This award-winning renovation by Nest Architects (Australian Institute of Architects Victorian Chapter in 2016) appears relatively straightforward from first inspection. However, the unusual brief, coupled with the awkwardly shaped triangular site, would have challenged most architects. “It didn’t help that the house had been ‘tortured’ in the late 1970s,” says architect Emilio Fuscaldo, director of Nest Architects, who worked closely with the practice’s senior architect Imogen Pullar. “We inherited a warren of very small rooms, some of which were only 2.7 metres in width, barely enough room for a dining table,” says Pullar.
Located in North Fitzroy, Melbourne, on a main thoroughfare, Nest Architects were initially approached by the clients, a couple now with two young children, to simply smarten up the house. “Most of the work that had been done was DIY from the ‘70s, with very little thought given to the period architecture or the site,” says Fuscaldo. The old carpets were removed and the house was given a new lick of paint and some lighting. However, it required considerably more than just surface treatment. “Our clients wanted a house that felt private, but also offered intimate outdoor spaces. They also wanted a separate studio and wine cellar rather than the typical brief that calls for two separate living areas,” says Pullar.
Nest Architects not only restored some of the period details that had been removed in the 1970s, but they also reconfigured rooms in the original house. A front room, overlooking the garden and visible from the street, was considered too exposed to be used as a bedroom. “It was also an awkward shape,” says Fuscaldo, pointing out the vestibule-style room’s six sides. This room is now used as a study and leads directly to the main bedroom, dressing area and ensuite.
Nest Architects also removed the shoddy ‘70s extension, with one of the rooms used as a bedroom, and replaced this with an angular kitchen and living area. “However, rather than create a schematic from the inside out, we asked our clients how they use the outdoor spaces and what they expected to achieve from these,” says Fuscaldo, who often sees the outside spaces as an area that receives attention only at the last stage of a renovation. “We wanted the indoor spaces to respond to the seasons, feeling cocooned in winter or spilling out to the garden during the warmer months of the year,” he adds.
As a consequence, the lounge, with its built-in lounge suite, is orientated to the rear garden, while the main bedroom overlooks a lightwell/courtyard. And, as the kitchen and lounge area are ‘hand-in-hand’, they were designed to ‘dissolve’ into each other. The kitchen joinery, for example, features cupboards and open shelves, that find themselves in both camps.
One of the most unusual features of this renovation is the detached artist studio and wine cellar accessed from the back garden through a narrow opening. Originally, this area of approximately 100 square metres in area was a swimming pool, which was thought to have been built in the 1970s. “We thought it would be quite easy to simply fill in the pool and erect a simple two-storey structure,” says Fuscaldi, who found the opposite to be true with the need to create a solid foundation. “When we removed the ‘70s additions, we were also surprised to find things we hadn’t expected,” says Pullar, referring to the condition of pipes and other services.
However, the challenges were met by Nest Architects, not only in restoring the Edwardian house to its former glory, but also providing a sophisticated wine cellar along with a light-filled studio on the first floor. The wine cellar, for example, is considerably more than a bunker lined with wine bottles. Complete with a barrel-vaulted roof and bar, there’s sufficient space for a dining table. “It’s (wine room) quite lavish but it formed an important part of the brief,” says Fuscaldo, whose work to date has been less flamboyant. “As an architect, you’re always balancing your aspirations with those of a client’s. There’s always a middle ground,” adds Fuscaldo.
Nest Architects can be contacted on 03 9329 2390