by Neometro

Cycling Through the Front Door

Architecture - by Stephen Crafti

There wouldn’t be too many architects who receive a brief focused on a collection of bicycles for a semi-professional cyclist. However, the owners of this new house in St Kilda East centred their brief on the dozen bicycles, with the prized one appearing as an art form displayed on the living room wall. “The entire family cycles but I was told by the wife she didn’t want to feel overpowered by the bicycles,” says architect and interior designer Fiona Dunin, director of FMD Architects.

Photo: John Gollings

Located at the end of a dead-end street, with a laneway to the south, the property formerly contained a run-down double-fronted freestanding Victoria timber home. Approximately 300 square metres in area, the couple, with two children, examined their options: extensively renovate and extend the timber home, pull it down and build two townhouses (keep one and sell the other) or build a new house, albeit on a budget. “Renovating and extending the original house would have almost cost the same as building a new one,” says Dunin, who felt the two townhouses would make each one feel too compact. “We also had to factor in all the bikes, scooters and everything else on wheels that comes into the home,” she adds.

Photo: John Gollings

While many clients discuss aspect, room configuration and all the many facets that go into creating a home, the initial discussions centred on where the bikes would be stored and materials that would allow the inside to accommodate the wheels. “I managed to steer the family towards the form of the house, while still promising them that there would be enough room for a large bike shed, also accessible from the laneway,” says Dunin.

Photo: John Gollings

The two-storey house, bordering the southern boundary, allows for a generous north-facing garden. Given the budget, Dunin started the design process with a simple ‘box’, clad in cement sheeting. However, as things progressed, steel shading and privacy screens came into the picture, creating folds and extrusions in the building’s form. “We ‘peeled’ away some of the cement walls where windows were required and created perforated mesh screens to protect against overlooking into neighbour’s yards,” says Dunin, who likens the design to origami, in cement sheet and steel, rather than in paper.

Approximately 200 square metres in area, the house exudes informality, as well as a use of robust materials. The family can cycle in through the open plan kitchen and living areas on the ground floor, across the polished concrete floors. The recycled brick feature wall adjacent to the front door and kitchen also won’t show scuffmarks. And although the new house is relatively modest in width (5.5 metres and comparable to a single-fronted terrace), the northern garden, accessed via large sliding doors, creates a sense of space.

Photo: John Gollings

The same sense of practicality extends to the first floor, which includes the main bedroom and ensuite, together with the children’s bedrooms and bathrooms. Some of these rooms are ‘veiled’ in perforated steel to allow for privacy as well as diffusing the northern sunlight. Dunin points out the triangular shapes in these steel veils. “You’ll notice that these triangles pick up on the frame of a bike,” she says.

The children’s bathroom is also angular, spliced and folded as though the materials were made of plastic rather than mirrored and tiled. “Each of the upstairs rooms responds to the northern light, with each space ‘carved’ according to the tracking of the sun,” says Dunin.

Photo: John Gollings

As well as being a semi-professional cyclist, the owner has considerable talent for making joinery and furniture. His late father was a cabinetmaker and the owner built many of the pieces required for his own home, including vanities and built-in cupboards. “He seemed to have the time, and of course the energy,” says Dunin, who documented many of the built-in items.

Although the St Kilda East house is robust and clearly home to a family dedicated to cycling, it is still imbued with a finer grain, with sculptured timber ceilings and raw finishes creating an edge. “It’s clearly not precious and it’s definitely well used,” adds Dunin.

Photo: John Gollings

FMD Architects can be contacted on 03 9670 9671


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