Q&A: Michael Piccolo, Piccolo Developments


Almost since he could walk,

Michael Piccolo has been a regular presence on construction sites. In the early years you could usually find him on the end of a broom, sweeping up sites while getting to grips with the family construction business. These days he’s growing that business into one of Melbourne’s premier boutique developers,


Swisse Color Run Flemington Racecourse

Completing more than $200 million apartment projects in the past decade, Piccolo has built a reputation as a luxury residential developer with a commitment to architectural integrity and beautiful design.

Its portfolio of more than 500 completed apartments include Carlton’s award winning Garden House opposite the Royal Exhibition Buildings (winner of six accolades including Property Council of Australia’s Best National Residential Development), the recently completed Upper House on Swanston Street as well as student housing projects D1 and D2, Cento, Universe and Maison.

How did you enter the property industry?
My parents, Mima and Martin, started Piccolo in the 1970s as a residential house building business and would regularly call on the family to get involved. If a site needed sweeping, it was often myself or my brother or sister who would help out.

Being so hands-on from a young age gave me a great understanding of everything a project entails, from seeing how sparkies work to managing a building site. When my father died in 1997 I took a larger role in the business and have gradually grown it from house building into a boutique developer.
How has this start informed what you do today?
When you build single houses for people you become very close to them – you’re building their dream and bringing that to life. You’re also involved in every single decision and milestone on the project – from the foundation pour to key handover. I have always been determined not to lose that focus on the personal as the projects we do get bigger.

I personally settle every apartment and am driven by handing over apartments that exceed client expectations. You can only do that if you make the right decisions throughout the process, which is why I am across every decision on every project we do. I know all our purchasers and I enjoy welcoming them to their new apartment.
What are some of the challenges you have faced?
I think my biggest challenge is finding the balance between growing the business but also being intimate with the process. What I enjoy most is dealing with all of the details across the project from design, then sales to construction, right through to the settlement process.

Being able to maintain this level of involvement whilst also growing the business is my biggest challenge.
What is your proudest property achievement?
Definitely The Garden House – we won a total of seven awards for that project and it’s been our most significant project to date. Being commended and recognised by our peers was hugely rewarding.
How do you approach design and construction?
We have always been very committed to delivering on all of our promises. We engage our builders during the key design phase to ensure all the planned elements can be costed and delivered in budget, as opposed to approving the design, then engaging a builder and having to scale back our promises to meet budgets.

This process ensures all costs are known up front so that corners aren’t cut during construction to keep the project within budget. It gives off-the-plan purchasers greater confidence.

Upper House bathroom horizontal

Upper House Bathroom, Interior[/caption]
On your website it says you design for ‘21st century lifestyles’ – how do you do this?
It is about understanding what customers want now as well as predicting what they will need in the future. Working with our fantastic design and architecture partners we aim to create timeless properties that make living easy and pay attention to the way people live.

Its things like providing clever storage, floor plans that maximise space and the features that support our technological lives as well.
What does luxury mean to you as a ‘luxury boutique developer’?
Luxury runs through everything in a project – from the obvious features that communicate luxury, such as state-of-the-art appliances and premium materials, to working with the best in the business to ensure the apartment design promotes the best living experience for your customer.

It’s why we work with leading design and architecture firms such as Woods Bagot and Hecker Guthrie as well as Woods Marsh and Jackson Clements Burrows and builders who understand the attention-to-detail required to produce a luxurious result.
Can you tell us about your latest project Upper House?
Upper House is located in a part of Melbourne where the architecture is really loud and busy, so we wanted to create an apartment building that adds a sense of calm to the area.

The result, designed by Jackson Clements Burrows, is a 17 level apartment building in a very light and white neutral palette and a building that appears to levitate across two distinct forms.
The communal space is located on level 11 – what was the intent locating it halfway up the building?
Upper House has amazing 360 degree views of Melbourne and The Observatory communal area democratises those views for all residents – no matter what floor they live on, they can enjoy the outlook.

The entire floor is devoted to outdoor space and internal communal space including a gym, lounge and kitchen. Not only does it make the views more accessible, but it also visually breaks the building into its two distinct levitating forms.
What is next for Piccolo?
We are reconvening the team behind Garden House, Woods Bagot and Hecker Guthrie, to create Elwood House.

Launching shortly, it will bring the luxury and attention-to-detail of Garden House to the bayside area. We are also working on a luxury apartment, retail and office project at Dorcas Street, South Melbourne, designed by Woods Marsh.
What direction do you see the property market going in the next two years?
The property market is primarily catering to the investor customer which seems sure to continue. We see a gap in the market for supplying larger apartments to the owner occupier market which we don’t think is being catered for. that’s something we will continue to focus on within a market that is primarily offering investor product.

Upper House, External

Upper House, External[/caption]
What do you do for fun?
I really enjoy motor sport and cycling socially rather than any competitions – generally on the weekends that’s where you’ll find me. I also love travelling with my wife and three kids, we just got back from a great trip to New York.
Favourite travel destination?
I love to travel but don’t have a specific favourite as I like discovering a new destination each time.
Favourite restaurant?
Every Friday we go to different restaurants around Melbourne and I’d have to say my favourites are Chin Chin and Longrain.
What book are you reading at the moment?
I just finished ‘Meeting Mr Mercedes’ by Stephen King – a very enjoyable holiday read.
Where do you see Piccolo in 10 years?
That’s a good question. For me, I will keep doing the work we are doing as long as I’m enjoying it. The focus is always on working with good people - we’ve built up a good team around us and I’d like to continue those relationships.

No doubt we’ll grow, but never at the cost of producing good work with good people, that’s the focus.

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