Swoon and Muse stocking high-end fashion and homewares. The suburb is also home to one of Readings’ beloved bookshops.
Andrew Leoncelli says as more Hawthorn residents become empty nesters and their family homes feel too large, they’re seeking smaller alternatives.
“They’re looking for large, high-quality, well-finished apartments,” he says.
A new development that’s seeing interest from local downsizers is The Auburn, a project that will comprise just 14 apartments once completed. Located at 177 Auburn Road, it will sit just 400 metres from Auburn train station, and even closer to Auburn Village.
“This project is actually tailored to that mature buyer, buyers coming out of a big family home where the kids are no longer with them or the final kid is getting ready to leave school,” Leoncelli explains.
The Auburn, built by award-winning WAF construction, will have one one-bedroom residence, nine two-bedroom apartments, and four three-bedroom apartments. Both its architecture and interiors are the work of award-winning Fitzroy practice Splinter Society. All offer wide courtyards for indoor-outdoor entertaining, and Leoncelli says their large-sized kitchens are a particular highlight.
“What we’ve got is a beautiful kitchen with enormous, natural granite finished to a very high level, and double ovens,” he says. “Also the scale of the master bedroom with walk-in-robes and an en suite.”
In addition to its location and design, Leoncelli believes The Auburn’s boutique status is something that makes it particularly appealing.
“It’s a bit of an enclave,” he says. “They’re all big apartments, they’re not investor or student-focused, so they’re going to have like-minded people sharing their spaces.”