NotesBrian Pettit and Ron Sevitt worked during the late 1950s for Sunline Homes, a pioneer of architect-designed project homes. In 1961 Sunline was rendered insolvent by the 'credit squeeze' of the early 1960s. Sevitt, a Dublin-born salesman and Pettit, an accountant, organised the completion of Sunline's outstanding contracts before forming their own building company. Between 1961 and 1977 Pettit & Sevitt produced about 400 homes per year, 3,500 in total.
The first Pettit & Sevitt houses were designed by Ken Woolley and Michael Dysart: the Split Level and the Lowline. The relationship with Woolley continued throughout the company's life although other architects, including Harry Seidler, also produced Pettit & Sevitt designs. Each client was interviewed by the architect to choose interior fit outs and other details although sometimes the basic designs would be modified to the extent of adding gabled roofs to the flat-roofed Lowline. However the vast majority of Pettit & Sevitt houses preserved Woolley's deceptively simple 'Sydney school' Modernism, a meeting of designer style and contemporary building industry practise.
This last element made Pettit & Sevitt houses widely affordable. Brick veneer construction, Gyprock interior wall cladding, Monier concrete tiles, Stegbar windows and other components and methods typical of 1960s cottage building were successfully adapted to state of the art domestic architecture. This was a notable achievement given that the small house had gained an unprecedented popularity with name architects in the USA and elsewhere, with practitioners including Ludwig Mies van der Rohe and Richard Neutra revolutionising the genre.
As well as the architectural quality of its products, and the influence given to clients, Pettit & Sevitt was notable for the quality of its marketing. Its press advertisements are regarded as advertising classics. Memorable for their deadpan humour, these took the form of a scripted dialogue between Pettit and Sevitt. Arthur Holland and Dennis Everingham were the admen responsible for this campaign.
Another main element of Pettit & Sevitt marketing were display villages, usually built in new subdivisions and later sold to individual buyers. One of these, at Richmond Avenue, St Ives, has in recent years been the subject of controversy due to Kuringai Municipal Council's heritage listing of the former display houses.
Pettit & Sevitt was purchased by a Perth development company during the late 1960s. However the new owners quickly went out of business, and the last few years of Pettit & Sevitt were plagued by uncertainty and financial problems. However there were also broader forces at work, notably the 1970s middle-class trend towards inner-city living in restored terrace houses or apartments. In Ken Woolley's words, the company failed because of 'a combination of the financial difficulties of companies which had brought the original people out, the downturn in the housing economy and the exhaustion of suitable land for the kind of people who bought these houses, who turned to renovation and inner suburb gentrification in response to the crucial issue in housing - locality'. (Ken Woolley with Jennifer Taylor, Australian Architects: Ken Woolley, Canberra, RAIA, 1985, p. 32.).
Moves are currently underway to relaunch the Pettit & Sevitt company, with a new range of project home designs.
Charles Pickett, curator Design & Society.