Words by Andrew Boyne. Photography by Abigail Harman. This story was originally published in The Architect magazine, an official publication of the Australian Institute of Architects.
At a time when our inner suburbs are being densified, the retention of our existing urban fabric and suburban identities is as welcome as it is important. Our neighbourhoods are our communities, our friends. The original house consisted of brick and dissected by a wide hallway, with lean-to structures to the rear. The existing rooms have been renovated; complimented with new bathrooms inserted into the existing fabric and the lean-tos have been removed. In their place, a concrete and brick addition adds 103sqm of ground floor area and an additional 63 sqm upstairs.
The approach to the house is suburban, through a black slatted-gate held between white masonry posts, over a hit-and-miss concrete path submerged in a green lawn and across a slightly raised verandah, tiled in Victorian pattern. The house is tuck-pointed and carefully restored.
The unusually wide 1.5m hallway is left completely open and unobstructed, it extends through the original house with its jarrah floors, and down three step onto an expanse of ultra-white concrete. The hallway itself is lifted by new toplights installed above the doors that open into it. Float glass gives views upwards into the flanking rooms; expressing their ornate ceilings, and drawing light into the corridor. At the end of the raised passage, the floor turns to glass and the footings of the original house are exposed around a new cellar. The lower floor is for family. An open living space, with northern-light scoop, an incredibly stripped back white kitchen, and space that falls out over a covered outdoor barbecue area and a gorgeously tiled pool.
The upper floor includes a carpeted bedroom, a stylish new bathroom and a small lounge used by both parent and child. The braise soleil brickwork that provides shading to the main living areas is also used to good effect as a privacy screen to the upper floor bedroom. With a flat hood cantilevering over, and an open portion high enough to satisfy the R-Codes, the looming window provides relief to the box form that is perched over the outdoor space.
A glass hatch into the cellar among the original building’s footings isn’t the only fun gadget in the house. A secret door opens through a deep chocolate-coloured wall in the main living space into the laundry and out to vehicle parking.
The owners who undertook this renovation had clear ideas of what they wanted their home to be. It needed to be contemporary, clean and stylish, it needed to accommodate their family lifestyle, and it needed to be relatively low maintenance. The original dwelling did not achieve this. And it couldn’t have without an extension and a reworking that accommodated their aspirations. This family has ended up with a hip space that does what they need it to do, while preserving the streetscape, and maintaining the low-rise suburban character of a site that otherwise might have been appealing to up-zoning pressures.
When viewed from a broader urban context, this house does more than cater to the needs of a single family. It preserves use and character, and contributes to the perpetuity of the community. In a context of global homogenisation of cities and architecture, of art and of culture, preservation of our places and our communities is of utmost importance.