Born in 1921, John Richard Tovey began his architectural career in 1937, when he entered the office of what was then known as Yuncken, Freemen, Freeman & Griffiths. He remained there for more than four years before transferring to the engineering practice of Walter E Bassett, where he worked for another three years. During 1946, Tovey worked in a number of architectural offices in Melbourne, including a six month stint with Buchan, Laird & Buchan. In 1947, Tovey entered the office of Robert G Warren, and was later elevated to full partnership. The office appears to have mostly undertaken residential projects in the late 1940s, including several group housing estates. The partnership between Warren and Tovey was dissolved "by mutual consent" in August 1949, and the latter embarked upon his own sole practice.
One of Tovey's earliest projects in new private practice was a standard design for the popular Small Homes Service run by the RVIA and the Age newspaper. Dated July 1950, Tovey's design (designated by the code T113) was for a gable-roofed timber house of fairly conventional form. While he went on to undertake a number of private residential commissions, Tovey appears to have concentrated more on small-scaled commercial and retail projects. During the 1950s, he fostered a fruitful association with the real estate firm of J R Buxton Pty Ltd. This can be traced back as far as 1953, when he designed a small commercial building for the company at the junction of Burke Road and Harp Street, Kew East, which not only included Buxton's own offices but also a doctor's clinic and two lettable shops. Occupying a prominent corner site, the building was appropriately eye-catching, with bold cantilevered verandah, shadow boxes and a stone feature wall. Buxton became valuable repeat clients, and Tovey subsequently designed several other buildings for the firm, including a shopping arcade on the Nepean Highway at Moorabbin (1957) and an office fitout in an large pre-war building in Collins Street (1959).
One of Tovey's last published projects, dating from 1968, was an exhibition house in Wonga Park. A flat-roofed split-level dwelling, it was built to demonstrate the new Lockwood construction system, where walls were fabricated from "specially grooved interlocking cedar boards".
For much of his adult life, Tovey maintained his private address south of the Yarra River, mostly occupying flats in the affluent suburbs of South Yarra and Toorak. For many years, he resided in a modern apartment block on Tahara Road. During the 1980s, he and his wife Gwenda moved to Footscray, where he remained in practice for a few more years beforing retiring in 1991. Tovey died on 27 December 2006.
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